Do brands and agencies need 'inclusion riders' too?

At this year’s Oscars, Frances McDormand surprised many with her call for 'inclusion riders' – actors’ contracts that require the cast and crew be at least 50% from diverse backgrounds. This call to action reinforced the awareness that shutting out marginalised and minority voices makes no sense for business or society.

And now it might be time for ad land to join in. Many brands are focusing on diversity initiatives internally, when it comes to their recruitment and employee development, and it’s seeping into the processes for appointing agencies. It’s starting small – with tender documents asking what proportion of the agency is female, for example – but it’s quite realistic to think that soon there will be a contractual requirement for a certain amount of diversity within agencies.

The only question is whether a push for inclusion will affect what remains a subjective and emotive process. Yes, the procurement team plays a huge role in choosing the agency, but it often still comes down to gut instinct and feel – and will CMOs really be dissuaded from choosing the agency their heart and soul points towards because its diversity credentials are less than stellar?

Hopefully yes, because it’s only a short step from greater diversity in agencies to greater diversity in ads. And that’s a subject on everyone’s minds right now thanks to the ASA and the outcry against gender stereotyping.

Unfortunately, we still have a way to go. Our latest research into stereotyping in ads adds yet more fuel to the fire, as it found that harmful stereotypes still exist when it comes to every group of UK society. And it’s not just women this time, although 55% of them sadly can still recognise the ‘bimbo’ stereotype in advertising. For example, almost two-thirds (63%) of those with physical disabilities think that seeing more disabled people in ads removes the stigma around their community, while 54% of them wish that brands would be braver in showing ‘people like me’ in advertising.

Meanwhile, 52% of gay/bisexual men aged 18-34 think the LGBTQ community is ‘invisible’ in advertising, and three-quarters (75%) of those aged 65+ feel that ads often show stereotypical versions of people their age.

With harmful stereotyping and a lack of visibility still rife, there has to be a tipping point where brands in all categories and of all sizes, not just the Nikes and Apples of the world, feel comfortable to be bolder in their advertising involving minority groups. Frankly, we need more examples to quote than the Maltesers ads that get trotted out every time we talk about people with disabilities.

Much as the IPA’s ‘The Long and the Short of it’ paper is constantly used by planners and strategists in client meetings to show the genuine effectiveness and ROI of long-term brand building, we need a similar library of evidence and case studies that prove diversity in ads ‘sells’ and has a positive impact on the brand’s KPIs. After all, profitability is more often than not the first priority in business.

Another possibility could be for the foremost talent in agencies to call for inclusion riders the way hot-property actors like Oscar-winners do when they know producers will accommodate them. The top creatives, planners and strategists do have a certain level of influence over their companies and could use that to force their agencies to evolve.

That could mean encouraging employers to craft policies for better diversity at every level, like the Unconscious Bias training we’ve started employing across IPG Mediabrands, and creating internship opportunities for people outside the white male university-graduate preserve that has so long been the mainstay of the industry.

It also means looking at how the agency world retains those people rather than just focusing on recruitment. Perhaps we need to finally surrender the booze-driven socialising that still permeates the sector and therefore excludes those working from home or from certain religious backgrounds.

We need to move towards ‘conscious marketing’ – being aware and sensitive to identity and redefining desire to be more about happiness and consideration than about aspiration and consumerism. The idea of inclusion riders plays into this as it drives the authenticity in ads that so many people – especially those in minority groups – want and need to see. If brands and agencies have a contractual requirement to be more inclusive in both their creative work and their employment practices, maybe everyone will feel a lot more positive about both.

Michael Brown is head of insight at media agency UM

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