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Jerry Daykin: It’s still a good time to celebrate advertising’s diversity

Jerry Daykin: It’s still a good time to celebrate advertising’s diversity / Pixabay

Discussing the progress and some of the initiatives taking place across the advertising sector is Jerry Daykin, GSK's EMEA media director and co-director of The Outveritisng Awards which aims to celebrate work focused on the LGBTQ+ sector.

For very good reasons the diversity of the marketing industry comes under a lot of scrutiny: Middle class, expensively educated, white men, dominate many facets of our industry; Progress at gender equality, let alone other areas of inclusion, has often been slow; too many conferences, or even virtual panels not only reflect but further reinforce this.

I can hardly claim to be shattering many of those stereotypes myself. There are too many of us in advertising who look, sound and crucially think the same, but it is precisely our job to help fix that, not the job of more diverse voices to fight their way in.

It is however also important to stop and consider the progress that has been made, and the actual advertising output of our industry is one area in which I think there are some good reasons to celebrate. There’s a long way to go of course, but over the last few years there has been better and greater representation of a range of diversities in mainstream advertising. That includes everything from adverts built around and focussed on explicitly telling the stories of sometimes excluded minorities, through to much more casual inclusion of a broader range of individuals in casting and across our communications.

Back in 1994 Ikea became arguably the first major brand to run an LGBT+ advert in mainstream media when they casually cast a gay couple in one of their adverts. They backed away from the move somewhat when they commented that it ‘wasn’t a political statement’, but perhaps that was exactly right? It doesn’t need to be a big political statement just to reflect the realities of the diverse consumers who ultimately make up your audience.

Representation matters. It’s easy to dismiss it as ‘woke washing’ and box ticking, but adverts are an important influence in shaping culture. Seeing yourself truly reflected in that space is a rarity for those that don’t tick all the mainstream boxes. Ultimately it should matter for businesses too, whose brands need to reflect the realities of modern society and continue to appeal to a broad base of consumers.

That isn’t to say of course that moves in this direction cannot come with difficult challenges and push back. There’s a clear commercial narrative about the greater effectiveness of inclusive advertising and the benefits of appealing to excluded consumers, but also a reality that even basic moves into this space can attract huge amounts of hate. Often that includes challenges even from the communities you are trying to represent, if the right balance and tone isn’t found.

These are challenging times for many within the advertising industry with budget cuts, furloughs and redundancies to face into. I understand that it’s not an easy time for us to think about diversity, and especially to think about awards. For us to really change as an industry however we have to talk about inclusion in the tough times as well as the good. Minorities are almost always the hardest hit by any economic hardships, and there is evidence in this case that they are hardest hit by the illness itself too. (I’m trying not to name it so that advertisers don’t block list this article).

As a gay man who grew up in a evangelical family, I know first-hand what it’s like not to see yourself reflected in the culture around you, or personally role modelled in the content you see. I still remember the rare glimpse of gay culture I first saw through shows like Queer as Folk which revealed there were indeed others like me out there. Glimpses of light and hope at a dark time when I felt like I could never fit in. Representation really matters and we should celebrate where we’re getting it right.

The Outvertising Awards may have been postponed, but entries are still open and we’ll be finding a way to celebrate the winners in the Autumn. They’re a showcase of the best existing LGBT+ inclusive marketing, as well as an opportunity to win support and media value to drive future campaigns. If you’re nervous about working in third space the wider Outvertising group is a fantastic network to engage, and has published a detailed guide of best practices.

The Drum Social Purpose Awards are also back this month, with a specific Diversity & Inclusion category as well as opportunities across the board to celebrate work in this space. In previous years they have been a fantastically inspiring source of examples of how brands can do right by their business and society at the same time.

It’s an incredibly challenging year for the industry, but (love them or hate them!) awards are one of the key ways we keep ourselves on track and inspired to do better. I’m already excited to see the creative ways in which we as an industry are responding to these unique circumstances and I would urge you to consider entering if you still can.

There’s a risk of course that we spend too much time talking about inclusion and not enough time fundamentally fixing it. Representation in our advertising is a quick fix but doesn’t come close to matching the benefits of true internal diversity of thought. The last thing we need are more competing initiatives in this space, but I am proud to be part of two unifying projects that have launched this month to try and turn words into action.

Here in the UK the AA, IPA and ISBA are partnering on a new initiative called ‘UK Advertising Needs You’ with a strong focus of attracting broader talent into the industry and shaping internal environments to ensure it can prosper. They’re joining the dots between a lot of existing initiatives and pulling together a portal both for employers and job seekers as a first step. Getting the message out to people for whom advertising probably isn’t on their radar at all needs to come next.

The World Federation of Advertisers has also launched a global Diversity Task Force, kicking off with a webinar on 12 May. Again this doesn’t aim to to reinvent the wheel but instead to convene, curate, challenge and be a catalyst, raising best practice like the Ad Association project up for global adaption. We’ve already worked across advertisers to deliver a really in-depth new guide into Diversity and Inclusion which highlights not only why it’s important but truly how you get started Hopefully we’ll be celebrating even more diversity this time next year.

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