Most Brits agree brands have improved on-screen diversity this Christmas

Jacqueline Junke UK market lead at Appinio reflects on how 2021's Christmas ads stacked up on inclusivity and representation agendas.

Advertising should be a mirror for society: reflecting back our feelings and values to elicit the strongest emotional response. We’ve seen it in this year’s crop of Christmas ads - the spots we love this year include a cheeky carrot and Percy Pig. Why? Because they reflect our current desire for escapism and wonder - not a reminder of the ongoing Covid-19 reality we find ourselves in.

However, as adland knows too well, this hasn’t been the case for diversity. We haven’t seen society reflected properly on our screens for far too long. Rightly so, it’s moving from a ‘nice to do’ to a fundamental element of all campaigns. Within the industry, this is revered. But is it resonating with those that matter the most - the audience? We conducted research on 1,000 Brits aged 16-71 to see what they made of this year's Christmas ads.

Ads are sufficiently diverse

Firstly, our findings showed that 85% of people we spoke to felt that Christmas ads this year were sufficiently diverse - referring to the talent and stories that many of the UK’s most popular brands were showcasing.

For instance, John Lewis’ 'Unexpected Guest', Morrisons’ 'Farmer Christmas' and Vodafone’s 'Give the Gift Of Connection' ads all feature black representation and tell stories of recognizing and helping others in society - and deciding to go with these themes looks a smart choice. This is supported by data from Kantar which revealed that 65% of consumers say it’s important that the companies they buy from actively promote diversity and inclusion in their own business or society as a whole. Overall this shows how brands using diverse talent and showing meaningful stories have a significant impact on consumers.

It’s good for business

Opting to go in this direction in advertising also has positive business effects as our study found that over half of Brits find themselves buying and engaging more from brands that embrace diversity, exemplifying how brands can build up long-term relationships with consumers.

However, it’s not only diversity that has this effect - it’s also brands with a purpose. Recent figures from Forbes show how consumers are four to six times more likely to purchase, protect and champion purpose-driven companies, so this could mean other social causes from helping the environment to supporting causes, such as LGBTQIA+ rights.

Where Aldi went down the route of cheeky humor and fun with its ‘A Christmas Carrot’, there was still an overt theme displaying the importance of spreading kindness - including a nod to the work that England footballer Marcus Rashford (in this case- Marcus Radish-ford) has done this year to provide free school meals for thousands of children, hammering home the importance of togetherness and inclusivity.

Effective long-term brand building

Diversity isn’t just about showing different people on screen, it’s also about diversity in creativity and in the stories brands are telling, which can lead to long-term benefit for brands.

In Orlando Wood’s recent book published by the IPA ‘Look Out’ he notes how as advertisers emerge from the pandemic, advertisers need to emphasize connection, community and wholeness, not lonely detachment. This is perhaps where John Lewis missed the mark. It seems I wasn’t the only viewer left feeling detached from the ad, despite the main character being Black, the strength of the story was weak and they missed out on a big opportunity as representation doesn’t end with having a diverse cast, but ensuring they sit at the heart of an authentic story.

Our data found that people say they are willing to vote with their feet, with 36% of Brits saying they’re likely to boycott brands that don’t embrace diversity, highlighting the extent of its importance. And while this year’s ads may have hit the mark with audiences, the journey to achieve suitable diversity and inclusion in advertising is far from over. It’s great that many brands have already recognized this and it’s exciting to future-gaze about what further progress can be made in adland by Christmas 2022.