Television played an important role in my development as I was growing up in Houston. After school, I sometimes spent hours glued to the TV, watching my favorite shows and absorbing popular commercials. I didn’t know it at the time, but in each TV show or commercial character I looked for reflections of myself or who I hoped to become. As a Black boy in the 1980s, that was hard to find. Then, Black and Brown people, if present at all, typically fell on the periphery, often playing non-threatening, jovial sidekicks to more interesting white leads.
And while representation in media has improved since then, today only 41% of U.S. consumers feel represented in the ads they see, while 71% of consumers expect brands to promote diversity and inclusion in their online advertising. This raises the question, How can we create a more inclusive world?
I connected with industry experts, creative leaders and inclusive strategists to learn how they’ve successfully driven change, and to suggest what actions other agencies and brands can take to create a more equitable, representative world. Here are some of their responses:
1. Rethink how you define your audience.
“People don’t fit squarely into boxes. For marketers, customers are changing. They may look one way but support different boxes than you thought they would. That’s only getting more fluid with time.” —Josh Boaz, Managing Director and Co-Founder, Direct Agent
Brands may be hesitant to create with representation in mind, fearing that doing so will alienate their core audience. However, according to our panel of experts, marketers must learn the nuances that exist among people and strive to understand the multiple markers of difference among their consumer base.
That’s one reason why Direct Agents created its Polycultural practice. The collaborative approach includes research mining, insights gathering and collaborative efforts to build inclusivity into a brand’s long-term strategic goals.
Whether through an agency partner or internal means, it’s important to continuously gather data on your customer base. Once you do, identify the commonalities and nuances that exist to learn the types of messages and creative that will resonate best with your audience.
2. If you start diversity at the production table, you’re too late!
“Often, clients are asking How do we make this ad more diverse at production or postproduction? At that moment, you're already too late.” —Amber Chenevert, Group Strategy Director and Culture Studio Lead, VMLY&R
While diverse casting alone may have worked in the past, consumers have only gotten more savvy in their understanding of marketing and sophisticated in their ability to sniff out inauthenticity. Instead, diverse and inclusive thinking should be happening throughout the creative process, as well as built into the ethos of organizations.
BBDO Worldwide Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Jason Rosario breaks down the responsibility we each have, no matter your title, to build representative ads:
- Senior leadership: Develop inclusive policies and frameworks for the organization so that there is a cultural shift towards greater equity.
- Management: Embody a strong commitment to do the right thing. Managers must create spaces to unlock the intersectional value that exists among individuals within organizations and elevate marginalized voices when it matters most.
- Agency partners: Champion our responsibility to educate and challenge our clients. To do so, we must be aligned on a shared vision, language and DE&I philosophy.
- Clients: Consider inclusivity as early as the briefing process. Be intentional about the DE&I problem you are solving for and include it in the brief. Bring in the right partners to have along for the journey.
3. Leverage industry tools to get started.
"We wanted to shape a story around our mission, which is to eliminate poor vision for everyone. Equality is at the heart of that mission. Facebook’s creative framework helped us shape major decisions as to where to start and how to bring our strategy to life.” —Vik Kambli, CMO, Clearly
The advertising industry has become increasingly interested and committed to lead and inspire change through representation. However, there are many people within the industry who remain unsure about where to start.
That's one reason why Facebook developed its Global Business Equality program for inclusive representation in advertising, which includes a system that meets a brand wherever it is on its journey and helps it make progress in a consistent, methodical way. Clearly used the framework to build assets that accurately and inclusively represent Clearly’s audience, and cast a more diverse range of people to showcase its products.
Whether using Facebook’s approach or your own, agencies and brands must work to develop a repeatable process that embeds inclusivity throughout the creative process, from briefing through to production.
4. Tap into the moral and business case.
What usually helps move the needle is if we talk in terms of business outcomes. This isn’t just doing it because this is the right thing to do. The ideal is that it’s the right thing to do, aligning with positive business outcomes. —Josh Boaz, Managing Director and Co-Founder, Direct Agents
When Clearly reintroduced eyewear using the Facebook creative approach, it experienced more than a 6.7 point lift in ad recall and, and greater than a 1 point lift in message association. This is one example of how diverse representation in advertising drives real business outcomes. In fact, brands with the most representative ads saw a 44% average stock increase within two years, and achieved 69% better performance and 83% higher preference.
Alongside the reality of the business case, there is the benefit to society. My own experience taught me that content influences how we see ourselves and one another in society. So, why not make the choice that benefits both a brand’s bottom line as well the hearts and minds of people?
To learn more about how Facebook partners with brands to create more inclusive representation in advertising and authentic connections with their communities and stakeholders, visit our Business Equality homepage.