The power of inclusion and diversity in advertising

Our data shows that demonstrating inclusion and diversity in advertising is no longer optional, it’s an imperative.
20 April 2021
Diversity in advertising
daren poole

Senior Director, Creative Domain

In ‘The 5 habits of highly effective advertisers’, we highlighted that inclusion and diversity is one of the ingredients, or creative devices, used by brands to make their ads both creative and effective. In 2021, we predict this ingredient will be elevated to a habit for more advertisers. That’s because being inclusive in advertising isn’t only socially and morally right, it’s also good for brand ROI. According to Global MONITOR, 65% of consumers say that it’s important that the companies they buy from actively promote diversity and inclusion in their own business or society as a whole.

The rising importance of inclusion and diversity

In the last ten years, we’ve seen a massive change in society around equality and representation. Movements have risen around the rights of specific groups. Within the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in 2015, are calls to action to ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ and to ‘reduce inequality within and among countries’. This latter goal calls for inclusion, regardless of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.

But what does this have to do with advertising? It should have everything to do with it. Rather than being a mirror on society, advertising has a powerful ability to shape it. The very best creative cannot only sell products and build brand equity, it can change behaviors and shape society. Indeed, some consumers believe that advertising has been instrumental in creating and reinforcing negative stereotypes. Therefore, the industry has an important role in leading change.

Also in 2015, Cannes Lions introduced Glass: The Lion for Change, with the specific goal of recognizing work that challenged gender bias and shattered the stereotypical images which remain rooted in marketing messages. It was recognized that it was time for change.

Getting gender right

In Kantar’s 2019 AdReaction study, ‘Getting Gender Right’, we saw that three-quarters of consumers believe the way they are portrayed in advertising is completely out of touch. We saw that often, women were over-targeted in categories like laundry and household products and under-targeted in other areas like automotive. We saw that ads featuring only women, or featuring both genders equally tended to under-perform. And we saw that portrayals are rarely aspirational or authoritative for either gender.

More positively, we were able to show that progressive portrayal of both genders leads to more effective advertising. We were also able to make recommendations on how to be progressive.

Working with the Unstereotype Alliance, we have now used their Unstereotype Metric (UM), a measure of how progressive the portrayal of men and women is in advertising, on over 4,000 ads. The data is very clear: the most progressive representations perform significantly better than the least progressive on all of the drivers of long-term brand growth. They are also better at driving short term sales. Members of the Unstereotype Alliance are able to tap into their learning about how to improve this metric and, therefore, their advertising.

Getting race and ethnicity right

Following the events of May 2020 and the subsequent rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, we conducted analysis on our Link ad testing database, looking at the representation of different ethnicities and diverse skin colors in advertising. We saw very different levels of inclusion across countries and categories. Once again, we saw that inclusion contributes to long-term equity, by positioning the brand as emotionally different. It can also drive short-term sales by making the content more impactful, helping to drive cut-through.

How to be gender and race inclusive

From the ads that we evaluate at Kantar, and indeed, looking at our most creative and effective ads, it’s clear that you can be inclusive in an explicit or implicit way. Among our featured winners of Kantar’s Creative Effectiveness Awards 2021, Heineken explicitly addresses gender stereotypes around drinks choices. SheaMoisture promotes products specifically for Black women, while supporting a fund for Black female entrepreneurs and using visuals celebrating multiple generations of Black women's stories and heritage. Inclusion and diversity is at the heart of the ads.

Among the less explicit portrayals, we see a female florist in the TD ad, a female postal worker in the eBay ad, and a Black father and daughter in the Hershey’s Kisses ad. These ads could have happened with men or white people in the roles, but instead the brands deliberately chose to cast in the way that they did. Clearly, the brand’s choices work for viewers, as they rated the ads highly in terms of creativity and effectiveness.

Beyond gender, race and ethnicity

While many advertisers are now aware of the need for gender and racial inclusion, there is still a long way to go. We see very few ads that feature people with disabilities, or members of the LGBTQI+ community, despite them making up around a quarter of society. On the upside, where LGBTQI+ people are featured, it is increasingly as part of a normal family, rather than as the punchline to a joke.

We should also expect to see more age-inclusive advertising in the future. Many marketers target their products and ads at under 50s. This misses out on groups that often have much more disposable income. Where over 50s are featured, there is a tendency to portray them in a way that suggests an old mentality among people who still have a lot of life left in them.

What next?

We have clear evidence that progressive and inclusive advertising improves ROI. And that consumers recognize its importance. When evaluating creative for your brand, ask yourself if you are being as inclusive and diverse as you can possibly be. Look out for our Playbook for Inclusive Advertising, coming later this year, for tangible tips on how to do this.

We’d love to talk to you about the value of inclusive advertising and how we can help. So please do get in touch.

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