Facebook report uncovers lack of diversity in online advertising

(Credit: Getty Images)
(Credit: Getty Images)

A study by the social media giant found that online advertising isn’t immune to misrepresentation and underrepresentation.

Diversity — or the lack of — has been analyzed and debated in traditional advertising. But how are digital channels faring in the ranks? 

Facebook published new research, commissioned by the Geena Davis Institute, that aims to answer that question by diving into representation in online advertising across the U.S., U.K. and Brazil.  

The study is a combination of qualitative and quantitative research collected over the past two years from 1,200 consumers, 1,000 Facebook video ads and 1,200 brand lift studies. 

Turns out, misrepresentation, stereotypes and lack of diversity in ads do extend to the online world.

Women, for example, are 14.1 times more likely to wear revealing clothing in ads than men, and 6.9 times more likely to be visually or verbally objectified. Men, meanwhile, are 2.4 times more likely to be seen as angry and 1.4 times less likely to be presented as happy.

“There's been a lot of studies about underrepresentation or misrepresentation on TV, print and radio, but not many focus on diversity in online advertising, specifically,” Nada Stirratt, VP North America of global business group at Facebook, told Campaign US. “We wanted to add to that body of research, but also take it a step further by looking at diverse representation in ads, how it lands with consumers, and how, ultimately, this translates into overall campaign performance.”

The study also examines racial representation in advertising. Latino and Black Americans, for example, are 1.8 times more likely than white Americans to say that they see negative representations of themselves in online ads. 

And people with disabilities are shown in only 1.1% of digital ads examined by Facebook, while members of the LGBTQ community only accounted for 0.3%.  

The majority of survey respondents (54%) said they don’t feel culturally represented in online advertising.

“Media is one of the most important factors influencing our values,” Geena Davis, actor, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, said in a statement. “Advertisers and content creators have the power to change lives through reflecting our ever-changing society and elevating the voices that often go unheard.”

Diversity is an opportunity for brands   

Most consumers surveyed (71%) expect brands to promote diversity and inclusion in their digital ads.  

But it’s not just what consumers want; it’s also good business. Including diverse representation in advertising increases purchases and brand loyalty. 

Fifty-eight percent of consumers polled are more loyal to brands that are diverse and inclusive in online advertising, while 59% prefer to buy from brands that promote diversity in their ads.

“The best way to drive inclusive representation is to make sure that you have a diverse marketing and advertising team developing and producing these campaigns,” Stirratt said. “It is not just to appear in the ads but also the diversity behind the camera that starts to drive what ultimately we all want: measurable change.”

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