Making diversity the new normal

Making diversity the new normal

Diversity is more than an internal issue for the advertising business, we also need to embrace it in our day to day work, explains Kantar Millward Brown's head of UK marketing.

All of us like to think we are different, but very few of us want to be treated differently. Yet, we all know someone who is. Maybe they have a particular ethnic origin or religion, complex health needs or a different gender or sexual orientation. While a rainbow of diversity is part of the real beauty of life, it still rarely features in marketing communications.

As an industry the issue of diversity within our own ranks has been a hot topic at Advertising Week NY, with debates on race and diversity and inclusion all on the agenda for industry executives.

Embracing the debate around diversity is about more than just who works in our industry, it also means encouraging and enabling our clients, the advertisers, to be able to respond to the world around them.

In the UK, the recent Paralympics in Rio saw the Mars owned Maltesers brand creating ads that showed "the lighter side" of disability after winning £1m of free advertising from Channel 4 to make ads that championed diversity and disability during the Paralympics. Similarly Smirnoff celebrated deaf dance teacher Chris Fonseca earlier this year.

The smartest communication embodies a fundamental truth about who we are and what we desire, which resonates and connects with a broad group of people. While communication should be relevant, it also needs to be as diverse as the population that it is targeting.

So few ads reflect the communities in which their products and services are sold in favour of glib stereotypes – gender stereotyping such as Protein World’s "Beach body ready" grabs the majority of headlines but the problem is much more widespread.

This fact indicates that proper reflection of diversity is something that marketers and their agencies struggle to address. There are entire groups of the population who remain invisible when it comes to marketing and advertising.

Reflecting this diversity is business critical – if half the population don’t see themselves as consumers of a particular brand, that creates a bottom line problem. Get it right however and you create a powerful bond with a community that has traditionally been ignored or portrayed in a negative way.

If half the population don’t see themselves as consumers of a particular brand, that creates a bottom line problem.

Always #likeagirl and Nike’s Better For It are both great examples of brands that have used sport to reach out to women in an empowering and respectful way that has won plaudits and, no doubt, brand loyalty.

Our work in the US has highlighted key lessons on race that can be applied to all aspects of the diversity debate, across all markets:

Step one is to ensure that diverse groups are represented in the research process, to understand their consumption patterns and work out how and where different groups differ in attitude and receptivity (if at all).

Brands need to build diversity in from the ground up rather than as an add on at a later stage, when it’s less likely to be successful.

Step two is to understand what matters in these messaging moments. Consumers define themselves in multiple ways that go beyond race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion.

The fact that a person is Muslim or the parent of a young child may be more important to the target audience than the colour of their skin. Having a clear grip on the consumer insight that drives the campaign is essential to help ensure that the focus is on the central message.

P&G’s "Thank you mum" ads from recent Olympics have featured athletes and mums from different communities and countries but the focus has always been on their status as mums. A diverse set of racial backgrounds has been featured but it never feels shoe-horned into the message or tokenistic in any way.

Remember too that diversity exists 365 days a year. Like the once every four years disability ads around the Paralympics, communities deserve better than to be considered only when it is their "calendar" event. The Chinese community doesn’t cease to exist outside Chinese New Year or the gay community only at Pride.

Step three is to ensure that your organisation is also as diverse as the consumers it seeks to target. A diverse workforce is likely to come up with a broader range of ideas than one that is rooted in a single culture or life experience, particularly when it comes to ideation.

In a transparent digital world, any company seeking to address diversity in its messaging must also be seen to be making the same effort internally. The backlash against "greenwashers" is a lesson that marketers need to heed in this area.

Demonstrating an ability to handle diversity – and the UK is increasingly diverse in lots of demographic measures – shows that your brand is aware of how life is lived today.

Presenting a diverse vision of Britain says you are a modern brand. That’s something all of us should aspire to.

Jane Bloomfield is head of UK marketing at brand research agency Kantar Millward Brown.

Start Your Free 30-Day Free Trial

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free