The Time for Diversity in Advertising Is Now
Here’s how to make it happen, and why it’s so crucial to our common culture.
The United States is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, but mass media has often been slow to catch up in reflecting the way our country really looks. Unfortunately, advertising is no exception.
A study from NewsCred found that 91% of marketers agreed that there was still room for growth in showcasing diversity in their marketing materials. Plus, 88% of those surveyed felt that using more diversity in advertising images would help their brand’s reputation. So how can these same respondents, and your brand, put these aspirations into practice? Here’s a start.
1. Reflect on your potential audience
In many ways, the need for diversity in advertising is a numbers game. Pew Research indicates that roughly 40% of the U.S. population is a racial or ethnic minority. Even more telling, the average age of those in minority groups tends to be much younger than that of non-Hispanic whites.
While the median age of non-Hispanic whites was 44, the median age was 31 for racial minorities, with Hispanics and multiracial individuals being the youngest overall. This means that in the coming years, the population will trend to being even more diverse than it currently is.
So why is advertising behind in this area? Part of the reason could be because 82.6% of those working in the industry are white. We have a natural tendency to produce content that reflects our known worlds. Unfortunately, this means that many advertisers are forgetting brands’ full target audiences — whether intentional or not.
As Warren Moss, CEO of Demographica, notes for Chief Marketer, “In order to reach and resonate with those diverse audiences, you need a diverse output. And that’s impossible if you don’t diversify the creative and strategic team that comes up with the campaign in the first place. It’s so simple really: Diversify the input to the creative process, and you get a different, completely unique and powerful output.”
2. Help your potential customers feel ‘seen’
Leaving out diversity in advertising may feel like a small oversight, but for those who are continually underrepresented, it can leave real feelings of hurt.
Writing for Salon, best-selling social commentator Roxane Gay says, “When advertisers ignore diversity, it is because they don’t think the lives of others matter. There is not enough of a financial imperative for those lives to matter. Though the past few years have brought progress, there is still work to be done. There are all kinds of people who continue to be largely ignored by advertisers, whose lives largely go unseen. They deserve their moment.”
This mindset was what drove Bereket Taffese, co-founder and CEO of Gebeya Media, to launch his Ethiopia-based animation and advertising studio. “We recognized quite quickly a lack of quality original African content on the big streaming platforms like Hulu and Netflix,” says Taffese. “Stories that reflect our culture simply weren’t being told or distributed. Yet Africa has a rich culture, full of stories and folktales. It causes people to feel neglected. On the other hand, when people see stories that reflect their values, traditions and culture, they feel valued and understood.”
Helping diverse audiences feel seen isn’t just a “feel-good” thing to give advertisers a reason to pat themselves on the back. It can play a direct result in brand outcomes.
3. Attract customers and drive revenue
The bottom line: Diversity matters to consumers. Research from Marketing Charts reveals that 62% of consumers feel like a brand’s diversity (or lack thereof) has a direct impact on how they perceive its products and services. In addition, close to four in 10 consumers are more likely to trust brands with diverse advertising, and 34% will actually stop using a brand because its advertising did not reflect their identity. These numbers were highest for African-Americans, where 53% reported taking this action.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, inclusive advertising content is likely to drive customers to do business with a brand. Research from Google found that 69% of Black consumers are more likely to buy from brands that positively reflect their racial identity in advertising.
As these responses show, diversity and inclusion is ultimately a win-win for advertisers, brands and their customers. When consumers are represented in advertising and other media, they feel that their experiences and opinions matter. They will respond positively with increased brand loyalty to those who accurately and authentically portray them in their content.
When advertising becomes more inclusive (hopefully in part because a more diverse group is working behind the scenes), a company will experience a meaningful impact on its bottom line.
Related: Be Intentional About Diversity
Diversity and inclusion in advertising shouldn’t be acts of tokenism. They should be a natural reflection of our society as a whole. Advertisers need to consider their own unconscious biases and take meaningful steps to make campaigns for their clients more diverse. When diversity becomes second nature, advertising will ultimately be more authentic and deliver a far greater impact on a broader audience.