Just 19% of people in ads are from minority groups, new research finds

Minority groups are featured in less than 20% of advertising, according to new research, but given 65% of people would feel more favourable about a brand that promotes diversity, companies are missing a huge opportunity to connect with consumers.

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Minority groups including single parents, disabled people and the LGBT community continue to be let down by brands who are failing to create diverse and inclusive advertising, according to new research by Lloyds Banking Group, shown exclusively to Marketing Week.

Just 19% of people featured in advertising are from minority groups, and of that 19% only 0.06% of people portrayed are disabled or from the LGBT community and just 0.29% are single parents.

These figures are drastically out of kilter with the proportion these minority groups represent in the wider population. Disabled people represent 17.9% of the population, the LGBT community 1.7% and single parents 25%, according to Lloyds’ Reflecting Modern Britain Report.

The study of 2,200 people in England and Wales looks at the top 20 advertising spenders in 2015, which covers 40 brands and 1,340 TV and press adverts. Some 79% of respondents feel gay women are underrepresented in advertising, followed by bisexual people (56%), gay men (49%) and disabled people (44%).

When it comes to race, 35% of the sample feel the Asian community is being underrepresented. Just under a third (31%) note a lack of mixed race people in advertising, while 27% feel black people are not being adequately portrayed. These assertions are confirmed by an analysis of the campaigns, which finds black people appeared in 5.65% of the adverts, mixed race people in 3.86% and Asian people in just 2.71%.

“The advertising industry over recent years has made enormous strides in this space, but I think we can all look ourselves in the mirror and know we could do so much more,” says Lloyds Banking Group managing director of group brands and marketing, Catherine Kehoe.

“I’m not sure people make a conscious decision to exclude people from minority groups or portray them in a way that’s inauthentic or tokenistic. I genuinely think it’s hard to get it right and I think that concern about getting it wrong or cause offence to minority groups is probably at the forefront of people’s minds. You’ve got to couple that with unconscious bias, which we all know is prevalent and linked to challenges [around] the make up of the industry more broadly,” she adds.

It is perhaps unsurprising then that less than half of those surveyed (47%) feel accurately portrayed by advertising themselves. Disability, for example, is often portrayed in advertising with a physical cue, whereas the majority of impairments are non-visible.

Creating an authentic, funny and thoroughly human portrayal of people with disabilities is the aim at Channel 4, which crowned 2016 its ‘year of disability’. According to CMO Dan Brooke, the broadcaster’s 2016 Paralympics campaign ‘We’re the Superhumans’ was its best campaign ever.

Aiming to recreate a response to the much admired 2012 ‘Meet the Superhumans’ campaign, Channel 4 decided to widen this iteration out to everyone with a disability, not just athletes, changing from a defiant to more celebratory tone.

READ MORE: Channel 4 brings back the ‘Superhumans’ for Paralympics push to celebrate disability

“Response to the 2012 campaign was incredible and I hoped we would beat it, but we were not expecting this. The Paralympics and Olympics are such an unusual time when the whole world is watching.

“The campaign made people want to watch the event, it made sentiment towards Channel 4 even more positive and it changed public attitude to disability. To get something that works on those three levels is rare. It was an amazing thing to be involved with,” Brooke adds.

Limited depiction

In a bid to encourage other advertisers to raise the bar on diversity, Channel 4 launched Superhumans Wanted, a competition offering £1 million worth of airtime, including a coveted slot during the Paralympics opening ceremony, to the brand that submitted the strongest campaign idea featuring disabled talent.

READ MORE: Channel 4 – ‘Diversity sells and we’ve proved it’

Seeing off competition from 90 other brands, Mars Chocolate UK claimed the prize for its Maltesers’ ‘Look on the Light Side’ series of three ads inspired by real-life stories from disabled people. The adverts celebrated awkward situations, from embarrassing moments with new boyfriends to behaving badly at a wedding, using humour to break down barriers surrounding disability.

“This step for Mars is not only the right thing to do, but it lets us to get closer to our consumers by normalising disability in advertising and communications,” explains Mars vice president of marketing Michelle Oliver.

She believes the adverts worked so well because the storylines were inspired by real-life stories from people living with a disability.

“The ads demonstrate diversity as a natural part of everyday life and our partnership with Scope – the UK’s disability charity – ensured we set the right tone and that our ads had an authentic voice.” 

Maltesers is a fantastic case study of how a brand can get it right without taking a simplistic view of disability, says Kehoe. “We’ve got to remember that it’s only recently we are seeing people from disabled groups being featured in mainstream advertising,” she adds.

“The real trailblazer in this space was Channel 4’s Paralympics campaign [in 2012]. The advertising was brave, brilliant and ambitious, and it did such a lot to help the issue of disability. You’ve got that kind of emotional epic and you’ve got Maltesers that does it in a completely different way, which is funny and engaging.”

The limited view of minority groups is not solely an issue relating to disabled communities though. The Reflecting Modern Britain Report finds a one-dimensional portrayal of ethnic minorities has become the norm in advertising. Black people, for instance, are often shown in a limited variety of roles such as salesperson, teacher, musician and sportsperson.

The study finds over-65s, which are represented in just 6.17% of advertising, are also depicted with a limited range of personalities, roles and interests. The research finds it is rare for the older generation to be portrayed with humour, or promoting innovation and technology.

“We shouldn’t forget couples without children also don’t feel accurately portrayed,” Kehoe adds. “People of a certain age are stereotyped that they should have children or be a grandparent. They are such a large proportion of our society and we only show them in grandparent roles. We need to reflect who these people are and portray them as they would recognise themselves.”

Despite making up 51% of the population, women only feature in 33% of advertising. Of the adverts analysed, women are rarely shown in positions of power, and when they are these roles are usually linked to seduction, beauty or motherhood. There is also no representation of people with non-binary gender identities.

Gay women taking part in the research feel the least accurately portrayed, according to the report, with just 21% believing advertising reflects their lives. By contrast, two parent families feel the most accurately portrayed (55%), compared to 43% of single parent families. The traditional nuclear family is still shown as the ideal, according to the research, while LGBT people and single parents are rarely visible.

READ MORE: Don’t overlook the over 65s – The four groups of retirees that marketers need to understand

Mars diversity

Prioritising workplace diversity

Brooke attributes the underrepresentation of minority groups in advertising to a lack of diversity across the industry as a whole.

“It’s down to the relative diversity of the industry. If the media was more diverse you would get more diverse ideas. From what I can see creative departments are dominated by white men and yet diversity leads to more creativity, so you would think that in this matter ad agencies would lead the way.

“It is an uncomfortable fact that large blue-chip companies are leading the way, which could be for a variety of different reasons, like the vision of the board, but it seems that client companies are stronger at diversity than agencies, which is curious,” Brooke adds.

The Channel 4 CMO argues that what Maltesers’ ‘Look on the Light Side’ ads and the ‘We’re the Superhumans’ campaign show is that “diversity sells”, and companies with a more diverse workforce have a higher share price than less diverse competitors. Brooke believes a big reason for this is that diversity in the workplace keeps teams on their toes.

You shouldn’t be asking why you should be diverse, you should be asking why are you not?

Dan Brooke, Channel 4

“A diverse range of people means you get a greater range of ideas and end up with a more imaginative outcome. You know when you’re entering a process that it is going to be more of a challenge, so you come to the problem solving situation more on your game. You have to listen hard to everyone’s different ideas,” says Brooke.

Recruiting new talent is an issue worth considering, suggests Kehoe, who believes that future employees want to work for organisations that feel inclusive. In a bid to drive diversity in the workplace Lloyds has committed to hire 8,000 apprentices by 2020 and employ 30% of its workforce from a disadvantaged background, a figure which has already reached 37% in 2016.

YouTube head of ads marketing and chair of Women@Google, Nishma Robb, agrees that the diversity issues within advertising begin with the industry itself.

“The awkwardness around how to portray diversity stems from the fact that the advertising and marketing industry simply doesn’t reflect the reality of the UK as a whole.

“We know, for example, that empowerment ads on YouTube perform above benchmark. Despite the disappointing fact that only 11% of creative directors are women, half of the creatives responsible for the empowering ads on our leaderboard are women. So it becomes clear that having your audience represented in your workforce works.”

Following on from 2016’s #MadeForYou and #ProudToBe campaigns, YouTube plans to continue to celebrate the diversity of its platform in 2017 by working with the likes of lifestyle, fashion and beauty blogger Dina Tokio, and comedian and actor Humza Arshad, who combined have over 141 million views on the site.

You Tube Made for You

Robb argues that the raison d’etre of YouTube is to value freedom of expression and give a voice to diverse groups of people, without the potential bias of commissioning editors.

“This openness has unleashed a huge volume of content – 400 hours of video are uploaded every minute – and in the process, new stories are being told and new voices are coming to the fore as people freely engage with new content and creators globally.

“This openness makes YouTube rich in both talent and diversity and it radically changes the traditional media proposition by removing commissioners that can be prone to conscious or unconscious bias.”

Reclaiming the missed opportunities

Failing to engage with the issue of diversity could ultimately prove brand damaging. According to the Lloyds report, 65% of respondents say they feel more favourable towards a brand that reflects diversity in advertising, while 67% of those surveyed expect advertisers to represent the diverse aspects of society.

The Lloyds report advises marketers to promote diversity and inclusivity by depicting a variety of people in a realistic and authentic way, rather than singling out certain groups for attention.

It is also crucial to make sure diversity is integral to the story from the outset, not just an add-on to the story or included for the sake of it, says Kehoe.

“It is really important not to do that at execution, but through the whole comms development process from the insight and creative briefing to the way you evaluate the work. Start with the customer at the outset – who are we for? Who are they? And get genuine insight that makes the work higher quality and create advertising that genuinely feels authentic,” she adds.

Oliver advises brands not to be afraid, but instead to be brave and take action by talking less and doing more. “It’s not about quotas or targets. As a major advertiser Mars Chocolate has a voice and a responsibility to use the power of our brands for good,” she adds.

Progress does not have to be perfect, as long as brands are willing to get started and break down on the issue of diversity, says Channel 4 CMO Dan Brooke.

“Brands are too shy. If you ask people in different communities, ‘would you like to see your life represented in advertising?’ most will say yes. You shouldn’t be asking why you should be diverse, you should be asking why are you not? It is important for there to be progress, not perfect progress.

The broadcaster is working on a number of diversity projects, including exploring the issue of social mobility and bringing the Superhumans Wanted competition back for 2017. The channel is committing to help progress the careers of BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) women and high potential women working in-house and at its external production companies.

Channel 4 is also set to become the first broadcaster to measure the diversity of its marketing content and the teams that produce it, in an extension of the Creative Diversity Network’s Diamond TV equality monitoring project.

Despite recent efforts, Brooke still believes the vast majority of companies can do a lot more on diversity. “We have come a long way but we have an enormously long way to go. Diversity is forever. Once people and companies really get diversity they never go back.”

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