‘Ads that appeal to different ethnic groups aren’t just altruistic, they make commercial sense’

Marketers’ attempts to cross cultural lines in their advertising are hampered by fears they will alienate a large part of their audiences despite people from ethnic minorities being more likely to purchase from brands that resonate with them, according to a report.

The Dove campaign for real Beauty was hailed by industry experts for 'getting diversity right'.
The Dove campaign for real Beauty was hailed by industry experts for ‘getting diversity right’.

The study, conducted by the Advertising Association’s (AA) think tank Credos, concluded that companies are ignoring the commercial rewards of reflecting cultural sensitivities realistically in their work.

More than half (53%) of the UK’s black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) population say they prefer to purchase from brands they feel “meaningfully” represent their culture, while 51% say they are more likely to purchase from those brands. Nearly half of all respondents (48%) say they prefer and 45% are more likely to buy from brands that champion diversity in their advertising and marketing.

The figure is set to rise, according to the report, with the country’s BAME population of 8 million set to more than double by 2045. On average, BAME’s are younger than the rest of the UK population and more likely to use technology, spend more time online and also spend more money on their appearance.

Additionally, 78% of people feel ethnicity is one of the three most relevant aspects of diversity in advertising, compared to nationality (34%), religion (32%) and gender (26%).

Despite the strong commercial incentive, people in minorities are “underserved” frequently in campaigns. Of 50 advertisers investigated by the report, 44% were found to be running campaigns more likely to be seen by white people living in the UK than people from ethnic backgrounds.

The lack of diversity is echoed by the disparity between BAMEs and white respondents’ attitudes to whether advertising embraces the cultural shift taking place nationwide. Some 45% of the black, Asian and minority ethnic people surveyed believe advertising represents the multicultural society they live in compared to 57% of white respondents.

To turn the tide, industry observers say companies and agencies need to do more to futureproof their marketing teams with people from different backgrounds.

Around 90% of the advertising industry is white, according to its trade body the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. The organisation hopes to tackle the issue by integrating the learnings from the AA’s report its own training modules about diversity in advertising, while also exploring the possibility of apprenticeship schemes being run by all its members.

Karen Blackett, chief executive of MediaCom UK, which counts Procter & Gamble, Mars and BSkyB among its clients, says the industry’s cultural shift will take time. While efforts are being made to close the gap through insights and recruitment drives, there is still a “fear” from some brands that any attempt to balance the nuances of niche cultures with general cultures could alienate large parts of their audiences.

“Until the makeup of the industry changes then you may still get those unconscious bias”, she adds.

However, there are signs that the industry’s recent diversity initiatives are being recognised, particularly those younger respondents polled for the report. More than half (61%) of 19 to 29-year olds believe brands are investing to boost diversity in their communications in comparison to 54% for 30 to-45-year olds.

Should the industry successfully retool its approach to diversity then it could lead to a similar, albeit more scaled down version of the “Total Market” approach adopted in the US. Companies including McDonald’s and Coca-Cola have multicultural teams that offer deeper insight into the valuable youth, teen and millennial segments. It means marketers are more attuned to identifying culturally relevant insights that ground the marketing, creative and media plans.