‘Marketers need to work harder’ insists Thinkbox CEO as brands drop diversity ads

Thinkbox CEO Lindsey Clay says brands’ representation of gender and diversity “is just not good enough”, after it is revealed brands are dropping their plans to promote diversity in their advertising following Channel 4’s ‘Superhumans Wanted’ competition.


Thinkbox CEO Lindsey Clay says it’s “a great shame” that many of the brands shortlisted for Channel 4’s ‘Superhumans Wanted’ competition have since decided not to run the campaigns pitched at promoting diversity.

The competition, announced in April last year, offered the winning brand £1m of commercial airtime throughout the Rio Paralympics. Every pitch had to prominently feature disabled talent and issues. Channel 4 expected between 20 and 30 applicants, but saw nearly 100 brands and agencies enter the competition.

Maltesers won and subsequently released three ads that had disability and diversity at their heart. Earlier this year it also unveiled a braille bus poster.

Seven other brands were shortlisted. However, most of the brands have since disclosed they won’t be taking their pitches any further.

Both Lynx and Amazon tell Marketing Week that advertising budget has been placed elsewhere and that “communication priorities have changed”.

Meanwhile, Barclays says it won’t be doing anything further with its original pitch plans for the Channel 4 competition, but that it is still putting diversity at the heart of the brand through its products and services and promoting this through its owned and earned channels.

A spokeswoman for Adam&Eve DDB tells Marketing Week that H&M and Lloyds are “looking to find the right opportunities to launch the campaigns and they are still very much in consideration, but there are no concrete plans as of yet”.

Dove’s creative agency Ogilvy also confirms there is no news around a new campaign being launched. That said, it is looking to launch a new product “completely inspired by diversity and female body shapes in particular”.

Britvic did not comment on its diversity plans for Purdey’s.

Reacting to the news, Clay says it’s “a great shame” that most of the brands have decided not to run the activity they pitched.

“It was a brilliant initiative from Channel 4 to really put some serious attention on this topic. I’m sure they didn’t expect everything to transform overnight, but that it would force people to take it seriously and consider the opportunities,” she says.

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

While she credited Lloyd Bank’s recent “pioneering” work for ensuring a diverse range of people is represented in its advertising, she believes the industry as a whole “needs to work harder at it”.

“It’s just not good enough. We’re supposed to be setting the agenda through advertising, so why couldn’t it break boundaries? Consumers are incredibly accepting.

“The Maltesers ad that won was based around quite an edgy subject matter, where a disabled woman was talking candidly about her sex life and using Maltesers to show what happened. And people didn’t turn a hair. We all have to take our responsibility as a creative industry seriously, and make sure we do better.”

The Maltesers ad did show up on the Advertising Standards Authority’s most complained about ads in 2016, garnering 151 complaints. The ads was not banned, however.

Danielle Wootton, head of marketing at disability charity Scope, adds that she was sad to hear that some brands have “lost their appetite to produce campaigns that reflect a diverse and modern Britain”.

“Adverts like [Maltesers] were hugely important in increasing the visibility of disabled people on our screens. Disabled people come from a diverse array of backgrounds and rarely see their lives reflected in marketing campaigns, the media, in advertising and in public culture,” she says.

“Maltesers’ sales grew by 10% at the end of last year and research by the brand showed their customers were more likely to buy Maltesers after the adverts were released, exceeding the results of any other campaign it has run in the last eight years – it makes good business sense for brands to be diverse.”

When approached for comment, a spokesman for Channel 4 said the reaction to last year’s competition was “incredible” and that it would be “thrilled” with a similar response this year.

He adds: “Channel 4 is passionate about diversity, we want to improve diversity across all of our output and it’s really important we continue play a leading role in helping the creative industries embrace diversity.”

UPDATE: Lynx’s marketing manager David Titman has responded to the article by explaining that as it did not win the ‘Superhumans Wanted’ competition, it decided not to move forward with that particular creative.

“But challenging stereotypes remains at the core of ‘Find Your Magic’ and will be further explored by the brand to encourage UK guys to feel attractive in their own skin. Brands across the Unilever portfolio are committed to using their influence to contribute to positive cultural change as part of the #UNSTEREOTYPE movement,” he said.

Marketing Week is partnering with DIMALYNC for the Diversity in Marketing & Advertising Summit, taking place on 4 and 5 April. It aims to encourage greater diversity and inclusion within leadership roles and campaigns. For more information and to purchase tickets visit https://dimalync.com/