Mars on why diversity needs to be ‘flipped on its head’

Mars’ marketing chief says that when it comes to running a successful business and producing strong advertising, diversity should be considered as “the cake, not the icing on it”.

Mars’ vice-president of marketing Michele Oliver has urged brands to think differently about diversity by not seeing it as an afterthought, given its Maltesers brand grew 8% as a result of diversity-focused campaigns.

Over the past year the chocolate brand has released multiple ads with diversity at their core. It won Channel 4’s ‘Superhumans Wanted’ competition in April, which saw it launch three ads featuring disabled people around the Paralympics. And in January the brand released a braille bus poster for International Braille Day.

According to the company, the business results have been “outstanding”. Double what it expected them to be.

“We set ourselves a target to grow the Maltesers brand by 4%. We grew the brand by 8%, which is ahead of the market,” Oliver tells Marketing Week.

Maltesers also set a target to grow brand affinity by 10%, but ended up growing it by 20%. From a pure business perspective, Oliver says it has been the single most successful campaign for a Mars brand in “at least a decade”.

Over half of consumers (57%) also said Maltesers is changing the way people perceive disability, which is “when things start to get exciting”, according to Oliver.

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

“It’s not just my passion and the business belief, it’s the data showing that you can grow a brand and do something good for society,” she says.

Oliver insists the British public is eager for brands such as Mars to focus on diversity and feature a more diverse demographic in their ads.

“It’s incredibly powerful when you hear that some people have never seen themselves represented on screen – they are more likely to see a singing baby in an ad than a person with disabilities.”

Despite this, one of the Maltesers clips, which featured a lady in a wheelchair talking about her new boyfriend, made the ASA’s list of the top 10 most complained about ads in 2016 for “being offensive to disabled people”.

Oliver says the brand worked closely with disability charity Scope to produce the ads, and anticipated there would be some people who would be uncomfortable with the ad content. Nevertheless, she is happy the ads prompted a debate.

She explains: “What reassured me was the overwhelmingly positive reaction. And yes, we’re creating a debate – great. Let’s get those opinions out in the open.”

Putting diversity at the top of the business agenda

There has been a lot of support within Mars to push the diversity agenda. Unfortunately, most of the brands shortlisted for the Channel 4 competition have since decided to drop their plans.

People need to see [diversity] as the cake rather than the icing – that it has a longevity and that it’s what consumers want to see from our brands

Michele Oliver, Mars

In response to this, Oliver says “it’s a real shame”, but adds that diversity is often not at the top of a brand’s agenda. She insists, however, that it needs to be seen as the solution to some of the challenges it faces in business, rather than an “isolated” point to tick off on a checklist.

“It’s a financially difficult year this year, with some brands budgeting day-to-day. People need to see [diversity] as the cake rather than the icing. As not something you do just for the Paralympics, but that it has a longevity and that it’s what consumers want to see from our brands,” she explains.

“A lot of people say their number one priority is to grow the business, number two to get great talent, and [wait to] point five or six to get diversity in there. We need to flip that on its head. Through diversity you will get great creative and better talent, which in turn will grow your business.”

Expanding diversity beyond advertising


Going forward, Oliver admits not every Mars brand will have diversity at its core, as she wants it to be authentic and fit in with a brand’s individual values. But Mars’ Snickers brand will be running a digital partnership with Gay Star News in April, which looks to support people who are coming out.

“Snickers is a brand of inclusivity and substance, and likes talking about being who you are, so that’s the message we’ll be taking with the partnership,” she explains.

For its recent Comic Relief campaign, which showed different hands building a cake made out of Maltesers, it made a point to feature people of different ages and ethnicities.

“It might seem small but we wouldn’t have done it 18 months ago; they would have been perfectly manicured 19-year-old hands. It’s part of the intention that you start to normalise diversity in how you show the mirror up to the consumer,” she explains.

The business is also putting stronger mandatories in with its agency partners, in a bid to create more diverse shortlists when it comes to casting and directors.

For diversity to have longevity, Oliver says it has to be “more than just your communications”, and include how a business recruits talent. In September, Mars is launching a marketing apprenticeship to attract people from lower economic backgrounds.

She concludes: “It can’t just be communications, there has to be depth and meaning. If you have a bunch of diverse people in a meeting room, the idea will instantly become inclusive and happen naturally. The people in the business, at agencies and behind and in front of the camera need to be representative of the population.”

Michele Oliver will be speaking at 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