Mars has been at the vanguard of UK advertising’s drive to do a better job of representing society in its creative output.
Its Maltesers brand won Channel 4’s first competition aiming to encourage brands to show more diversity in their advertising and subsequently aired a series of ads with people with disability at their heart. That led Maltesers to win Marketing Week’s ‘Brand of the Year’ award at this year’s Masters of Marketing awards, alongside a host of wins in other categories including the best FMCG campaign and Diversity and Inclusion Champion (alongside Channel 4).
The campaign has also been a big commercial success. Maltesers hoped sales would rise by 4% but they actually went up by 8% while the ad was on air around the Paralympic Games in 2016. And measures like brand affinity increased by 20%, double the target, meaning it was Maltesers’ most successful campaign in 10 years.
That success means Maltesers has continued to air the ads on TV, augmenting them with new ad formats such as a braille bus poster. Some of Mars’s other brands have also looked to become more inclusive, with Snickers teaming up with Gay Star News as part of a year-long partnership.
Leading the charge on this work has been Michele Oliver, vice president of marketing for Mars Chocolate UK. She says that as a portfolio of brands, the chocolate division has been following a “new mandate” to ensure all its ads are seen through a diverse and inclusive lens.
What’s important is to focus on what people notice not explicitly but implicitly. My old boss used to say it’s also about what you do when people aren’t watching. That’s what we’re focusing on.
Michele Oliver, Mars
But to do that requires more than just a shift in creative output. And so Mars is moving its diversity agenda forward by working with its agency partners and rethinking how it hires internally.
Mars has set up an apprenticeship to attract more young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds into marketing. It now insists that director shortlists must be diverse. And it is planning some “fairly intense” unconscious bias training with its creative agencies, which include AMV BBDO and adam&eveDDB, next year.
“What’s important is to focus on what people notice not explicitly but implicitly. My old boss Fiona Dawson used to say ‘it’s also about what you do when people aren’t watching’. That’s what we’re focusing on. We are trying to be intentional and systemic about it,” Oliver tells Marketing Week.
“Mars has very long-term relationships with agencies, we don’t swap them every two or three years. So rather than doing the token thing [of being inclusive in your advertising], you get your agency to bring in more diverse faces around the table. This is how you change [the industry] in a more sustainable way.”
Adam&eveDDB has also set up an internal group with a number of its clients, including Diageo, to talk about how it can push forward the diversity agenda at a senior level. Oliver also sits on a diversity-focused board by The Marketing Society, which looks to get agencies and clients to tackle the matter.
“It has to be a positive thing to be doing this together. Once you get past the agency/client divide, everyone is just a bunch of people. Every person I’ve met really wants to embrace the change, particularly if you work across multiple levels,” she adds.
Making diversity ‘a commodity’
However, Oliver says diversity is still seen as an exception, not the norm. Speaking at Creativebrief’s Bite Live event this week, she labels as “totally wrong” that Maltesers had to go to a specialist casting agency to find actors for the campaign.
“To make the Maltesers ads we had to go to a specialist casting agency to recruit disabled women. Therefore, by definition, any ad that we make if we don’t explicitly say ‘we would consider having a disabled person’ we will never get a disabled person in our ad,” she explained. “You should have a casting agency and a character and the list of people you look at has the most appropriate and therefore the most diverse representation of society.”
And she admits that while this willingness to focus on diversity is a brand advantage for Maltesers at the moment because so few other brands are telling that story, she hopes that won’t always be the case.
“I hope [diversity] becomes a commodity. At this point [it’s] great that maybe there is brand advantage because we’re able to tell some stories that haven’t been told because unfortunately the stories of people with disabilities, or older women or women of colour or lesbian women or single mothers haven’t been told and maybe we can be the first to tell them,” she says.
“But I hope being first means there is a second, third, fourth, fifth and it just becomes stories of people.”
Oliver also hopes that other marketers will pick up the diversity baton. She has been called a role model and is taking a strong stance on diversity at work, for example by highlighting ‘Equal Pay Day’ – the day when the gender pay gap means that women stop earning relative to men for the rest of the year- in her email signature. However, she sees herself as more of a “pacemaker”.
“If I can do something like that, that ups the pace of the next wave and at some point they will go even faster and better and further, then that really excites me as a way to be a role model.”
Expanding diversity globally
While Mars’s chocolate business and Oliver are clearly committed to creating more inclusive advertising, there is still a job to do when it comes to other parts of the business, admits Oliver.
She is currently in talks with her counterparts in the food and pet businesses to create a broader “UK-wide position and commitment to the diversity and inclusion agenda”. And the company is looking to other markets to see how it can make changes to its advertising there.
However, this can be difficult. Oliver admits the UK market is quite progressive, and that inclusivity means “different things in different markets”.
“In China, [the stigma around] working women is a big thing that needs to be addressed. I’m literally in the process of trying to map globally what the big issues are and where the need is to be more inclusive in our marketing and communications. But we’re talking about it all the time, and the US agenda has picked up pace,” she explains.
When it comes to Maltesers, Oliver says it is “always” looking for the next wave of inclusive ads. In the meantime, it will keep its current videos, which show disabled women telling funny personal anecdotes, on air.
She concludes: “There is a massive opportunity to tell every woman’s story, particularly women who aren’t shown in advertising such as disabled women, gay women or single mums. We’re working out the difficult second album, but [diversity] is now definitely at the heart of the Maltesers brand.”