I have just taken on a new role as the chair of ISBA’s newly formed diversity and inclusion network. Not another diversity body, I hear some groan, aren’t we drowning in those? Well, yes and no.
There is a plethora of initiatives, projects and organisations in this space, which can make it difficult to keep track of who is working on what. So one of the objectives of the ISBA network is to help brands navigate this area, making sure they are plugged into best practice not just in our sector but across industries, supporting existing players and where appropriate filling gaps.
Deciding which gaps we want to fill made for interesting discussion at the exploratory meetings we have had with the brands that have already signed up as members. Gender equality, LGBTQ rights, disability, age. There is so much to tackle. And we want to have an impact – thankfully I am not the only one tired of talking about how bad things are.
We want to take action that will bring about meaningful change. But we have to be realistic about the influence of the marketer across an organisation. It is often limited by boards and by shareholders. Not necessarily a bad thing, just a truth with which we have to live.
But we do have huge influence on our advertising output and on the teams, internal and external, that create that. So the question we have asked ourselves is: how can those of us who are passionate about diversity and inclusion bring that passion to bear there?
First, we need to understand the scale of the problem. How diverse are our teams and agencies? How representative of our consumers is our advertising output? We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. There are lots of resources we can use and work we can support to get this insight. We will build on this to develop toolkits and best practice guides.
I know there will be more eye-rolling at this point. I know some people think this is all a bit pointless and makes no difference. And I would agree, if you are just doing a tick box exercise and shoving ‘an ethnic’ or ‘a disabled kid’ into the creative because you haven’t had one for a while, then please don’t. It isn’t helping anyone, in fact it is probably damaging your brand.
I am advocating something different. Something credible. Something authentic. I am advocating thinking about your target audience carefully.
We live in an incredibly diverse society but you wouldn’t know it from much of the advertising output. I would love to see real change over the next five years.
If you are selling a car, insurance, electricity – well, most things – your audience is almost certainly female. Think about her and how you can connect with her. The woman you put in the ad doesn’t need to look like her physically. She does need to share the same attitude.
One of the most powerful out-of-home images I ever used on a campaign was of an African-Caribbean woman in her early 40s, not smiling, actually looking pretty fierce. But the audience (young, old, all ethnicities) loved it because they loved her attitude, which was aligned to the brand. Maltesers’ recent campaigns worked not just with wheelchair users but with anyone who sees a feisty, funny, slightly saucy woman – and the campaign matches the values of the brand.
We live in an incredibly diverse society but you wouldn’t know it from much of the advertising output. I would love to see real change over the next five years. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if campaigns reflected the diversity of the target audience? If we are to achieve this diversity we need to change some of our own hiring practices.
As an industry, at least in the junior roles, we are pretty good on equal employment opportunities regarding gender and LGBTQ, but we are not so good on ethnicity, disability, socio-economic background or age. I want everyone to be bright, but I want a really good mix of bright people who can be themselves at work and so bring their best to work.
If we are to bring about change, we also need to change the briefs we put out and the demands we make of our agencies. We need to be explicit about wanting to have representative campaigns. And for the avoidance of doubt I am not insisting you have to feature older people in ads for a skateboard or men in ads for sanitary products. But I am saying that you could feature a disabled child in your skateboard campaign or have a woman from an ethnic minority in your tampon one.
And importantly, if you decide to be more inclusive, making sure you have people in the room who really know what a child with that particular impairment might be like or how women from that particular ethnicity are likely to live. We are not all the same, although personal experience tells me we are more likely to have rice in the house.
If we can bring about this change, then living with the groan and the eye rolling will have been more than worth it.
Tanya Joseph is director of external relations at Nationwide