Voices

Are you bored of advertising’s diversity dance too?

There’s proof that huge groups of the population are being overlooked or only represented in a tokenistic way in advertising. Asad Dhunna, Founder of The Unmistakables explores what he's learnt about diversity and inclusion.

Asad Dhunna, The Unmistakables

Founder

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Writing about diversity is boring. Reading about it is boring too. The standard fair would be to reel out tired lines such as “diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance”. Let’s look at the data instead:

94.5%
C-suite execs are white
7%
ads position people from the BAME community as the sole, or main protagonist
72%
LGBTQ+ community believe their representation in advertising is tokenistic

There’s proof that huge groups of the population are being overlooked or only represented in a tokenistic way in advertising. British South Asians is one such group. As a member of this demographic, I’ve become confused about why we get lumped into the catch-all ‘BAME’ term. After all, my experiences as someone who grew up in a middle-class North London environment are vastly different to my neighbours in Peckham, and yet brands and agencies automatically negate that nuance by putting us in the ‘other’ box. In fact, when Nike’s ’Nothing Beats a Londoner’ advert came out in 2018, I was one of very few voices criticising the work, highlighting the lack of British Asians, a demographic that makes up approximately 20% of the capital city.

We’re helping to address the absence of British Asians in sport through the work we’re doing with the England Cricket Board and the South Asian Action Plan. Where we don’t have a client as advanced as the ECB to take the leap and include underrepresented groups, we take it on ourselves. Take stock photography, for example.

Earlier this year, when looking for photos to brighten up our pitches and presentations, we noticed the obvious dearth of British-born people from Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan or Bangladeshi backgrounds in everyday scenarios that could speak to our work and what we wanted to convey. In fact, when searching for ‘British Indian’ we were more likely to find photos of tech workers, Tikka Masalas and, no disrespect, Gandhi than actual representation of some 1.4m people in the UK. It’s why we launched Despora, a free-to-use bank of images featuring the Desi Diaspora, hence the portmanteau.

All too often people hide their difference in order to fit in, especially in our industry that can feel monocultural in its make-up and outputs.

Asad Dhunna

The impetus to create change is one of the core principles of The Unmistakables, the culture and communications consultancy I run. We help organisations become more representative of society on the inside and out. Inside means looking at the workforce and understanding how to foster teams that can harness diverse viewpoints and outside means creating marketing and communications that actually reflect the country we live in.

We don’t do moral ‘feel good’ exercises and surface level training. Our work is grounded in what we call the 'difference dividend', the ability to boost the bottom line by improving culture, conversation or ultimately commercial gain. We know there’s money on the table. In our inaugural Stereotypes Study we uncovered the views of Muslims in the UK and found that 52% think food brands in particular do not understand them. That’s a market worth £20.5bn that is an integral part of British society.

Why ’The Unmistakables’ as a name? Some have said it makes us sound like superheroes; flattering, but we haven’t ordered branded capes yet. But for me the name is about walking into a room and being remembered for being different. All too often people hide their difference in order to fit in, especially in our industry that can feel monocultural in its make-up and outputs.

The Unmistakables is made up of minorities, people who know what it’s like to be the only one like them in a group, and importantly what it’s like to be overlooked by brands and marketers. We are combining our lived experiences with our decades worth of professional experience in the field to be a force for good in the industry.

Guest Author

Asad Dhunna, The Unmistakables

Founder, The Unmistakables

About

Asad runs The Unmistakables, a consultancy made up of minorities. The company makes organisations and campaigns more representative of modern society both inside and out and works with the likes of the England Cricket Board, Barnardo’s, Openreach and Unilever. He was previously the Director of Communications for Pride in London and has held senior positions at a number of marketing and communications agencies.