Voices

Diverse casting is a red herring

Efrain Ayala, Global Diversity and Inclusion Director, Marketing at Reckitt, on the danger of seeing diversity as a tick box exercise.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

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“I have seen many brands and storytellers distracted by diverse casting as a tick box exercise.” Efrain Ayala, Global Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Marketing at Reckitt, is pointing to the danger of seeing diverse casting as the only route to diversity.

Pointing to research showing that 88% of consumers across the globe do not feel seen in modern advertising Ayala said there is a real opportunity for inclusive leaders to drive meaningful change. “If you are talking about diversity and inclusion in isolation then you have missed the mark,” he explains. 

Pointing to the example of Toyota’s Paralympic advert starring Jessica Long, which focused on her mother’s sacrifice. A story which could have been viewed to suggest that her life only had meaning because of her exceptional athleticism; a narrative which arguably upholds ableism. 

He explained: “This is a common trope used to describe disabled children as a burden who can only be successful by being physically exceptional.”

The power of humanity and curiosity 

Sharing his view on why representation isn’t enough Ayala pointed to the fact that the United Kingdom has the twelfth largest gender based healthcare gap in the world. Pointing to research showing that only one in ten felt they had enough information about the menopause and 4 in 5 women felt unheard by medical professionals he noted that by not understanding audiences advertisers can do real harm to culture. “When you understand the barriers you can see who is left behind,” he added.

The responsibility for the advertising industry, therefore, lies in understanding and harnessing the power of positive portrayal and relentlessly questioning bias.  “Ads that only rely on diverse representation don’t work. We can’t rely on diverse casting to drive active influence in culture.” Instead, he believes that advertising needs to shift its focus to create casting briefs that are based on what the portrayal is rather than the physical attributes. 

A relentless and ongoing pursuit that he believes will create ‘opportunities to change the game’ and will be driven by inclusive leaders. He explains: “A curious leader asks whose voice has been artificially amplified and whose voice has been left out.”

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Diversity Inclusion