Thought Leadership

How can the marketing industry move the dial when it comes to more authentic representation in advertising?

As an industry, authentic representation comes from diversifying the minds in the room where the marketing is made, on sets where creative is realised and in front of the camera as well.

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE

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Marketing can often be guilty of moving from one stereotype to the next. On the one hand this feels like moving the dial but on the other it simply perpetuates yet another example of inauthentic representation.

Authentic representation is all about storytelling; allowing people who have a story to tell, to tell it in their own words. To empower and employ people to speak up rather than be spoken for. Because it is in the speaking up that authentic realities can be properly understood and articulated.

By giving space to different voices brands have the opportunity to validate the story they tell, because those who have actually experienced it are part of the creative process. A diverse audience is seen and represented, rather than ignored or stereotyped. 

This means diversifying the people in the room where marketing is devised, on sets where creative is realised and in front of the camera, in the faces that will be beamed across screens.

Moving the dial doesn’t come from asking people about their experiences and interpreting that as best you can. It means inviting those people into the room, handing them a pen and taking a step back while they write the script.

With this in mind, we asked a selection of industry leaders, how can the marketing industry move the dial when it comes to more authentic representation in advertising?

If you have to ask, you’re not the one who should be making that call; please make space.

Hanisha Kotecha

Hanisha Kotecha

Hanisha Kotecha.jpg

Chief Client Officer // Co-Director

Creature London // Reset Sessions

My first response when asked this question was one of frustration at still being asked it. But, rising above it to be helpful is something many of us must continue to do if we hope to see lasting change. So, I’ll huff about it in private, not here. Here, I will share some simple advice:

If it feels like a stereotype, it probably is one.

If it looks like a stereotype, it probably is one.

If you have to ask, you’re not the one who should be making that call; please make space.

We are privileged in advertising; we can present a parallel universe where we can all feel seen. But I don’t believe many people felt seen when Fatima was told to switch her career from dancing to re-skill in ‘cyber’, especially given how notoriously hard it is for black dancers to break into ballet in the first place.

People do feel seen however, when someone behind the creative idea understands, or has lived experience of, the nuances beyond obvious differences. My favourite example right now is where a disabled mum can have lunch with her kid in an ad about chips, not her disability.

Advertisers and agencies need to delve into the nuances and idiosyncrasies of their audiences as well as broaden the experiences within their teams to really get this right.

Just do something. Even if it's not perfect. And even when others aren’t watching.

Lori Meakin

Lori Meakin

Lori Meakin, Joint.jpg

Founder

Joint

We don’t yet represent the brilliant diversity of our audiences and consumers in a proportionate way; not in the worlds we inhabit, nor in the worlds we create.

And yet the answer to how we move that dial is very clear: actively listen, educate ourselves and take action. Advice and information is all around us:

Follow people on social media who are ‘other’.

Read about how to be anti-racist, thanks June Sarpong, without expecting people of colour to do the work for you, thanks, Reni Eddo-Lodge.

Watch stuff. Like ‘Dear Child’. Or ‘Disclosure’. Or ‘Pose’.

Study the data in Caroline Criado Perez’s book ‘Invisible Women’.

Do a Bechdel test on your work.

Stop interrupting women twice as often as they interrupt you, whilst telling them they should interrupt less. #IAmSpeaking

And just do something. Even if it's not perfect. And even when others aren’t watching.

Sometimes ‘I don’t know how’ feels more like an excuse than a reason for inaction. Why aren’t we all doing this already? Do we secretly fear that by proportionately representing groups who have long been ‘otherised’, we somehow risk lowering our quality standards?

If so, we need to check our biases and read the evidence from people like McKinsey that proves diversity is more superpower than threat. And maybe do some work on our own skills or self-worth.

Because if we fear competing on a level playing field with people who don’t have any or all of our privileges, then Houston we really do have a problem.

Perhaps that’s how we can evolve in this area. More people of all kinds presenting themselves in the industry and therefore in the ideas and storytelling, just like normal.

Raj Thambirajah

Raj Thambirajah

Raj, Iris.JPG

Strategy Director

Iris

Getting better at authentic representation in advertising might be simply that. Being authentic. The ‘representation’ bit might not be so helpful. The very nature of it speaks to a mindset that evokes otherness, leaving room for second guessing, over-cautiousness and at worst, getting it wrong.

The definition of ‘authentic’ (by Google) is: of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine.’ And the definition of ‘representation’ is: ‘the action of speaking or acting on behalf of someone or the state of being so represented’.

In other words, ‘authentic’ means getting real. As real as can be. And ‘representation’ is little more than an act, and the possibility of misrepresentation. We learned this through the value of getting the minds of the transgender community fully immersed in, and across, the work we created for Starbucks’ Channel 4 Diversity in Advertising Award. The result was not ‘us’ trying to represent ‘them’ but them presenting themselves. Perhaps that’s how we can evolve in this area. More people of all kinds presenting themselves in the industry and therefore in the ideas and storytelling, just like normal.

Advertising is the outcome but having different kinds of people in agency/marketing/production/casting teams etc. means that we simply end up with ideas and stories truthfully reflecting different kinds of people. Moving from authentic representation to authentic presentation. Like me, as a British Asian strategist in advertising, I’m not being represented, nor representing anyone else; I’m simply presenting myself.

What we need to do is build from the inside out, not looking to just advertising, but the industry that inspires it.

Tony Quinn

Tony Quinn

Tony Quinn, BBD Perfect Storm.png

Chief Strategy Officer

BBD Perfect Storm

No self-respecting marketer won’t have at least one copy of Les Binet and Peter Fields ‘The Long And Short Of It’ hanging around. Some may even have read it.

Its key thrust is effectiveness can be planned, built and plotted in two ways; oversimplified as promotion in the short term, and brand building in the long term. And that’s the long and short of it; not such a clever title after all.

Whilst it was never really intended to be used this way, it makes for a valid backdrop to the question posed. 

Of course, we can be more representative in our marketing, and we can be respectful of the populus in how we mobilise talent both in front of the camera and behind it. In fact, less ‘can’ and more ‘will’.

However, it’s important that this isn’t just ‘a promotion’, that we’re not just seen to be doing the right thing in the short term, but more that we build towards the right thing for the long term.

What we need to do is build from the inside out, not looking to just advertising, but the industry that inspires it. Representation from within to build authentic representation beyond. Long term effect not simply a short-term quick fix. A grassroots programme.

In Small Axe, by Steve McQueen, John Boyega’s character utters the words, “As individuals, we have an impossible battle. As a collective, we stand a chance”.

That seems about right. That seems like the long and short of it.

Our brains are wired to respond to stories; they are less interested in brands.

Shazia Ginai

Shazia Ginai

Shazia headshot - FINAL.jpg

CEO

Neuro-Insight

Authenticity springs from genuine understanding of the situations and experiences of the people and events portrayed, whether that’s from active connection with the audiences you’re looking to engage, or making sure that a creative team has those life experiences baked in. Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty line cracked this by addressing an issue that the whole beauty industry is facing when it comes to inclusivity and diversity. When launching an expansive line of skin-tone appropriate makeup, it addressed a problem that affects people like herself and those who identify across a spectrum of gender and race, using a genuine insight into lived experiences.

From the consumer perspective, our brains are wired to respond to stories; they are less interested in brands. This fact is of utmost importance when it comes to what we encode into our long-term memory, which is the primary driver of behaviour change and future purchase intent. Another driver of memory is what we refer to as ‘engagement’, factors people personally relate to, that ‘ring true’ to people’s experience and emotions, especially the strength of emotion we feel. This is how authenticity in advertising connects and breeds success.

Brands are looking for emotional, values-driven communication to fit into people’s lives and beliefs, which means conveying empathy has never been more desirable. It’s also hard to fake, as a true reflection of authenticity. If they approach this in a way which lacks real empathy for people’s situations in their storytelling, they simply won’t succeed.

Put simply: if they want to connect with audiences through more diverse representation, and that drive is real, they need to demonstrate comprehension of that life experience in creative.

The key word here is ‘authentic’ and for that to happen we need to focus on real strategic objectives.

David Proudlock

David Proudlock

David Proudlock, CPB.jpg

Head of Strategy

Crispin Porter Bogusky

The marketing industry is usually guilty of boxing ticking when it comes to major cultural shifts.

According to research by Lloyds, 60% of ads in the last five years have featured all or majority white vs 86% of the UK population being white. Whilst the inclusion of BAME characters has doubled from 12% to 25% vs 13% of the population. However, this is usually supporting cast.

Consider the boxes ticked.

The key word here is ‘authentic’ and for that to happen we need to focus on real strategic objectives. When brands do, they tend to get it right.

Smirnoff created brilliant campaigns like ‘Equalise’ promoting gender diversity in nightlife as well as ‘We’re Open’ which saw the brand partner with the LGBT Foundation. Or Nike’s “Nothing Beats a Londoner’ campaign, possibly the greatest and most authentic representation of multi-cultural London.

It wasn’t easier for these brands than any other. They’ve just taken time to really understand the community, you know, proper insights, as well as the role their product plays. Critically there is a clear business case; sorry, it might not be comfortable but it’s true.

But that isn’t even an issue. The BAME community alone accounts for £300bn per year and rising, let alone LGBTQ+, women and all the other groups considered ‘minority’.

There is no magic answer here, it’s just called doing our job properly, delivering great and effective campaigns that make our clients money. Or just keeping ticking the boxes and leave the £300bn on the table for your competitors.

It’s clearly vital that all of us commit to depicting real, progressive portrayals of all genders that go beyond crass tokenism or box ticking.

Chris Pearce

Chris Pearce

Chris Pearce lower res[1].jpg

CEO

MRM

A recent YouGov/Getty Images piece of research confirmed that for most consumers, advertisers are still failing to not only represent various ethnicities and backgrounds, but also to realistically capture people’s lifestyles and cultures. Equally the COVID-19 crisis and the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted the deeply entrenched inequality in our society. So, what can the marketing industry do about this?

Well, change is definitely coming. The Unstereotype Alliance, convened by UN Women and co-chaired by my own parent company IPG, along with Unilever and Safaricom has done a fantastic job in both raising awareness of the issue and also serving as a platform to eradicate harmful gender-based stereotypes from advertising. As recently as July 2020 a new UK chapter has launched with a core group of 28 leading UK advertisers and agencies with the objective of securing commitments from over 100 brands.

We, as a company, know that we have a responsibility to be part of this change and there is much more to do on our part as well. We know with the involvement of different parties and committing ourselves to not only just listening but by acting and doing it right, this can contribute to the changes that the industry needs. It’s clearly vital that all of us commit to depicting real, progressive portrayals of all genders that go beyond crass tokenism or box ticking. We can only do this by truly understanding what is going on in consumers’ lives, in culture and society. And we will only do that effectively, when our own marketing and creative departments represent the society they wish to market to.

Related Tags

Representation Inclusion