Standing up for Diversity: Having the confidence to do the right thing

Fear of doing the wrong thing is not an excuse for a lack of progress when it comes to inclusion

Gabby Ludzker



Last year we embarked on an epic piece of proactive research together with our partners Material to understand the impact of DE&I content in brands’ marketing communications. 

The research has identified an irreversible shift in consumer behaviour where diversity and inclusion are concerned. British consumers are making it their business to understand diversity within wider society, with 63% saying they actively keep up to date with news surrounding diversity issues. 52% will even go out of their way to research whether a brand is authentic when it comes to diversity and walks the walk as well as talks the talk.

We mustn’t be afraid, that as we evolve to make our advertising more inclusive.

Gabby Ludzker, CEO, RAPP UK

But UK consumers also expect brands to do way more than just inclusive representation - they expect it to be part of your brand’s DNA. Tain Joliffe, Diversity Strategy Director at RAPP highlighted “the critical belief that brands need to build beyond the hygiene factor and engage with DE&I strategies authentically; ensuring it bleeds through their whole organisation and value system.”  This includes holding themselves accountable (75% agree), working with appropriate partners (75%), being transparent about plans in the future (74%) and building a diverse workforce (71%).

The research ultimately revealed what we call The Brand Inclusion Gap – the difference between the advancements in DE&I that brands are making and consumer expectations.

The following critical findings outline why DE&I is so important to brands:

1.      Our research revealed that nearly 80% of consumers think it's important that brands are diverse and inclusive with their comms.

2.      In fact, the research found that when brands get Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) wrong, they risk a decline in sales of up to 25%

3.      And 39% of people would then talk negatively about them.

So can you really afford to avoid addressing it?

It’s time to act. But then we hit another barrier. The fear of getting it wrong and suffering the aftermath of ‘cancel culture’ on a very public social media field is paralysing both marketers and agencies alike. Emily Graham, Global Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at Omnicom has described these as an ‘Oh shit moments’ - there is no better phrase to express the heart-wrenching, panic-inducing moment when you see your marketing communications go up in flames in the public domain. But she advocated for a new cultural phenomenon - ‘correction culture’: where, as marketers we learn from our mistakes and set them right openly and transparently, where we listen, consult and address our language and visual cues and then we are in a much better place for public forgiveness and support. This is exactly the turnaround that Bisto gravy saw after they were criticised for showing a black family enjoying their Christmas dinner. As quickly as the negativity was spiralling, a counter group challenged the snowball. Why is this wrong? Do black families not have Christmas dinner? Is this not actually an unacceptable vehicle for racist views? The tide turned, as it should.

But the point Emily was making is that we mustn’t be afraid, that as we evolve to make our advertising more inclusive, we are all going to have our own ‘oh shit moment’ and it’s how we prepare for it and deal with it in the moment that will make or break our brand’s reputation. 

There are some easy actions we can take to get things right from the start. Firstly, bring in representatives from the diverse groups you are representing in your advertising, as advisors. This can be a formal process with an official committee but it can also be a more casual check in with groups from your own client/agency network. It is invaluable. Look how brilliantly the challenges are portrayed for the deaf community in the recent Cadbury’s chocolate fingers ad. That is because they not only had a deaf actress protagonist but also a community of deaf cast behind the scenes. Conversely, Chris Kenna, CEO and Founder of Brand Advance Group, on research launch event panel, talked about a campaign they were running for a blue-chip company that had been approved nationally to run multi-channel with a £37million spend behind it. As they were setting it up, he received a WhatsApp from one of his junior account execs asking if it was a joke. The creative had massively obvious racist undertones. But no one had spotted it or called it out because this was the first time it had been seen by someone of colour. We think…

And that leads me to my next point. The reason this young man felt both responsible and empowered to text the company founder to challenge a £37m campaign, was because Chris had cultivated an authentic and respectful culture in his company, allowing people of all levels and all cultures to feel confident to challenge the status quo. This is fundamental. 

Panellist Tricia Cusden, founder of Look Fabulous Forever, a cosmetics company for older women that she founded in her 60’s, is a woman who has risen to success by challenging the status quo. She talked heartbreakingly about suddenly becoming invisible and unconsidered. None of the brands she relates to and buys from have ‘people like her’ featured in their advertising, whereas the brands that target her with older talent seem to be limited to life insurance and cremation services. This is incredibly short-sighted of brands when over 65’s account for roughly 40% of the total spending growth experienced in the last 5 years. Tricia also talked about creatives in agencies – “where is your older talent?” she asked of the room…

So what is the learning in a nutshell here? For me it’s about having the confidence to seriously address the Diversity and Inclusion of your brand’s voice.

On the back of the research, we have created Rapp’s I.D.E.A Assessment: A product for those that want more external support, this scores your brand experience and brand expression against Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility and recommends a full suite of customer experience solutions to close the Brand Inclusion Gap. This was designed to limit the risk and encourage our industry to take the leap.

So while you are pondering your next moves, ask yourselves the following questions as a starter for ten:

  • -  Have you ensured that all work is ‘vetted’ by the communities it features? 
  • -  Does your brand have the confidence to acknowledge the percentage of your customer base over 65 in your creative talent choice? 
  • -  Do your teams have the psychological safety to challenge more senior colleagues if ideas exclude marginalised groups? 

After all, a miss from a DE&I standpoint could risk just over a quarter of your sales. Are you brave enough to ignore that?

Guest Author

Gabby Ludzker



Gabby Ludzker is CEO of Rapp UK, joining the agency in 2020. She spent 11 years at Proximity: 3 years running the International business in the Paris office and 8 years in Proximity London as MD and then CEO. Coming from a Digital background at the start of it all, Gabby is passionate about the constant evolution of Marketing, finding new and better ways to solve meaty client problems, make consumers happy and deliver outstanding creative work! She is also obsessed with harnessing the collective genius of the Agency to make magic.

Related Tags