Voices

Stop thinking about diversity as a job to do

Trak Ellis-Hill, Executive Creative Director at MOFILM on the simple solution to bringing about change: make diversity a business imperative, not just a nice to have.

Trak Ellis-Hill, MOFILM

Executive Creative Director

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We’ve had a century of modern advertising that has continued to ignore diversity. An industry that has fostered inequalities, stifled unique voices, and normalised inaction. And in doing so, has become out of step with the public. We all know things need to change, so what can we do to tackle ingrained thinking, dismantle systemic racism from within, and to make better work that really connects with our audiences? Simple. Make diversity a business imperative, not just a nice to have.

You could say we’re getting there with on screen diversity. Or you could say there’s a lot more work to do. A study from The Advertising Association found that 60% of all black respondents believed stereotypical depictions were prevalent in advertising. We need to stop delivering diversity through stereotyping and tokenism, we need to make ethnicity incidental not central to a story, and we need to take a more nuanced approach to the role models we produce.

Many of these challenges can be met by addressing the lack of diverse talent behind the camera: writers, producers, directors. This is crucial. Without allowing different kinds of people inside this little gated community of ours, to give them the keys to creative control, not only are we bound to the same old stories and perspectives, we end up attempting to portray the lives of others without any first-hand experience.

In order for diversity to be accurate and meaningful we must hear stories from their owners. It’s about voices being heard, not exploited. With nearly 90% of the ad industry being white, according to the IPA, and with 70% of those in the industry from ethnic minorities being privately educated, we need to stop thinking about diversity as a tick box and start thinking about all the different kinds of people who should belong to our creative community.

Stop thinking about diversity as a job to do. Start thinking about diversity as an opportunity.

Trak Ellis-Hill

Giving airtime to the underrepresented

At Mofilm, we’ve been focusing this year on getting to know our global community of 10,000 filmmakers much better. And I’ll be honest: we discovered that we were falling short when it comes to ethnic diversity behind the camera, despite much of our work addressing this in front of it. We realised we’d been ignoring something that had been staring us in the face. It isn't enough to assume our community will be inclusive without taking proactive action to get equal representation for groups that historically have been institutionally disenfranchised. So, we’ve now started to proactively connect with many more Black filmmakers. In the places where it is hardest to find Black talent, we dig in. And we will continue to. 

But we’re not only in search of more Black filmmakers. I’ve brought a lot of focus on diversity as skin colour, as we all have in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. And as we should. But diversity in advertising is much more than that: gender, age, disability, sexuality, shape and size, socio economic background. There are many more underrepresented and misrepresented groups of people marginalised by society that not only get little airtime in our ads but get very little chance to tell their own stories.

In ads, 4% of women are portrayed in leadership positions, 3% of ads portray women with obvious intelligence, and 1% of women with a sense of humour. These aren’t the women that I know. In Channel 4’s comprehensive study with YouGov about diversity in advertising, around 60% of those surveyed found the portrayal of LGBTQ people in ads was negative and they were rarely shown as part of a family unit. Since my kids have two mums, I find this personally insulting. There are over 12.9 million disabled people in the UK, yet they rarely see their lives reflected in advertising outside of spots talking specifically about disability. Pretty alienating and demeaning, I imagine.

An opportunity to do the right thing

It’s hard to ignore how little things have moved on. And yet, time and time again, studies show that, largely, consumers prefer and are more likely to buy from brands who celebrate diversity in their ads. If nothing else, building a work ethic and creative culture around diversity and inclusivity makes sense to every brand’s bottom line.

Humans are a truly multi-facetted bunch. Pooling our differences in the creative process, as well as the things that make us the same, is the only way we can get to richer more resonant stories that make a positive impact on society and sales.

If you take one thing from this article that helps, let it be this: stop thinking about diversity as a job to do. Start thinking about diversity as an opportunity. One that allows you to reach out to a wider community of makers to help create richer, more interesting and engaging, inclusive work. One that begs you to explore new territories and tell different stories and tell them authentically. One that allows your audience, your whole audience, to feel seen and heard, making your brand more relevant than it’s ever been. An opportunity to do the right thing. It may be hard, but anything worth something usually is.

Guest Author

Trak Ellis-Hill, MOFILM

Executive Creative Director,

About

Trak Ellis-Hill is Executive Creative Director at MOFILM where she oversees output of the largest and most diverse creative department in the world. Working with a community of 10,000 independent filmmakers, and using tech to fuel creativity, Trak produces content with authentic storytelling at its heart. Her journey began before ‘content’ was a thing, cutting her teeth at the UK’s leading digital agency of the day, Agency Republic, turning out innovative work for O2, Mercedes Benz and the BBC. Since then over the course of her 15-year career, Trak has created campaigns and brand content at agencies such as Karmarama, Huge, M&C Saatchi, Cheil, Google, R/GA, AKQA, and VCCP. Now a mum and SheSays mentor, Trak is currently working on a book showcasing the talents and insights of other female creative directors to inspire the next generation of women in advertising to be tenacious and unlock their potential.

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