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Siân Blackman, Account Director at The Diversity Standards Collective, on why brands must break through the homogeneity of Christmas past.
It’s a major event in every advertiser’s calendar. The time that you’ve been gearing up all year for, all eyes are on you to deliver an ad that stands out from the crowd, tells a powerful message, blows everyone away and overall leaves people with that warm glowy festive feeling. The pressure’s definitely on at Christmas time, when brands inevitably vie for centre stage amidst the deluge of festive communications.
It’s also a time when, typically, we’re not just thinking about ourselves. We’re thinking about those who might spend the rest of the year being overlooked, we’re grateful for the privileges we benefit from and try to do our bit to acknowledge those who are less fortunate. At the very least we’re thinking about how we can make others feel special. It is the season of giving, after all.
In the endless pursuit of finding new stories to tell (or new ways to tell them) and our growing societal awareness of different perspectives and life experiences, Christmas is a key moment. In light of the industry having been rightfully called out by ‘Christmas so White’ and brands facing more pressure than ever before from audiences to stand for something concrete, festive ads are becoming more diverse in response.
Tokenism isn’t simply about who is featured in the ad, it’s also about when people are featured, and why.Siân Blackman, Account Director at The Diversity Standards Collective
We’ve seen offerings from brands that break through the homogeneity of Christmas past, showcasing that there are plenty of ways to experience the season including and beyond the typical white, straight, non-disabled, nuclear family setup that has dominated media up until recently.
By no means is it perfect now: there’s still several experiences and communities under or mis-represented in this space. However there has been a noticeable shift and from looking at this year’s round of festive ads so far, the hope remains that this will only improve.
However, is it fair to say that often in marketing we have ambitions to uphold the learnings and good habits adopted in creating Christmas ads, only to fall back into old patterns as we become overwhelmed by the demands of the year ahead.
While there is certainly an intensified focus on brands and adverts at Christmas, I’d argue that more than ever before, brands are under constant scrutiny all year-round.Siân Blackman, Account Director at The Diversity Standards Collective
Once Christmas is over, Creme Eggs start appearing on supermarket shelves again and we vow to be changed people. We restart our dormant gym memberships, pull together a complicated budget to repair the damage we’ve made to our bank accounts, stock up on fruit and vegetables, with plans to replace the booze and cheese we’ve lived off of since mid-November. In similar tradition, though, the majority of us only make it a few weeks into the new year before breaking several resolutions.
While there is certainly an intensified focus on brands and adverts at Christmas, I’d argue that more than ever before, brands are under constant scrutiny all year-round. Not only from underserved communities who often have experienced a lifetime of being overlooked and therefore are hyper aware of it, the average consumer can now more readily identify tokenism - i.e. a flash in the pan effort without meaningful and long-term change behind it.
70% of people in the UK will have a friend, colleague or family member from a diverse community, and younger generations particularly have come to expect brands to reflect diversity in their communications. Therefore it’s time for us as an industry to think of diversity as more than a trend, and of diverse audiences as more than a niche, minority corner of the market.
Much like only acknowledging the LGBTQIA+ community during Pride month. To focus on Christmas in isolation is the advertising equivalent of posting a black square on Instagram in an attempt to solve racism and police brutality. Focusing on diversity in advertising only at Christmas and reversing this progress for the rest of the year will be met with disdain from the majority of audiences. Not only will people identify this, but will more than likely be vocal about brands failing to continually show up for diverse communities.
Tokenism isn’t simply about who is featured in the ad, it’s also about when people are featured, and why. To avoid tokenism, brands need to have authentic, considered answers to all of those questions.
We should harness the increased attention afforded to us at Christmas and use this as a conversation-starter, understanding that the spotlight will now stay on each brand 24-7, 365 days a year, and behave as such. There are countless opportunities to speak to a variety of people and communities year-round and make a conscious effort to resonate better with them, in content output and with internal policy change if possible.
Simple solutions begin with looking at who you are targeting; delving into any consumer data you have access to, UK community statistics and more to better understand who is and isn’t engaging with your brand. Use real insights, listen and learn from diverse communities to find out their motivations and behaviours around your organisation and product.
Commit to actively improving diversity all year round, not just at Christmas, and you’ll find that your employees and customers will thank you for it.Siân Blackman, Account Director at The Diversity Standards Collective
This approach will help you to find a business case to further complement the moral case for improving diversity all year round. Just as we wouldn’t become complacent with pursuits to deliver game-changing creativity, we should apply the same determination to understanding and improving the lives of all communities.
A business that makes and lives by a commitment to ensure authentic diversity and inclusivity are at the heart of any action (internal or external), incorporating this into their core values, will be deemed an authentic and genuine leader. The kind of leader which consumers can feel comfortable buying into, being loyal to, and advocating for.
So, I’d encourage brands and agencies to approach the new year with a different sort of resolution, one that is easier and more rewarding to uphold: commit to actively improving diversity all year round, not just at Christmas, and you’ll find that your employees and customers will thank you for it.
Sian Blackman is Account Director at The Diversity Standards Collective, an organisation which offers brands and agencies the opportunity to get behind the data and closer to diverse intersectional individuals. Ensuring in-house thinking and outgoing campaigns are crafted around the varying preferences of modern consumers.
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