The Need for Diversity in Advertising

Race has become, over the last few years, a heated topic, not just here at home in South Africa, but globally. America has in the last few years, looks to be retreating back into the civil rights battle of the 1960’s. Europe has been swept with extremist racial viewpoints whilst managing the migrant crisis. Australia too, driving some rather unsavoury migrant policies and opinions. It feels as though we were living happily together for a while and it has bubbled up again because there simply is not enough change or representation.

Within the frame of the advertising world, the only world I really know well enough to comment on, there definitely is not enough change within our staff and in turn, the advertising we put out to the world.

Particularly in South Africa, our communication and agency staff is certainly not reflective enough of a true South African demographic reality. A diverse staff provides diversity of thought and consumer insight that desktop research or “cultural immersions” could never provide. The white, heterosexual, mid- to high-income view is most likely not the most popular or widely-accepted view. Especially not here on the tip of Africa.

It will take time for us to develop great black ad talent, as many of the marketing and advertising qualifications are from private, inaccessible institutions. We aren’t exactly recruiting talent from high school like the accounting firms, or developing creative programs in schools to put the creative industries top of mind. The industry is simply not thought of or in their sphere of awareness.

“Diversity of thought is powerful. We need to become the industry that embraces a vast array of talent from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, while also making a real effort to recruit people of different cultural experiences, ages, genders, religions, sexual orientations and lifestyles. This will give us the insights and the skills to evolve alongside the massive demographic, technological and social shifts that we’ll see in the coming decades” – AdAge

But it’s not just about race, it’s also about representing women, lower income groups, the LGBTQ community, and language equally. We disconnect ourselves from our audiences when we put across inauthentic views and assumptions. People resonate with “people like me”. Race, gender and income brackets are immediate visual isolators.

With younger consumers (I’m purposefully avoiding using clichéd marketing terms here), they want to support brands that are ‘good”, brands that represent diverse people and relationships. They are more likely to put their money where their heart is and they can see right through inauthentic advertising.

Advertising is a powerful medium. If we have the power to change how someone feels about a beer brand or a bank, we aren’t optimising our communication for good well enough. We have the opportunity to have a positive, widespread impact on people on more important issues. We should, as agencies, push back against clients and educate them on real people and real problems their products can solve. We should put across messages that are positive and authentic, and we can only do that by making people real, as part of our staff and as part of our audiences.

Two great articles about diversity in advertising (from a rather Americanized viewpoint):

Adweek: Survey on growing demand for diverse representations of families in ads

Adage: The advertising industry needs diverse leadership 

Image source: unsplash, Andrew Ridley