Beautiful Inside And Out: Brands Getting It Right

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Marketers and brands are embracing diverse communities in their campaigns. However, if we’re really going to turn the tide then change has to start on the inside.

Out-of-the-box thinking is at the core of the creative ad industry. But, when it comes to diversity, the box we were thinking out of has been stereotypically white, Caucasian, heterosexual, and male. Ads feature twice as many male characters as women, according to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender (founded by the Academy Award winner and Thelma and Louise star). The Institute found that 25% of ads feature men only compared to 5% that feature women only, and men voice 18% of ads compared to 3% women. Little has improved in a decade (the Institute studied ads 2007 to 2017).

However, we are now living in a post #MeToo world. It is a world that must embrace gender equality, gender fluidity, same-sex relationships and ethnic diversity. And it is beginning to do just that. 

Global brand Unilever, for example, ran a campaign called #ShowUs in a bid to shatter beauty stereotypes. The aim was to create a stock library showing women as they are, and not how others think they should be. Working with Getty Images and Girlgaze, a network of 200,000 diverse and inclusive female-identifying photographers, it has produced a library of more than 5,000 images. 

116 Girlgaze photographers shot the pictures, which represent a diverse global community of women, non-binary and female-identifying photographers. For the first time, the 179 women featured defined the search descriptions and tags for their images, which the ad industry can license for campaigns.

Unilever has also created All Things Hair, a community of editors, stylists and influencers aiming to share “honest, diverse, inclusive and creative hair inspiration.” The channel features transgender couple Jake and Hanna Graf talking about their experience transitioning in a Q&A style video interview. It has cast cancer survivors and junior doctors alongside models on the channel.

P&G’s campaign The Talk sought to embrace diversity through a moving two-minute video. The video shows ‘the talk’ that black parents have with their children to warn them about the prejudice they may face because of the colour of their skin. Both P&G and Unilever are members of the Unstereotype Alliance, which aims to eradicate stereotypes from the advertising industry. 

Rebranding diversity: how do you hit the right tone?

Mars, another founder member of the Alliance, is responsible for an iconic U.K. ad campaign for chocolate brand Maltesers that put disabled people front and centre. It has been Mars Chocolate U.K.’s most successful campaign for ten years. The ad’s tone is pitch-perfect. It uses humour and shows disabled people in universally awkward situations. “We’re just shining a light and telling a story in a light-hearted way,” says Michele Oliver, Global Corporate Brand and Purpose Director for Mars and the creative force behind the campaign. “One of the biggest barriers is fear. People are scared of getting it wrong. We worked with Scopethe UK disability charity at every single step. If you don’t live and breathe this space go and find people who do and seek their counsel.”

There’s also a risk that ads ditch one stereotype for another. “We swan from stereotype to stereotype because we think it is a shorthand,” says Kate Stanners, Chairwoman and Global Chief Creative Officer, for Saatchi & Saatchi. Both she and Mars’ Oliver prefer the term inclusivity to diversity. “It is about creating content that includes. That means the white middle-aged man all the way through to the minorities in society,” says Oliver.

Stanners cites the example of a recent campaign Saatchi & Saatchi worked on for Luvs diapers in New York. The concept is that people are still learning with their first child, and more confident by the time that their second arrives. Luvs’ most recent campaign shows same-sex couples. “People loved the fact that it was not making a point that people were same-sex but that they were first kid second kid and it felt like an incredibly inclusive campaign showing African Americans, women bosses expressing their milk – it wasn’t making a point it just drew on that in its casting,” says Stanners. 

It’s just as essential to tackle male stereotypes. P&G’s ad for Ariel shows men “sharing the load,” Swiffer shows dads cleaning and dusting while Pampers shows them changing diapers. 

Beauty is only skin-deep: inclusivity on the inside

However, the industry will only become genuinely inclusive when it has diverse representation within agencies and creative departments as well as in the ads that it makes. “We will only get to this being a natural behaviour when we have more diverse talent,” says Stanners. “You have to have people who instinctively and naturally lean into that world.”

In a bid to drive change, D&AD (the Global Association for Creative Advertising and Design) runs a programme called Shift to attract young people from different communities to come forward. “What you find is they are from backgrounds where their family and friends don’t think of the design, advertising and marketing communities as a proper job, or they see a lot of white people, or they see work that doesn’t talk to them and assume that it’s an industry that doesn’t want them,” she adds. 

Inclusivity in advertising matters; as Oliver says, “we exclude or accept people by the content we put on our screens.” And it can drive positive change. Feminine hygiene product Always, for example, has changed the meaning of the phrase “Like A Girl” worldwide; 76% of people now consider “like a girl” a positive expression, compared to 19% before the campaign. 

Inclusivity also makes good business sense. When P&G’s Gillette started a conversation about what it means to be the best men in today’s world, the film received 100 million views worldwide. The brand also told the story of Samson, a transgender man, who learns to shave from his dad. Research commissioned by Dove has shown that 67% of women are calling for brands to step up and start taking responsibility for the stock imagery they use. A third of women say they are more likely to trust brands that embrace diversity. A quarter said diversity is more likely to increase their likelihood of buying a product or service. 

All Things Hair is published in nine markets around the globe, including the U.S., the U.K. and Russia. The U.S. website sees 170,000 unique visitors per month, driven in part by its hair tutorial YouTube channel. With over 302 million views, it is the most-subscribed hair brand channel.

Failure to adopt a diverse and inclusive brand strategy is costly. A quarter (23%) of consumers have boycotted a brand, even if only temporarily because they felt that brand didn’t represent their identity.

It’s time we started thinking outside of the stereotypical box.


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