The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) has published a new guide on diversity and inclusion in the marketing industry, in a bid to provide brand marketers and their agencies with insights and actionable recommendations to improve performance in this critical area. According to WFA, this initiative comes on the back of a growing perception within the industry that advertising is falling short on its ability to be inclusive. Reflecting this, a global study by IPSOS found that:

72% of respondents felt most advertising does not reflect the world around them, while 63% claimed they do not see themselves represented in most advertising.

Nearly 60% say they do not see their community of friends, family, and acquaintances represented accurately. According to WFA, diversity is not just a "tokenistic box-ticking exercise" to appeal to minorities, but rather, an imperative for addressing the changing attitudes of society as a whole.

It added that with internet penetration constantly on the rise and an ever-more vocal consumer base, companies need to think about moving towards true equity. This must however, come as part of a dual approach such as in external marketing and communications and also in internal organisational structure and work culture. 

Here are four practical tips for fostering a culture of inclusion across all levels of an organisation:

1. Strategy and vision - Have overarching strategies, policies and commitments to eliminate harmful stereotypes and normalise intersectional identities. These include:

  • Involve people with diverse perspectives at all levels of an organisation and give them the opportunity to make significant decisions that affect the business.
  • Diversity and inclusion advocates should report to the CEO, rather than to the chief human resources officer.
  • Find an authentic way to link a personal purpose to the brand’s legacy. Do not make it a short-term strategy.
  • Speak out against laws that threaten consumers’ and employees’ rights in the regions the company operates.

2.  Creative outputs - Reflect on the creative. It is important to use a rigorous framework as a litmus test at every step of developing an ad: from briefing to the selection of the creative team, to casting, pre- and post-production. For example, Diageo and Unilever collaborated with the Unstereotype Alliance to develop these three principles for creating believable human characters:

  • Presence: Who is physically depicted in the advertisement?
  • Perspective: Through whose lens will the character be seen?
  • Personality: Are these characters defined by one characteristic or something deeper? Can the character be imagined as a real person?

3. Internal diversity - Walk the talk internally and not just in the creative. 

  • Recruit diverse new talent and champion their personal development to retain and promote them. When employing young talent, have strong mentors who will champion their development at the company.
  • Be progressive from the beginning of the recruitment process. Make sure that job descriptions are unbiased and do not imply an ideal candidate as being of a particular gender, ethnicity, etc.
  • Think twice about holding ‘diversity trainings’. Research by the Harvard Business Review discovered that compulsory diversity training reinforces prejudice in the workplace. By highlighting the differences between employees, minimising some co-workers’ emotions and demonising others’, diversity training forces people into categories and deprives them of individuality, the report concluded. Hence, if training is necessary, reframe it as general ‘communications training’ which acknowledges the individuality of everyone involved and encourages them to work together effectively.
  • Create a corporate culture that is committed to hearing all voices and taking on feedback. Ensure feedback is sought from underrepresented groups.
  • Be considerate of workplace language: not ‘disabled people’, but ‘people with disabilities’; ‘parental leave’ rather than ‘maternity leave’; ask for people’s pronouns in the office and consider including them in email signatures. Unconscious bias that perpetuates stereotypes, such as calling people of colour ‘too loud’, ‘too aggressive’, or calling women ‘bossy’ (this extends to dress, hairstyles) should be avoided and educated on.
  • Review the company's Equal Opportunities policies regularly to ensure that they reflect best practice.

4.  External collaboration - Partner with industry peers to strengthen awareness and practice, as well as with NGOs to amplify actions. 

  • Consider joining forces with companies, NGOs, and lobbyist groups that recruit diverse talent, offer diversity and inclusion support, and give advice.
  • 'Speak with your wallet' - Move budgets and business to inclusive partners and partners who are similarly committed to diversity.
  • Work with agencies and directors who have a personal stake in the community to whom the company is marketing.
  • Consult a ‘sensitivity reader’ to check if the company's creative is problematic, if the organisation is unable to hire someone from a specific community. 
  • Share and monitor diversity data. Monitoring creates data and data creates accountability. 

In addition, the report also celebrates work that champions accurate and progressive representations of race and ethnicity, ability, sexuality, gender identity and age in a sensitive and inclusive manner as well as highlighting the challenges that indiscriminate use of programmatic blacklists can create for brands that seek to promote diversity. It also highlights the journeys that some global brands have embarked on and its visions for diversity and inclusion in the industry.

Some of these include Coca-Cola’s phonetic cans campaign, which was an adaptation of 'Share a Coke', specifically developed for the South African market with phonetically spelled out common names. The objective was to break down social barriers in a country divided by 11 different languages and a complicated political past, by putting into action Coca-Cola’s belief that getting a person’s name right is the first step towards getting along together.

Another initiative aimed at how physical disabilities change the way people can interact with furniture, Ikea Israel developed a range of add-ons that people with disabilities can attach to their existing Ikea furniture to make it work better for them. The Swedish giant collaborated with two NGOs on the project, and also hosted a hackathon in its Tel Aviv store. 

“We’re delighted to launch this initiative, which follows on from our previous work on progressive gender portrayals and builds on the brilliant efforts of many other members of our industry. Diversity matters now more than ever. It’s the lifeblood of empathy and creativity, two key characteristics which are coming to the fore at this time of crisis and two critical ingredients to the continued success of our industry,” said Stephan Loerke, CEO of WFA. 

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