Is inclusion transforming the advertising sector?

Ali Hanan, the chief executive and founder of Creative Equals, an organisation working to improve equality in the creative industries, challenges the status quo in advertising and highlights her top five campaigns that have championed inclusion over recent years


Advertising inclusion

Ali HananIn 2020, with a fast-changing consumer landscape, brands are continuing to push their ‘purpose’ to play a more meaningful, long-term role in consumers’ lives. Purpose-driven narratives dovetail with inclusion, as brands seek to address some of society’s diversity challenges: racial injustice, LGBTQIA rights, gender inequality, social mobility and disability activism. This fresh focus has unleashed some of the most powerful campaign work the sector has seen for decades.

The proof is in the work winning at the industry’s most prestigious festival, Cannes Lions, where 11 out of 25 awards for innovation went to projects solving inclusion challenges, like Microsoft Xbox ‘Changing the Game’, an adaptive controller for gamers with limited mobility, a Grand Prix winner. This new lens has a profound impact on the way people are ‘seen’ in society, like L’Oreal’s ‘Non-Issue’ with British Vogue, celebrating the least ‘visible’ audience: women over 50.

However, the work winning at Cannes Lions is simply window-dressing for the creative sector’s lack of diversity. Despite the rhetoric, change is moving at a glacial pace.

As Syl Saller, chief marketing officer at Diageo, one of the first UK brands to ask agencies for their gender equality representation, says: “Who makes the work, shapes the work”. She holds the belief that cognitively diverse teams drive more innovative, creative, ROI-driven work.

The danger of tone-deaf advertising

On the flip side, tone-deaf campaigns can cause irreparable brand damage in a Twitter storm, or a costly take-down by the Advertising Standards Association (ASA), who put new Gender Stereotyping Guidelines in place 2019 to counter advertising’s negative impact on gender roles in society – Volkswagen and Philadelphia are two examples of brands that have fallen foul of the rules.

Inclusion pullstats

Decades of in-built bias are why the ASA’s guidelines have had to be implemented. Groupthink has dominated. An astounding 83 per cent of creative directors in the UK – those who curate, edit and direct work – are (mainly white) men.

To help companies understand the impact of this, Creative Equals set up a certification, the Equality Standard, a rating, review and roadmap framework for the creative sector, covering design, brand, PR, creative, media, publishing, music, production and more.

Change is afoot… There are green shoots of transformation breaking through

The model has revealed systematic bias, where women, black and minority ethnic (BAME) employees don’t have access to equal opportunities, are less likely to be promoted, and experience ‘inappropriate behaviour’ – which is as high as 30 per cent for BAME women in particular.

Across the sector 95 per cent of C-suites are white, only 1 to 2 per cent of employees are disabled and 6 per cent are over 50 (of whom only 2 per cent are women).

Change is afoot, however, as it has become business critical. Brands are rejecting agencies on their lack of diversity for pitches. There are green shoots of transformation breaking through, particularly in new startups like Uncommon Studios. The untapped potential with the creative work is palpable. The future is inclusive.

To tackle representation, Creative Equals presents RISE on May 13 at Shoreditch Town Hall with speakers including Tottenham Labour MP David Lammy, lawyer and activist Gina Miller, and poet/author Lemn Sissay.