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.

Five pioneering campaigns

1. Evolution – Dove

In 2006, this spot stopped every woman in her tracks. This was the lie we’d be sold was revealed for what it was. At the time, it was refreshing for a beauty brand to show just how easily it was for the media to manipulate beauty – and women’s perceptions of themselves. The ‘campaign’ for ‘real beauty’ was born. This was the early forerunner of adverts we see today celebrating ‘real women’ as their own authentic selves , like award-winning advert Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’. The advert won two Cannes Lions Grand Prix awards and an Epica D'Or, and the exposure generated by the spot has been estimated to be worth over $150 million.

2. The Talk - Procter & Gamble

This advert was ground-breaking. In 2018 to a backdrop of social injustice and police violence in the US, Procter & Gamble by BBDO New York as part of ‘My Black Is Beautiful’, initiated a conversation around racial prejudice with ‘The Talk’. We see a number of stories based on black parents openly sharing truths about bias with their children. ‘You can do anything they can,’ says one mother to her daughter on a summer camp drop off, ‘the truth is you’ve got to work twice as hard and be twice as smart.’ Another tells her teen to pull over and be compliant when the police stop her as a new driver: 'This is not about you getting a ticket,' she says, 'this is about you not coming home'. The advert won the outstanding Emmy Award.

3. Dream Crazy - Nike

We show this advert in all our ‘inclusive creativity’ training. This was a bold, two-fingers up advert to right-wing America, featuring Colin Kaepernick, who was famous for kneeling in the pre-game anthem to protest racial injustice in the states. In the advert, he’s not the only one active in social issues: LeBron James, Serena Williams and the US Soccer team feature. As the advert moves on, we see Nike’s ambition to represent all athletes play out with all abilities and genders. The result? The following day Nike’s share prices dropped by 3% and the hashtag #BurnNike trended on Twitter with many Trump supporters incinerating their shoes (Trump criticised the advert). The following weekend, however, Nike saw a massive spike in sales. By speaking to those without privilege and putting inclusion at the heart of the brand, ‘Dream Crazy’ won awards for outstanding commercial at the Creative Arts Emmys.

4. ThisAbles - Ikea

This is what happens when you put disabled people into the heart of a brand and co-create with them. Eldar, the star of the ad is also a copywriter for McCann, an advertising agency in Israel. Eldar Yusupov is a 33-year-old man with cerebral palsy and finds it hard to get up from his furniture at home. ‘In my home of all places, I’m surrounded by furniture crying out ‘cripple’.' he says. Ikea’s ThisAbles provides ‘hacks’ for furniture which make it easier for people with mobility challenges to do simple tasks the rest of take for granted, like open cupboards and switching on lights. Best of all, they can all be printed on a 3D printer in IKEA stores.

5. Blood Normal - Bodyform/Libresse 

A period’s… blue? This taboo-smashing film provoked debate not just in the UK but in 30 countries over the world, with the subjects of ‘period shame’ trending on social media and finally talked about on TV. As AMVBBDO London’s creative team said: ‘Periods are normal. So should showing them be too’. The fact is nine out of ten women try to hide their periods, when it is a ‘normal’  part of life for half the world’s population. This advert broke all boundaries for the 'feminine hygiene' category and made periods what they are: normal. With success in their sales, Bodyform and AMVBBDO tackled another taboo the following year with ‘Viva La Vulva’, again celebrating vulvas at a time when this part of the body is unseen and shrouded with stigma and shame. Again, both cleaned up at hundreds of award shows around the globe.