Why advertising needs to further evolve to be inclusive of diverse communities

...this includes avoiding tokenistic campaigns and stereotyping while respectfully representing the diverse communities they serve

Christopher Kenna, CEO of Brand Advance, the sole diversity media network in the UK, explains why an explosion of diversity in advertising can only be a good thing.

The advertising industry is slowly trying to improve representation, but do you think the recent explosion of people of colour in TV adverts and media campaigns is the right approach?

I believe it is a step in the right direction, especially with how public sentiment has evolved. The advertising industry has recognised that it is not enough to portray an aspirational image anymore, but audiences now want that image to be diverse and representative of the society we live in today.

However, it’s important that brands and advertisers don’t appear tokenistic in their campaigns, making sure any portrayals avoid stereotyping. Brands need to reach diverse audiences with authenticity, which means reaching underrepresented groups in a meaningful and purposeful way that aligns with their core values.

At Brand Advance, we’re helping our clients do just that by deploying a unique 7/10 rule, whereby any media campaign we handle is measured against a focus group that must provide a 70% approval rating before it is launched. If it doesn’t, we go back to the drawing board and start again. We ensure that every campaign can be said to be truly representative of its target audience through our approach. 


Do you think this step-change would work for the LGBTQ+ community?

It’s reassuring to see more brands taking decisive action to better represent the LGBTQ+ community, especially with some aspects of society still feeling uneasiness towards same-sex couples on their screens. Take, for example, the recent Cadbury Crème Egg advert, which featured the ‘gooey gay kiss’. Despite severe backlash for its boldness and a public petition to try and overthrow the ad, I admire that Cadbury stood its ground, as it rightly should. The brand dared to be different and chose to represent a diverse community outside of Pride Week or any dedicated D&I calendar date.

What is even more powerful is that the ASA rejected claims to take it off the air and sided with Cadbury, having decided it hadn’t done anything wrong. This is precisely the solidarity and consistency we need to drive real change. We need advertisers to create campaigns that take us out of our comfort zone, divide opinion and challenge our thinking. The world needs more brands to take risks, as that is how you create lasting change to break the mould. 

How should organisations go about improving representation?

To improve representation, you first need to have an inclusive workplace culture whereby diverse professionals do not feel as if they need to conform to a certain type to fit within the organisation. Talk to your employees to understand what inclusion means to them and if any behaviours or actions can help or hinder their performance. It’s essential to know that each employee is unique in their own way and to celebrate their individuality. 

At Brand Advance, one thing I am very proud of is how diversity is embedded within our DNA and that we employ individuals from every walk of life. This is something I recommend more businesses be open to. At Brand Advance, 43% of our staff are of black, brown or multi-ethnic background, 38% are female, and 19% identify as LGBQT+.

Similarly, in our media consultancy division, DECA, 40% of staff come from black, brown, or multi-ethnic backgrounds, 40% are females, and 40% come from an LGBQT+ background. It’s no secret that a diverse workforce leads to greater innovation and creativity and can ultimately help boost the bottom line, so it’s important for business leaders to actively take steps to improve representation.

Programmes like ‘It’s a Sin’ sparked awareness and a lot of debate when it was aired during LGBT History Month. How can we ensure that engaging with the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t become a tick box exercise in February and June each year?

During key moments such as LGBT history month or Pride Month, there is indeed a brighter spotlight on the LGBQT+ community and the matters that affect them, but brands need to remember that people aren’t just gay during these months; this is intrinsic. The same can be said for diversity and Christmas, brands often make a more concerted effort during this time of the year to diversify their advertising output. For example, Tesco’s ‘Aunty Sumac’ Chicken showed us that you don’t have to be white Christian to enjoy a Christmas dinner, but advertisers are only scratching the surface when it comes to the change that they can make,

Therefore, brands need to be consistent with their communications and have conversations about the LGBTQ+ community all year round. Brands can do this better by actively targeting this demographic in the channels and the media they consume daily and leveraging the LGBTQ+ creators they truly align with. When brands make a conscious effort to represent these communities outside of specific moments, they have a better chance of tackling the negative stereotypes.  

You have spoken on the use of 3rd party cookies in advertising. How have they impacted certain communities?

Advertisers have become fundamentally reliant on third party cookies. While they can provide a snapshot into an individual’s preferences, re-targeting is also incredibly intrusive on user privacy. A good example of this is when an individual who may want to remain discreet about their sexuality reads an LGBTQ+ title and then is targeted with ads on the same device that others might have access to, disclosing what they have been viewing/reading.

The industry has lost sight of the fact that people gravitate towards the content they want to read and, therefore, the things they are interested in – it’s about going back to basics and getting the context right. At Brand Advance, we haven’t used a single cookie, and we continue to deliver highly effective campaigns for our clients.

As we move forward, I’m excited to see the industry start to realise a future without cookies and the power context can offer in helping brands create lasting affinity with their audiences.

Finally, what should brands be doing to better reach and engage with diverse demographics?

Fortunately, brands are fast realising the value of reaching LGBQT+, BAME and diverse communities. These sections of society wield massive spending power, and over the last decade or so, diversity has not just become a social imperative but a commercial one for brands. However, many brands still have a way to go in reaching these audiences authentically.

For this to happen, they need to create their products and campaigns with diverse consumers in mind from the outset, not just as an afterthought. We set up Brand Advance to help brands navigate this very journey. We help them do this through a combination of comprehensive data and insights, media buying and planning and partnerships to get brand campaigns in front of more diverse audiences, authentically and at scale.

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