How advertising can drive diversity & inclusion

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Stephan Loerke, CEO of the World Federation of Advertising, spoke to us about the important role advertising can play in driving diversity inclusion.
Why are diversity and inclusion in advertising so important?

Advertising and marketing play an important role in mirroring society, conveying images, convictions, and views of the world. We have a special responsibility to ensure that we do not use lazy stereotypes, or we become a part of the problem.

I had my ‘aha’ moment on the issues of diversity and inclusion back in 2016 when I saw a piece of research from non-profit organisation, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. It used artificial intelligence to review the shortlisted advertising campaigns in the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity between 2006-2016. The conclusions of that research were incredibly depressing. There were twice as many men as women in the ads; only 1% of women had humorous roles and the majority of men were in a position of power. It reflected the most conservative and stereotypical view of society. The most upsetting thing was that during that ten-year period nothing had changed, which is when I realised that even the best work in our industry was actually a problem. This is why diversity and inclusion are so important.

In 2017, the World Federation of Advertisers, (I am speaking on behalf of the brand owner committee), together with UN Women, the global champion for gender equality, launched the Unstereotype Alliance, and started mobilising on this subject.

I have talked about the societal dimension and aspirations, but there is a business dimension too. There is ample evidence that demonstrates diverse and inclusive content is up to 20% more effective than stereotypical content. So, it’s an interesting situation where you have societal aspirations that are ultimately aligned with a business rationale. This is not only about doing the right thing, because that is what society expects from brands, but also because this is what consumers expect from us.

What are some of the key findings behind your guide to Diversity Media?

A lot of the initial conversations about diversity inclusion were about representation in the ad campaign itself, the number of men and women, the ethnic diversity of people and LGBTQ+ representation, which is the visible part. We have made some progress in that respect, in what we call in front of the camera. However, we think to be achieving sustainable structural change, we need to look at it in a much more holistic manner, and start looking behind the camera as well. Who are the decision makers? Who is the creative director? How are the marketing teams composed? Which types of agencies are you picking? We need to look at the entire process that leads to the creative campaign itself, and these steps will potentially influence greater diversity inclusion.

We felt that to help brands truly live up to their commitments to achieving more diversity and inclusion within their entire decision-making process, we needed to give them practical advice. We created a very practical guide in terms of what steps you need to be thinking of and where you need to be making conscious decisions. As one of the characteristics of the marketing industry is that we tend to do things at a fast pace and under time pressure, shortcuts are made which often lead to just continuing to do what you have always done. That is where you miss those moments when you can make conscious decisions that will help you achieve the objective of more diverse and inclusive campaigns.

There is ample evidence that demonstrates diverse and inclusive content is up to 20% more effective than stereotypical content.

Can you tell us more about sustainability and responsibility?

Let us start with a consensus. 92% of consumers say that brands have a role to play in sustainability. 90% of CMOs will also say this, which means that consumers and marketers both agree that there is a role for brands. However, when you ask consumers whether they feel that today’s brands are living up to that, the results are devastating. There is still a very large number of consumers who feel that brands make it even more complicated for them to make the right choices.

We have been trying to close the gap, trying to understand why is it that there is tension in this system. Why are we slow, as marketers in embracing sustainability and the climate change challenge? And what can we do about it?

The main reason for this gap is the consumption conundrum. So many marketers see the climate crisis as a crisis in our consumption-driven world. Marketing drives consumption, and therefore the conclusion is maybe marketing is part of the problem. So, there is an inherent discomfort around climate and consumption. Additionally, there are several other obstacles and challenges. One is, that in many companies, the interplay between sustainability and marketing isn’t clear. How does marketing relate to sustainability? And who’s shaping and framing that strategy? Some of our members have merged that now into the role of the CMO.

And those companies tend to have much more traction than those where there is still a question mark, in terms of who oversees what. The second obstacle is a frightening lack of understanding among marketers about the nature of the climate challenge and how it refers to marketing. There is still a lot of work to be done there in terms of education. And the third one is KPIs. In our industry, if you want to get stuff done, you need to be able to measure it now, accountability. And that’s lacking.

This survey led us to build the Planet Pledge. It is a collective commitment by leading brand owners, and CMOs to embrace the climate challenge, and to drive many important changes, and for brands to be a force for good in accelerating the transition to a carbon neutral future.

We need to look at the entire process that leads to the creative campaign itself, and these steps will potentially influence greater diversity inclusion.

If you could give one piece of advice on how to act more responsibly as a marketer, what would it be?

To listen to this rapidly changing world. We always assume that we understand the world surrounding us, however, we tend to live in bubbles. For a marketer to be in sync and understand the changes and the opportunitie requires an ability to connect with the voices at odds, that sometimes don’t fit into your worldview at a corporate level.

Marketers pick up a lot of change, as arguably, change is happening at a scale and speed that we haven’t seen in a long time. Change is not a threat to marketers. Change is the lifeblood of innovation; it is what allows you to out-compete your competitors. It helps you to be faster in innovating, connecting with those factors around you and picking up those early signals before others are essential to succeed. So, it is a more complex equation than it has been in the past. I personally find it more exciting than ever but certainly marketers need to adjust to this very challenging environment.

Stephan Loerke

Stephan Loerke

CEO, World Federation of Advertisers (WFA)

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