Tactics and Token Minorities: 3 Reasons why marketing sucks at diversity

In the week when Gillette launched that advert we thought we’d take a breather and ask someone outside of our industry for their thoughts.

Hannah Vatandoust is currently completing a BA in History from SOAS. As someone trying to break into the industry, we asked her to tell us what she thought of marketing - and  the message was clear - it sucks at diversity. Read more of her thoughts:

The Sainsbury’s Christmas TV advert last year put a smile on the nation’s face, as a little black girl led a school nativity musical number, and was quite literally the star of the show. The Big Night, which was voted this year’s best Christmas advert, demonstrates the importance of representation, and how this can successfully reflect the true nature of our diverse society and resonate with consumers. However, according to a study carried out by Lloyds Banking Group, this campaign is only part of the 7% of UK adverts which feature a BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) person as the protagonist.

Marketing has a diversity problem which desperately needs to be addressed, and there are 3 reasons why:

1. Diversity drought in the workplace stunts potential.

In a study published by IPA, only 13% of creative agency employees are from non-white backgrounds. While these numbers might be changing this year - marginally  - there is a fundamental issue with this lack of representation within agency teams, as it fosters a two dimensional environment with limited diversity of backgrounds and perspectives.

Inevitably, this translates into marketing campaigns which do not reach their full potential, and have a limited grasp on tapping into various cultures effectively. The faults lie in the fact that organisations merely focus on meeting quotas rather than promoting diversity as a core value, and marginalised groups such as BAME, LGBT+, and disabled people do not feel comfortable in the workplace.

In fact, in a report issued by Stonewall, it was found that 60% of homosexuals go back into the closet when they enter a workforce, and 1 in 5 say that they have been discriminated against when looking for work because of their sexuality. This week BCG found that two thirds of LGBT people will quit in the next three years due to a lack of commitment to diversity.

2. Numbers are not reflecting reality.    

The failure to create a diverse environment leads to a lack of understanding on the importance of diversity. Token minorities are often placed within campaigns as props to fuel a strategic marketing tactic, and diversity is not implemented in a cohesive and integrated way.

This results in grave underrepresentation: only 0.06% of ads feature people with disabilities, while 32% of black people and 28% of Asians feel that advertising does not represent their minority groups. What’s more, a scarily large amount of businesses play into the excitement of pride month with LGBT-friendly advertising, but seem to completely forget that the 9 million people that identify as gay and lesbian in the UK exist at other times in the year.

Marketers should recognise that with every minority group they neglect, valuable margins are lost.

3. The wrong approach always backfires.

When campaigns make attempts at diversity which misrepresent minority groups, this can backfire and send consumers in the opposite direction. Time and time again, I have seen LGBT+ people incorporated into adverts with their sexuality presented as their one and only trait, or disabled people placed in campaigns with their sole purpose as devices to evoke emotion for the benefit of able audiences.

Damaging stereotypes can be equally as harmful, with 29% of Black Britons expressing that their race has been negatively portrayed in adverts, thus making them less likely to engage with the brand. While ASA newly announced a ban on negative gender stereotypes in ads, this has done little to improve the situation for other marginalised groups. As marketers, we must take it upon ourselves to treat minorities as real people with characteristics other than what makes them minorities, to inspire rather than alienate.

What now?

Are we doomed forever in this vacuum of homogenous people and ideas? The truth is, this problem is fixable but we must first tackle the issue of an unbalanced workforce in order to dismantle both under-representation and misrepresentation in the world of marketing. Education is the secret formula; once we actually engage in conversations with minorities, and talk about the importance of diversity, the benefits will follow.

If you’re still stuck, e-mail us. info@theunmistakables.com

The views in this post are that of Hannah Vatandoust who is currently studying a BA in History from SOAS University.