Is this the year that the world of advertising finally embraced diversity?
For all its faults, 2016 may be the turning point in the use of diversity within advertising. The reasons for this shift are simple: demand and impact – both of which are overwhelmingly positive.
The full-scale use of diversity has been coming for some time. Dissatisfied consumers now want advertising that reflects the world around them.
A move that’s not lost on L’Oreal. Famous for its strapline “because you’re worth it”, for its 2016 campaign L'Oreal UK adapted its strapline to “because we’re all worth it”. The intention was to highlight both its 23 shades of foundation, and the huge range of skin types it supports. The campaign featured a variety of influencers, ranging from UK TV presenter Katie Piper, whose face was disfigured in an acid attack, to male model and makeup artist, Gary Thompson. By rejecting stereotypes L’Oreal revealed itself to be a fresh and innovative brand.
The danger of maintaining outdated stereotypes is now high on the agenda of brands. Google’s global director of diversity Baroness Oona King recently said: “There are lots of things we could do, but the first one is to just be aware, be aware of stereotypes you might consciously or unconsciously be perpetuating”.
Nowhere better has the trend of inclusivity adopted than in the ad campaigns of Scandinavian companies. H&M, for example, uses a variety of races, body shapes, and genders. Its latest ad campaign is simple: it shows real women in real situations – and it succeeds wonderfully. Yes, as Guardian writer Arwa Mahdawi points out, “the ad features Normal Women™ doing Normal Things™”. But Mahdawi also notes “major marketing money is celebrating the sort of women that you don’t often see celebrated on screen”. A fact, no doubt not lost on its target audience.
At the forefront of breaking taboos, Ikea was the first company to feature a same-sex couple on US TV in 1994. At the time it caused outrage, bomb threats, and helped cement Ikea in the minds of the American public. 22 years later, it’s still at the forefront of promoting diversity. Ikea’s most recent campaign highlights marriage equality through a mixed race same-sex couple. Not only that but it’s “Where did the American Dream go?” ad campaign flies in the face of negative political campaigning – another trend of 2016, the less said, the better.
Disability is another area where progress is being made. Recently US toy manufacturer Fisher-Price featured a child with Down's syndrome in its advertising. While UK supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s “back to school” campaign also featured a boy with the same condition. Both companies have stated that consumers reacted positively to the use of disabled actors.
However, UK charity Scope is less positive on the representation of disability. Nearly two-thirds of people it recently surveyed said they felt awkward around disability. The charity also stated that: “social attitudes were often rooted in a lack of knowledge, lack of familiarity, and perpetuated through ignorant stereotyping”. A statement some advertisers have been guilty of clinging to.
UK public service broadcaster, Channel 4, has been at the forefront of changing attitudes towards disability in the UK. Its ground-breaking 2012 “Superhuman” campaign successfully engaged viewers with the London Paralympics. This year, it revised and expanded the same campaign for the Rio games. The campaign featured no less that 140 disabled people! It also focused on both talented athletes, and the extraordinary lives of ordinary disabled people. A number of brands chose to piggyback on the positive Paralympic coverage to enhance their own inclusivity.
One such brand was Maltesers. Bathing in the golden light of Paralympic glory, Mars’ Maltesers campaign was a critical hit. Channel 4 chief marketing and communications officer Dan Brooke commented: “these commercials featuring disabled people tested better than any other advertising it had tested in the last six years. So guess what? Diversity does sell and we’ve proved that”. Now that is some statement!
A reaction to advertisers using a more diverse range of faces has been that stock image providers have had to adapt. Moreover, the demand for images of non-traditional stereotypes has been urgent! According to a survey by Shutterstock, almost half (49%) of marketers have used a greater range of diverse images over the past 12 months. The same study also noted that 32% have used more images of same-sex couples over the same period.
This ditching of outdated stereotypes has had surprising benefits. It’s had the transformative effect of helping the industry move away from tired clichés and boring images. For example, in the UK, gravy brand Oxo has revamped and relaunched its series of “Oxo family” adverts. Made famous in the 1980s, the concept was in desperate need of a revamp. The new Oxo ads see the “Oxo family” fighting a tide of disorganisation, and somewhat unusually for adverts, it's the Dad cooking something appetising. It would appear the diverse reality of modern life is finally on the menu.
Without a doubt, the trend for actually recognising and representing diversity will continue into 2017 and beyond. It works. And as society gets ever more diverse, it’s imperative that advertisers and marketers reflect this shift. But one more thing, the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One, will not only feature a woman as the lead character but it will be the second to do so in the space of a year. For Disney, the writing's on the wall: diversity sells the world over.
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