Diversity in Advertising event, September 2018
Report by Amy Burbage, Relish Research

This week the MRS held an event discussing diversity in advertising, as it is only my first week of working in research when I was invited to come along by a colleague, I thought I should make the most of it! Tackling inequality and improving opportunities for all individuals is a very current topic within society so I thought it would be a good experience to learn more about the issue while enjoying a free slice of pizza and glass of wine! The session was split into three sections and was run by Frances Revel and Michelle Milner, from the7stars,  and Shze Hui Tjoa from Sign Salad. 


Frances Revel and Michelle Milner from the7stars took on the first section to discuss tokenism, this occurs when brands appear to be diverse and celebrate racial equality but only for profit-maximisation, minority ambassadors are often used within advertising to create a certain aesthetic, leaving no room for opinions or personality. Examples of this include Topshop, a brand that during the month of pride, appears to be a big supporter of LGBT+ rights by releasing targeted clothing and advertising, however, when pride is over, what do they do? Compare this brand to Nike, a company with their most famous ambassadors from minority backgrounds, their ads celebrate minorities and praise their talents, this consistency in their advertising demonstrates that Nike is a true supporter of equality.

The next theme of the evening examined unseen or ignored showcasing of minorities. Even if a brand does portray minority groups within their advertising, certain groups are often ignored, for example, 79% of Brits felt that gay women are underrepresented in advertising. Some brands have aimed to dispel this pattern, including McCain who attempted to tackle the issue of underrepresentation with their ‘Here’s to love’ initiative, this ad showcased a number of minority groups, including a couple with Down’s syndrome, to show that all couples are equal and normal! Because in this day and age, who actually knows what normal is?


Finally, the third theme of the evening presented by Shze Hui Tjoa from Sign Salad focused on how we can resolve social division, rather than reinforcing it. This can be embraced in a number of ways, some brands have decided that the best way to remove social division is to display how we are all the same, for example, this was exhibited by Smirnoff who promoted the phrase ‘we are all the same on the dancefloor’, this ad emphasised that consumers are all the same, regardless of their background. However, an alternative approach is to embrace diversity and celebrate the productive and inspiring things some people have done. This technique was publicised by Glossier’s 2017 ad campaign. This ad features overtly diverse women and showcases each one to display and celebrate their differences.

Although, it is recognised that we have come a long way in recognising diversity, there are still a number of groups that are not fairly represented in the media. Brands need to embrace that society within the UK has shifted and their advertising should reflect the diverse culture we know and live in and celebrate it.

the7stars and Sign Salad were very detailed in their explanations and summarised the main issues within the industry. The evening was an eye opening experience and great summary of how complicated the issue of diversity within advertising really is. This event made me realise how careful brands have to be when launching new adverts/products, highlighting the importance of prior market research for companies and how broad this research can be. This event was a brilliant way to start my research career and I’m looking forward to attending more events with MRS and others in the future.


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