Prioritizing Inclusivity in Advertising

If you are one of the 192.9 million U.S. adults who tuned in to Superbowl LVII, let me ask you a question: How much did the ads represent you?

Ad-focused events like the Super Bowl often remind us that our industry has a long road to inclusivity.

Based on a 2021 report on global advertising, 64% of consumers said they would like to see more diversity in online advertising.

Surveys also showed that 88% of consumers agreed that “not enough brands do a good job of representing people similar to me or my community” (Kantar Global MONITOR, 2021). People don’t just want diversity, they want to see themselves represented as more than an extra or an afterthought. 

And this goes far beyond just race or skin color; in fact people with diverse skin color (25% of ads) or different ethnicities (19% of ads) are more often represented in mainstream ads than other groups that deserve inclusion. 

While 10% of the global population is older than 65, only 6% of ads analyzed in the study showed people aged 65+ in their production.

At least 15% of the world population has some form of disability, but only 1% of ads analyzed featured someone with a disability in their production.

Despite a growing global proportion of LGBTQIA+ individuals, only 1% of ads overtly featured a queer character or narrative in their production.

And despite the increased presence of diverse skin colors and ethnicities, 57% of people in the U.S. still agreed that brands have contributed to racism by using stereotypes in their communications and advertising.

Here are three insights to keep in mind as you assess the inclusivity of the advertisements you are exposed to — or, in the case of creatives, are putting out into the world:

Representation alone is not enough; inclusivity is achieved with a strength-based narrative. While representation itself is important, having underrepresented or marginalized groups present in ads is not enough. Inclusivity requires the intentional, positive representation of diverse character(s). For example, rather than consistently showing minority characters as monoliths or as the victims of difficult circumstances, consider what their strengths are. Does the community you are representing prioritize family? Do they value honesty above all? And be sure to consider intersectionality (race, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability, etc.), when developing those roles; people are always a multitude of identities, and it makes your story more real.

Consider all three different inclusive approaches: casting, storytelling, and purpose. An inclusive casting approach shows underrepresented groups in a central role of a story that doesn’t focus on inclusion or diversity as a topic. Inclusive storytelling features a narrative that revolves around an underrepresented group. Purposefully inclusive ads seek to inspire change, by tackling stereotypes, making people’s lives easier with a product or service, or taking their side in the face of injustice. And with all of these approaches, it’s critical to do your research first to ensure your narrative reflects people’s lived realities.

Change comes by practicing what you preach. The commitment to inclusive advertising is an important one, but it’s easily undermined by the lack of diversity in the companies making them. If we are ready to bring more diversity into our ads, shouldn’t we make the effort to do so off-screen? As an immigrant owned, women-led agency that has intentionally made diversity part of our growth strategy, we know that this takes time and that it’s important. As part of a fairly homogenous industry, we’re working to do better and we encourage you to do the same.

Representation matters, but it isn’t a solution. As creative agencies, we need to prioritize inclusivity in advertising, from the research and strategy phases of campaigns, all the way through implementation.