Diversity is a topic we’re all too familiar with here at The Wonderland, and being an all women’s agency has only ever been a matter of coincidence for our team (see for yourself – http://www.thewonderland.co.uk/blog/diversity-or-else/).
But what about diversity within advertising? Is it as simple as including as many ethnicities in your ad as possible? Of course not, but part of executing a successful ad that promotes diversity may ultimately come back to the efforts of the team creating the content…but we’ll get on to that later.
With social media presenting the opportunity for just about anyone to give their critique on a global scale, getting it right is crucial for brands both big and small. Trying to become more socially conscious and relevant isn’t always as easy as it sounds, and some brands have really felt the wrath of creating a campaign with their best intentions, but not quite hitting the mark.
I turn to you, Pepsi.
Pepsi’s 2017 ad featured lots of young and attractive people marching down the street holding non-specific protest signs with non-specific pleas such as “love” and “join the conversation.” The protesters are all smiling, laughing, clapping, hugging, high-fiving (generally just having a grand time) and it’s unclear where everyone is heading. Meanwhile, supermodel/multi-millionaire, Kendall Jenner, overhears the noise and decides to say goodbye to her superficial photoshoot, joins the crowd, and saves the day after offering a police officer a can of Pepsi.
Of course, the ad sparked outrage and there were numerous accusations that the ad took imagery from the Black Lives movement, and trivialised widespread protests for the sake of a fizzy drink. Current activists say that it was precisely the opposite of their real-world experience of protesting police brutality.
How did they get it so wrong?
The controversy sparked multiple conversations about who was to blame, but one of the more interesting conclusions for how Pepsi got it so wrong, was pointed in the direction of the brand’s new in-house content creators.
Prior to the release of the ad, Brad Jakeman, president of PespiCo explained his decisions for abandoning his agencies and going in-house with his content creators. He stated that “Instead of five pieces of content a year, a brand like Pepsi needs about 5,000 pieces of content a year. Instead of taking six months to develop an ad, we have six hours or six days. And instead of it costing $2m, it needs to cost $20,000…there is no infrastructure to advertisers to be able to quickly produce that content. You have to patch it together. Certainly the traditional agencies can’t do it.”
They aren’t the first, and they certainly won’t be the last to assume that ‘brands do it better’ in house and on the cheap. Brad Jakeman may have achieved a ‘faster’ and more economical ad, but long term, it’s cost him the reputation of his brand.
Aside from the in-house vs. agency argument, above anything else, it’s acknowledging that diversity must come from within the content creators themselves. That’s not to say that marketing teams need to be filled with people of different origins, but those who are in charge have a responsibility to research their ideas and fully consider those who are on the receiving end of these ads.
Things to keep in mind
Research – Actively look in to the diversity of your community, what matters to them, what are the issues you should be aware of?
Talk – Don’t make any assumptions, talk to your audience, and listen to what they have to say.
Observe – Monitor the changes that are happening in your community, keep your eyes open to the discussions that are happening.
Time – Don’t rush a campaign for the sake of being relevant.
Political correctness – Is the language you’re using suitable for your audience? Are there any phrases/imagery likely to cause offence or marginalise? What was deemed appropriate last year may have new connotations now…
Of course, there is no set formula to ensuring the perfectly PC campaign, but taking the time to truly consider your audience, and carrying out the correct market research is a fool proof way to inspire customer trust. After all, improving diversity in marketing does include taking risks and being bold. Here are some of our favourite examples…
Airbnb – #WeAccept
Airbnb, a rising star in the business world, launched the #WeAccept campaign following the controversial immigration policies of President Trump. Airbnb committed to providing free housing to refugees being barred from entering the US, and of course, they would have been stupid not to flaunt this act of kindness. Not only this, but the advert may well have been an attempt at recovering their reputation after many guests have received discrimination from Airbnb hosts. Although the ad fails to mention the brand or services it offers, the tagline speaks for itself; “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love or who you worship, we all belong”.
Maltesers – Look on the light side
In 2016, Channel 4 launched a competition called ‘Superhumans Wanted’, offering a million pound advertising slot during the Paralympics opening ceremony to the brand that submitted the strongest campaign featuring disabled talent. The winner was Maltesers, with their ‘Look on the light side’ video advertisements. The videos aim to stress the fact that disabled people live normal lives and the brand have been applauded for coming up with genuinely funny ideas.
Where are we now?
Following on from the ‘Superhumans Wanted’ competition, head of commercial marketing at Channel 4, Matt Salmon, said the brand had taken away some crucial learnings from the experience. Sadly, the same could not be said for the agencies that submitted the entries. A large majority of the brands that had entered and were shortlisted never carried out the ads and eventually dropped their diversity campaigns completely. Unfortunate as it is, this attitude towards creating this type of content may well be a reflection of the advertising industry as a whole. As soon as the incentive of a guaranteed win (or guaranteed prime time advertising slot is removed) risk factor increases, and incentive to go ahead with the campaign decreases, or in this instance, diminishes entirely!
Channel 4 are attempting to combat this disappointing outcome by running another competition with the added incentive of matching the funding for up to four of the runners-up. Encouraging more brands to follow through with their campaigns (regardless of the competition’s outcome) will hopefully give the movement the momentum it deserves. The success behind the Maltesers ‘Look on the light side’ ad is a reflection on what Channel 4 (and the perhaps the advertising industry as a whole) needs from these types of ads. The Malteser ad wasn’t a one-off that ticked the ‘diversity box’, or a stunt for the sake of the competition, it was a campaign that catered for the business and marketing objectives of the brand, and could have been run at any point of the year, not just through the Paralympics. What the campaign also demonstrated, was that investing in diversity is truly an investment worth making. Michele Oliver, vice-president of marketing at Mars said “We believed [diversity sells] but we didn’t know if it was true. The information we have at the moment says it true”. Brand sales had grown by 10% by the end of last year and the feedback from customers also demonstrated that more than any other campaign they had run in the last eight years, ‘Look on the light side’ was the campaign that resonated the best with their audience and made people ‘feel good’.
It’s hard to say what progress will be made in the future, but it’s great to see at least a small selection of brands pushing boundaries of their own and in the industry as a whole. We only hope that more brands will take the plunge in 2017…
Written by Meg