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Why marketers must fight for equality of representation

Louise Sheeran

At The Frameworks, we champion the value of building authentic human connections between people and brands, so it matters to us that our messages are inclusive. Equality of representation isn’t just a moral imperative; it has a significant impact on the creative quality of campaigns, too.

Over the last decade, the creative industry at large has taken small – but significant – steps away from exploitative cliches and the blanket reliance on white, heterosexual, nuclear-family stereotypes. But there is still a long way to go.

These stereotypes have been under scrutiny for a long time. But in recent years, movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo have made inroads, forcing the industry to wake up. While a minority of voices will insist on kicking back against what they perceive to be “woke” posturing, by and large, today’s consumers and employees are quick to call out lazy stereotypes. And we have seen how damaging it can be for brands if they ignore inclusivity.

Much of our work at The Frameworks involves advising brands on the types of messages they share with the world and how they engage with audiences. Our clients understand that branding and advertising are fairly good measures of the cultural status quo and can be incredibly influential social forces. So, when a new brief lands on our desks, representation is front of mind.

New perspectives

Lately, a crop of refreshing campaigns has resonated with audiences regarding equality of representation. Sainsbury’s featured a black family in its 2020 Christmas campaign – a move that was not exactly revolutionary but definitely long overdue. Although a small but depressingly predictable backlash followed, the store coolly responded by tweeting its aim to “represent a modern Britain, which has a diverse range of communities.”

In 2019, gender stereotypes were banned from British advertising. As a result, the industry has produced some cool campaigns that counteract the norms once splashed across our television screens. It’s not always a perfect housewife cleaning her home or feeding the baby while the husband heads out for a hard day of work; it’s not unusual to see men represented in domestic roles now, too.

Some brands have gone a step further; Gillette has shown support for the LGBT+ community by featuring an ad where the father teaches his transgender son to shave. And the “find me on Bumble” campaign used real Bumble users of all ages, colour and gender in a video that shows the variety of users on the app, sprawled across infamous billboards of New York City. On the surface, at least, brands are offering more diversity now than ever before.

Representation matters

Representation matters because when we highlight the path to achievement and demonstrate the variety of roles they can inhabit, people get to see that they are valued, regardless of their ethnicity, sex, gender orientation or ability.

This isn’t just about splashy ad campaigns. Representation in all content shared by a brand matters, and the B2B space is no exception.

At every step – from the research that informs a brand strategy to the team’s make-up pitching the idea to a prospective client, to the choice of images and authors that bring the campaign to life – diversity is synonymous with forward-thinking businesses today.

Most of our clients have a global and diverse employee and customer base, so they welcome the idea of embedding diversity into their marketing campaigns. If they need a bit of persuasion, we emphasise the importance of reflecting the modern world they operate in to stay relevant. It’s exciting to see big brands break from tradition to represent different communities – and it’s an unmissable opportunity to reach new audiences.

Authenticity is key, and business-focused brands need to make sure they walk the walk. They must encourage diversity of thought and ensure equal representation behind the scenes and on-screen. The latest statistics from Marketing Week show that 88% of people working in the marketing industry are white, and 82% of senior marketers identify as middle class. Campaign has highlighted that 86% of digital creative roles are male-occupied and that there are far fewer women in senior creative roles. The industry has got to do better.

Brands need to strike the right balance without seeming to pander to particular audiences for cynical reasons. Part of this is simply about challenging lazy assumptions: stepping back and asking whether a campaign would work better or just as well if it focused on a different demographic.

It’s always good to see B2B brands practising what they preach. QuestionPro, a survey company, released a guide on how to write gender-inclusive questionnaires. It included important facts about transgender identity and the many ways someone can self-identify in terms of gender. Workhuman, the people management and insight business has published several insights and updates on how its team is working to undo unconscious bias. And we’re proud to have worked with IBM on its award-winning I Want You to Know campaign, which reveals the day-to-day challenges and idiosyncrasies faced by its diverse workforce.

Imperfect progress

Brands don’t have to get it right every time or claim to have all the answers when it comes to equality of representation. But they should be aware of the pitfalls. If they make mistakes, they need to own up to them, using the opportunity to prompt a conversation on social media and raise awareness. Brands and agencies do not need to be perfect. Still, they need to back up their commitment to diversity with clear and measurable internal policies.

Marketers must use their powers for good and ensure diversity is considered as part of every message, campaign and ad we put out into the world. The industry has come on leaps and bounds in the past couple of years. But there is still a long way to go, so we must use every opportunity to fight for equality of representation.

A version of this article previously appeared in We Are the City, in January 2021