Opinion: Diversity: the key to meaningful brand growth
Christian Polman, Group Chief Strategy Officer
Friday, February 14, 2020
Last week Ebiquity partnered with Mediatel to stage the excellent Future of Brands conference in London. It was the third year running that we had sponsored the event, and it’s a great coming together of brands, media owners and platforms, and agencies.
During the event, my colleague Martin Radford and I unveiled Mind the Gap, a new Ebiquity research report on how brands looking to reach mass audiences at scale – the cornerstone of brand building and a big driver of profitability – should respond to shrinking linear TV audiences.
A second major strand of presentation and debate was diversity. Christopher Kenna – the “first black kid born on the Isle of Mann”, nine years in the army, and more recently founder of Brand Advance – told his remarkable personal story. He and Jerry Daykin, EMEA Media Director of GSK, focused attention on diversity in the first client-agency double-header of the day.
Kenna identified that brands that fail to address the LGBTQ+ audience are missing out on the fourth richest market – or country, as he put it – in the world. The community spends $3.7tn each year, and yet 72% of the LGBTQ+ consumers believe that the way they are represented in advertising is tokenistic.
Kenna – whose fledgling, 18-month-old business already advises GSK, Unilever, and Google on diversity – showed how mainstream brands are more likely to block keywords such as “interracial”, “gay/lesbian”, “black”, “Muslim”, and “Asia” than they are to block “rape”, “death”, “heroin”, or “gun”.
And in the process, they’re missing out on a growing and lucrative market, all in the name of brand safety. Kenna – working with partners including Daykin – is helping to make reaching diverse audiences safe again.
I’ve shared the killer slide from this session below. It puts hard (and big) dollar values on brands’ failure to address diverse audiences – be their blinkers sexuality, generational, gender, age, religion, or disability. Their analysis identifies, for example, that just 33% of ads feature women and yet women control up to 80% of all purchasing decisions.
Lydia Amoah, author of The Black Pound report, added fuel to the “missed opportunity” debate, identifying that 41% of the 8.8m people who live in London are of black and minority ethnic (BAME) origin.
But marketers routinely fail to address BAME audiences. She quoted both consumers and leading figures in the field as saying: “I definitely don’t see myself enough on TV, ads, or in mags. I’ve conditioned myself to think companies want to speak to the majority” and “It’s going to take several years to shift the unconscious bias to get multicultural people in the workplace to access their talents and abilities and pull our resources together.”
One of the most arresting and impactful campaigns run last year was Cephas Williams’ 56 Black Men, showcasing a series of portrait images of black men – all in hoodies – to challenge negative stereotypes in the mainstream media.
In his on-going and growing campaign – and on stage – Williams sought to increase diversity of thinking in the media industry in its broadest sense.
The campaign line “I am not my stereotype” seeks to move the media narrative on from knife crime and violence and bring black men to the forefront of their own conversation. The dialogue is now moving from a poster campaign run with Clear Channel into the heart of some of the biggest corporations in the UK.
Williams called out Pepsi for its deeply-flawed Kendall Jenner campaign – inspired by Black Lives Matter and Iesha Evans’ arrest during a protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He poked fun at that brand for having Jenner “make a black woman hold her wig” as she took a can of soda to calm tensions with riot police.
He also castigated the BBC for showing footage of LeBron James – his shirt name clearly in evidence – when reporting on the tragic death of basketball superstar, Kobe Bryant.
With white-dominated brands and news media getting things so wrong, Williams was clear that there’s still a long way to go to level the playing field. But this makes the role that campaigns – including 56 Black Men – can play in the diversity debate even more urgent.
The conference ended with renowned photographer and now agency boss Rankin interviewed by writer, actress, and producer, Katie Reddin-Clancy. Their discussion covered Rankin’s 30-year career and drew lessons from diversity, brave brands, and social media influencers for where marketing should head next.
Rankin’s first plus-size model photo shoot was in 1994, and he showed how his work with older, differently abled, and diverse models has always sought to challenge the status quo.
His message to brands was to cast aside the demographic and focus instead on the psychographic. For Rankin, it is attitude of mind and understanding that matter much more than how old consumers are, what they earn, or where they live.
Our partnership with Mediatel and our joint Future of Brands event is all about helping brands and the wider marketing community to understand and navigate the constant pace of change that is modern marketing.
Taking a day out of the hurly-burly and hearing how others are both coping and growing in face of these challenges continues to be truly inspiring. As this one comes to a close, I’m already looking forward to what next year’s event has in store.
This article was featured in Mediatel.