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How and why brands and agencies must embrace diversity

There have been many calls for both the creative industry and the advertising industry to embrace diversity and harness the variety of multicultural talents the UK has to offer. Agencies and brands need to ensure they harness the potential multicultural talents can bring in all processes across the business.

In order to raise awareness of the diversity debate in the advertising industry, there have been multiple reports and surveys published shining light on this issue. For example, in 2018 a survey found that 34% of black people in the UK felt that people of their ethnicity were inaccurately depicted in advertising, with 29% feeling that they were negatively portrayed. Similarly, 30% of Asian people thought that they were also represented inaccurately in advertising.

With a growing number of people now becoming more aware of the issue, consumers have begun to express the importance diversity plays in their purchasing decision. Nearly two-thirds of consumers (64%) are somewhat likely to purchase a product immediately after seeing it advertised if the brand embodies diversity and inclusion.

Therefore, it is no secret that diversity is playing, and will continue to play, a major role across the country, so what lessons can brands and agencies learn from diversity?

Consumers are becoming more aware

The growing discussion about race, not just in the UK, but across the world, has reaffirmed the need for greater diversity in advertising. With racial injustice appearing in headlines across the world, public opinion has been galvanised, leading younger, urban audiences of all races to take to the streets calling for equality.

Brands that were associated with slavery in the past or were exploiting workers and child labourers in third world countries are now being held accountable. The golden generation (Millennials and Gen Z), feel particularly strongly about this issue, with many standing against these brands and boycotting them. Research conducted by Edelman in June revealed that 60% of US consumers will buy or boycott a product based on how the brand respond to racial inequality.

Ticking the right boxes

It’s important to note that the issue of discrimination goes beyond a brands reaction to a news story. It’s vital that companies and brands also examine direct or indirect racism in all of their business processes, including HR; external suppliers; manufacturing; sales; and not be reliant on token diversity initiatives.

There also remains a major problem in the boardroom. A survey conducted of FTSE 100 companies revealed that only 5% of organisations have ethnic CEOs. If UK brands and agencies wants to capitalise on a growing diverse customer base – something they have been avoiding for three decades – then they need to move away from empty words to actionable goals with a clear timeline.

So, what can brands do to show the public they care about diversity and are not just doing it for show?

  1. Ad agencies and companies must publish annual staff figures to specify the ethnicity of their staff at all levels from admin to board directors. One way to achieve this is to run a league table of companies which employ multicultural talents at every level across the organisation.
  1. The same percentage of ethnic minorities in the UK should also make up the same percentage of multicultural talents at board director level.
  1. The government must act soon to address the disproportionate pay gaps between staff of multicultural heritage and mainstream directors.
  1. The government needs to legislate and make it compulsory for large companies to spend 10% of their revenue with suppliers that showcase a good level of diversity within its management

As our society becomes increasingly diverse, ad agencies and brands cannot continue to operate without understanding their multicultural audiences, which are growing in terms of both influence and affluence. It’s vital they show consumers they are tackling the issue of diversity by going beyond bold statements with no action and instead tackling the issues that make a difference behind the scenes.

Written by Saad Al-Saraf, CEO of agency Mediareach

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