Diversify to thrive: Why marketers have a responsibility of representation | International Women’s Day

In celebration of International Women’s Day, Filtered Media Content Manager, Liz Barrett, investigates why accurately representing the diverse society in which we live, in the marketing campaigns we create, is a necessity.


As International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world, it is a chance to reflect on how the call for equality has challenged the status quo. We, as marketers, should take heed.

It’s no secret marketers are an agile breed, constantly challenged to move with our clients’ ever-changing needs. Budgets are cut, lead times shortened, and competitors gain new ground. However, what does it mean for marketers when our clients’ requirements change due to global shifts?

There’s an old saying: diversify or die. A better approach today might be diversify to thrive.

In the past, an agency was generally a group of people around the same age, on around the same wage and of the same ethnicity and sexual orientation. The composition of the group creating a campaign meant you undoubtedly got a singular, blinkered viewpoint.

As companies, we must adapt, leading by example. Diversity is essential if you aspire to developing a creative workplace that fosters the best ideas from a variety of backgrounds.

We live in a time when the calls for equality, irrespective of gender, race, religion or orientation have gained new ground – despite the fact that we have been calling for it for many decades. In the past, these calls have been left markedly ignored. Yet with the rise of movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp a new landscape is emerging. Previously unheard voices are cutting through.

Shifting attitudes mean marketers have a responsibility to educate brands about the value of diversity and inclusion in campaigns, if they don’t already. As they say, it begins at home. When our workplace mindset changes it flows through to an impact on clients, campaigns and customers.


“There’s an old saying: diversify or die. A better approach today might be diversify to thrive.” – Liz Barrett


Lessons in lack of diversity

The lack of diversity in a company, and by extension the way that company markets itself – both internally and externally – can have a negative impact.

In early 2018, Nike learned the hard way that marginalising its female audience comes at a price. The company was left reeling after a revolt led by female staff saw some of the company’s top male executives leave the brand. Many female staff members slammed the company for standing by, unwilling to address the toxic culture.

It is no surprise then, with very little female leadership, Nike was struggling to gain traction in the womens’ product category – the fastest growing segment of the sporting and equipment market. Nike quickly recognised the need to diversify.

Today, Nike is singing a drastically different tune with the company declaring 2019 as ‘the year for women’ and releasing their acclaimed ‘Dream Crazier’ ATL campaign. A raw and emotional narrative, empowering women to push back against traditional gender stereotypes.

But Nike is just one example, and this isn’t a new topic. It follows decades of top-down male dominance – client and agency-side – leading to campaigns devised by men regardless of the end user. It is a very single-minded approach, especially considering approximately 85% of consumer spending is directly influenced by women, of whom many are part of minority groups.

When it comes to the people creating marketing campaigns the numbers are equally daunting, with women making up only around 29% of creative directors across our country. The story is similar with around 12% in the UK, while alarmingly these statistics are dramatically lower at only 3% in the USA.

This shortsighted observation of the opportunities a brand can harness to engage with a more diverse range of clients is a downfall many continue to make. As marketers, it’s our job to encourage clients to look beyond what has been done before, and create meaningful and unifying campaigns.


Turning the tide

Thankfully, today we are seeing brands creating various ground-breaking and thought-provoking campaigns.

2014 marked the beginning of seismic change, with the widely acclaimed Always #LikeAGirl campaign launch. The aim was to challenge the stereotypical phrase ‘run like a girl, throw like a girl’ and its common use as an insult. It serves as a prime example of a brand engaging with its market above and beyond its product, and creating a lasting impact.

Diverse campaigns have gained momentum ever since. Last year, two of Australia’s most recognised brands, AAMI Insurance and Telstra, separately cast drag queens to star in their advertisements – publicly embracing and representing the LGBTQ+ community in the mainstream.

Telstra partnered with Samsung to showcase network reliability, and AAMI Insurance presented its roadside assistance service by rescuing two queens headed to the Broken Heel Festival. Both campaigns received praise for thinking outside the box.

In 2019, even Pixar has jumped into the diversity conversation with both feet. Known for its epic storytelling endeavours, Pixar released the first in its SparkShorts initiative, short films written by Pixar employees about their own personal stories.

The film Purl, written by Kristen Lester, was inspired by her experience as a woman working in the male-dominated animation industry, painting an uncomfortably familiar picture of what it looks like when companies don’t embrace gender and cultural diversity.

The bottom line is simple. Diversity in all its expressions creates more opportunities for audiences to see themselves in a brand’s story, connecting hearts and minds with its messaging. It’s how you harness the full potential of brand storytelling.


Lead or reflect?

There’s also a bigger question to address: Should brands to lead or reflect social issues? It’s a timely and relevant question given the recent and somewhat controversial Gillette advertisement which called out ‘boys will be boys’ behaviour.

The advertisement received a mixed review, however Gillette hit back, standing by the message and intention of the campaign – to challenge toxic masculinity, bullying and harassment directly by asking men to question their own behaviour, and that of other men. Gillette chose to actively take a stand on a societal issue, rather than passively reflect the zeitgeist.

Why should brands take the lead? The answer is simple – if millennials are their target audience.

Millennials make up the largest and most influential online audience of consumers. While they have been described as many things, when it comes to millennial purchasing habits, the evidence is clear. As a consumer group, they demand more from brands than merely a product or service.

Brands who demonstrate social responsibility and ethical production efforts, and are striving for positive change in the world are typically more favoured by millennial consumers. Brands need to take a stand on the big issues, or get left behind.


Public support of diverse campaigns

Brands may worry that taking a strong stance on an issue could be risky business. However, what is most interesting about the companies who choose to make the shift towards diverse representation in advertising is that, of the 6000+ complaints made to the ASB last year, none worth noting were related to the portrayal of diversity and equality.

In fact, the most common complaints related to vilification of minority groups, as well as discrimination or sexualisation of women – all in defence of their human rights. The other societal issues that raised concerns were gambling, glorification of drug use in sport and the use of bad language.

Unlike other passing trends, the demand for accurately representing the diverse society in which we live, in the marketing campaigns we create, appears to be here to stay. Adapting to this new era is integral for marketers and brands alike to survive in the saturated market.

Globally, we still have a long way to go before diversity is fully embraced. However, it’s now clear agencies and brands that celebrate diversity will reap the rewards.



Want to recapture your passion for creativity and radical thinking?

Register now for our FREE breakfast networking event at Filtered Media on World Storytelling Day – Wednesday 20th March 2019 (8-9:30am).

Tamara Howe, Marketing Director ANZ at Kellogg Company will join Mark Jones, Filtered Media’s Chief Storyteller & CEO in conversation.


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