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Diversity in Social Advertising

How are brands approaching diversity, what are they doing to uplift marginalised communities and, what can brands do better when it comes to inclusivity in advertising?

Diversity, Inclusion & Representation

Temi Adedoyin, Kelsey Black and Ali Cheng

26 Jan 2022

The new year brings a new-found sense of opportunities for brands to review their approach to diversity in advertising and make the changes so desperately needed within our industry.

Each year, Black History Month presents itself as an opportunity to celebrate and raise awareness of people from African and Caribbean backgrounds who have contributed to society in the past and the present. Although this month-long acknowledgement is invaluable at raising awareness year on year, there is much more that we can do and learn outside of October to ensure diversity is acknowledged in advertising throughout the year.

To help get brands started, we spoke with Temi, Kelsey and Ali from our Creative team to learn more about exemplary ads which include diversity at the heart of their campaigns. This is followed by a framework brands can use to help them plan for authentic diversity for the year ahead. Our team also outlines the way in which Born partners with The Diversity Standards Collective to help champion diversity and inclusion in all the work we do, and how they could help other brands.

So, ready to dive in?

It’s no secret that there is a disparity between diverse representation in advertising and the rest of society. This lack of representation not only depicts an unrealistic view of the world but it also has an adverse effect on a brand’s image. This is clearly evident as the Drum reported that, 62% of consumers say that a brand’s diversity, or lack of it, impacts their perception of their products or services and 71% of consumers expect brands to promote diversity and inclusion in their online advertisement. This demonstrates that although the majority of consumers call for diversity in advertisements, brands still have a lot of work to do to ensure diversity if they want to remain relevant.

However, brands are not the only ones guilty of whitewashing as so many iconic videos, dance moves and humour originate from black creators on a variety of social platforms yet some fail to receive the recognition they deserve. These creators do a great job at amplifying these trends into the mainstream media. However, whilst it’s evident that black creators’ content is recognised, there are moments where their identity is stripped and adopted by westernised culture, resulting in appalling blackfishing and cultural appropriation cases.

Thankfully, brands are slowly starting to champion these black creators and authentic diversity in their ads and overall messaging.

This authenticity is fundamental to an inclusive campaign as consumers and audiences are very acutely aware of performative, pandering and insincere content - it’s almost like a gut instinct.

A force of change is happening and it’s comforting to see brands that already represent diversity with no bells and whistles attached. Take Pinterest for example.

Pinterest

In August 2021, the popular visual discovery engine, Pinterest, discovered that their search engine did not provide users with diverse search results unless specific keywords were used. For example, if a user searches for ‘Hair’ the top search results would lack representation for hair types outside of typical Caucasian hairstyles. Users would need to use keywords such as ‘for black women’ to see content relevant to them.

In August they unveiled their new ‘Hair Pattern’ search function with a social campaign titled ‘See Yourself’.



“Our mission on the Inclusive Product team is to help everyone feel like Pinterest is a place for them. As a visual discovery platform, we have an opportunity and responsibility to do a better job of increasing representation in the products we build. That's why we built hair pattern search using computer vision technology to help identify hair patterns in images. By doing this, we hope we're able to use technology for good and make it easier for people, no matter who they are, to find hair inspiration for them on Pinterest.” - Annie Ta, Head of Inclusive Product at Pinterest

Pinterest recognised a flaw within their product and directly addressed it. Creating an inclusive solution which highlights ALL hair types, including black hair. Hair plays a pivotal role in black culture and black people often feel left out. ‘See Yourself’ is such a strong emotive piece of copy which goes hand in hand with the creative. Their new search tool can later be rolled out across multiple search results on the website which will allow Pinterest to continue to make their platform more inclusive. This is a great example of fixing a long outstanding issue with your product and becoming authentically inclusive to consumers.

Nike

Another great example of culturally-diverse advertising is by Nike.

The worldwide famous sports brand has crafted a reputation for itself by creating diverse and inspirational ads.

In May 2021, Nike dropped “Play New”, a campaign that celebrates playing new sports, even if you’re not very good at it. The campaign projects the message that, “No matter how many times you fall down, you’re still coming out on top. Trying new things is always a win. That’s how you Play New.”

This messaging from Nike feels fun & refreshing and the ad celebrates people of all ages from different backgrounds participating in any sport they want to.


Since running the campaign they have released a “Play New” series partnering up with athletes, musicians and creators. Nike uses their platform to spotlight stories from these influential people to further spread the message that everyone is included and everyone can “Play New”. They take it a step further by diving into what playing these sports mean to different individuals. “New Girl” shows Japanese women breaking barriers to change what it means to be a female Athlete in Japan. “New Hotties” shows Megan Thee Stallion challenging people’s perceptions about the athletic ability of performers.

“At Nike, we are committed to fostering an inclusive culture and breaking down barriers for athletes* around the world.”

Nike’s dedication to inclusivity all year round allows them to create authentic and rich campaigns that have the ability to speak to a wide range of people from different backgrounds.

Rules for success

For both Pinterest and Nike, there are three main factors that we believe contributed to strong campaigns that speak to and beyond their target audience.

1. Authentic Purpose

Both brands herald the causes they support and their company values as one. It’s clear that diversity and representation runs through their ethos as they put their communities at the heart of their content with the aim of providing value to their messaging and objectives.

2. Endurance

Whilst having months devoted to learning and spreading awareness about underrepresented groups is important, brands can come across as performative and insincere if they promote products during this time without prior groundwork. Think ‘rainbow-washing’ during pride month by companies who either actively participate in anti-LGTBQ+ activities, or who don’t otherwise support the LGTBQ+ community, e.g. Netflix’s pride ads vs. Netflix giving Dave Chapelle a platform.

Pinterest and Nike went live with their campaigns outside of Black History Month, which shows that their vocal messaging sits beyond one month and they champion creators with Black voices, LGTBQ+ voices, and other intersectional, underrepresented voices all. year. round.

3. Intersectionality

Intersectionality is the fundamental idea that underrepresented communities link and overlap, and everyone experiences a unique mix of oppression as a result of an individual’s background. Therefore, to be fully representational, it should also be intersectional.

Efforts in inclusion are not solved by ticking a checkbox. Intersectionality means that brands should portray people as complex individuals, because that’s what they are. Portraying people as people is the way to be authentic - we should listen and learn from audiences within those communities.

Diversity Standards Collective

We’ve partnered with the Diversity Standards Collective (DSC) to gain cultural insights from different communities and diverse backgrounds across the country with the aim of:

  • Improving the effectiveness of communications and commercial impact by reaching out and relating to more people more often.

  • Representing the underrepresented in our advertising.

  • Informing the strategic and creative development of projects and briefs.

The DSC’s unique set up means they’re able to get closer to intersectional individuals, understand how they really feel and get their voices heard.

Through the bespoke pieces of research and insight the DSC team conduct, it is fully equipped to share their learnings from diverse communities and advise brands on the diversity and intersectionality of their campaigns.

Conclusion

To sum up, the new year provides an albeit fabricated new beginning but it is a beginning nonetheless; an opportunity for brands to revise their diversity approach for the upcoming year and to think beyond the month of October. Authentic representation is vital as advertising should be representative and replicate the society that we all live in. Brands should continue to do their own learning about underrepresented communities and consult experts like the DSC to hold them accountable where necessary.

If we champion diversity and inclusion in all the work we do, we can affect change within the rest of the industry and create an equal space for everyone, and we’re all for that!