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Five recommendations for inclusive advertising in 2021 and beyond

Advertising has the almighty ability and power to shape it and change behaviours. However, advertising has been instrumental in creating and reinforcing negative stereotypes.

Tim Parkin, global brand marketing expert, author, and speaker, shares insights into the prevalence of gender denial in modern day advertising. By the time a girl reaches her 17th birthday, she will have seen a quarter of a million advertisements, the majority of which feature negative gender stereotypes.  “These adverts affect girls’ self-image. It affects how they perceive their place in the world, the career they think they can go into and their interpersonal relationships,” Parkin says.

Parkin says that all too often companies end up using updated versions of previous campaigns, as these have already proven to be effective and are likely to deliver short-term gains. Inclusive marketing can seem ‘risky’ and there is the fear of getting it wrong and alienating the company’s core customer base. But business leaders who are willing to take a stand for inclusion can play a leading role in change, and recent research suggests it is in their best interest to do so.

Inclusive advertising can drive trust and build brand loyalty. A 2020 study by Microsoft showed that 64% of respondents were more trusting of brands that represented diversity in their ads. Ads that are deemed inclusive are more likely to be viewed as genuine and 72% of people were more likely to support brands with authentic advertising. Most importantly, inclusive advertising was shown to drive purchase intent. The study showed that an inclusive ad drove a 23pt lift in purchase intent, whether the person experiencing the ad was personally represented in the ad or not. This would seem to signal that the ‘risk’ associated with inclusive advertising may be more of a marketing perception than actual reality.

If you are a business leader, here are five recommendations for inclusive advertising in 2021 and beyond.

  1. Don’t look back, look forward
    Parker says that today’s campaigns are updated versions of campaigns from the past due to influencers copying what they think is classic and new marketers following in the footsteps of what came before. However, there are positive benefits for brands, their bottom line and the leadership they create if they thoughtfully incorporate diversity into their advertising and are willing to reframe campaigns away from being judgemental (the status quo) to being aspirational.
  2. Invest in sensitivity panels or focus groups
    Compared to online surveys or one-on-one interviews, sensitivity panels and focus groups help brands deep dive into the attitudes, feelings, beliefs, experiences and reactions of their target demographic, and reduce the serious gaps existing between what their internal team thinks and what their customers think. The insights gained from these sessions can be highly valuable because they can help you create a better product as well as provide critical feedback ahead of launching the product or campaign.
  3. Look from within
    Examine the diversity of your employees. If they reflect many ages, genders, races, ethnicities, physical abilities, mental health differences, political beliefs, interests, sexual orientations, classes etc, the inclusion depicted in your campaigns will be communicated in an authentic way. Building more inclusive teams internally can help you understand the diverse communities in which you operate. Conversely, underrepresented groups in marketing teams may reflect who you are excluding in your marketing materials.
  4. Look to the nine feelings of inclusion in advertising
    The same Microsoft study cited above identified nine feelings of inclusion that can help build trust, joy and connection with consumers.  The study supports the idea that if your product genuinely and authentically creates at least one of these feelings, it can help reflect inclusion. Thus refer to the feelings listed below as guiding principles to ascertain whether you are making your consumers feel part of the community.

    1. Celebration – of people, their successes, honouring of holidays, etc.
    2. Zest – for life (for ours, theirs, and that of the planet).
    3. Hope – bringing hope to conquer challenges and/or societal issues.
    4. Relaxation – instead of portraying the need to be on guard, remove tension or anxiety.
    5. Relief – from concern or worry, removing something distressing or oppressive.
    6.  Safety – create experiences or highlight how your brand extends safety to all people.
    7. Confidence – instill a sense of confidence—the belief that we strive to act in the right way.
    8. Acceptance – of others’ differences, typically to be included as part of the group.
    9. Clarity – bring a sense of certainty, clarity, and transparency in ambiguity.
  5. Undertake audits
    Inclusive advertising does not finish with the advert or campaign. An important part of the consumer experience is clicking to learn more or to buy the product. Consider whether the online images match the audience representation you have incorporated across your ad campaign, or whether the landing pages capture the inclusive spirit of your campaign. One simple way to check this is go to your search engine of choice and type “site:”, then add your website’s URL after the colon. Once you hit enter, click on ‘images’ so you can scroll through your website images quickly to get a sense of the diversity.

Learn more here:

Tim Parkin: Sexism in Advertising – The Fix Podcast

Marketing with Purpose Playbook – Microsoft