Diversity in Advertising: How Tech Can Detect It and Why It Matters

June 12, 2017
Unconscious bias is very prevalent. Unless companies are actively putting processes in place to manage it, then it’s likely impacting not just internal decision-making, but also the decision-making steps of its customer base. And not in a good way.
Today, an ad isn’t just an ad. It’s not just a 30-second spot on TV, a jingle on the radio (does anyone still listen to them anymore?), or even a promoted post on your Facebook feed. It’s the visuals populating your website. The images splashed across a brand’s social media account. It’s also the countless photographs posted by fans that celebrate/denigrate your brand. Everything is an ad. 

Why Diversity in Advertising is Critical

On the internet today, ads aren’t just part of the content or interface, they are the content and the interface. From what photos you see on Facebook, to the music you listen to on Spotify, to the videos you watch on Snapchat — it’s all served by algorithms that have quantified your response well enough to exploit your tastes, showing you things that you will almost certainly click on. By using these apps and services, we’re feeding the companies that control them immense amounts of data that, in turn, tailors the medium to fit our tastes. So today, more than ever, brands have to be attune to the demand in campaign diversity across all of its communication channels.
While ads traditionally attempt to inspire through its own brand culture, today audiences expect more from the media at the very least, for the media and advertisements to reflect who they are. The demographic shift of the ad audience has far outpaced the demographic shift of the ad industry. Millennials are the most diverse generation in US history: three-quarters of Baby Boomers are white, compared to just over half of millennials. 
And this reflection trickles down into concrete purchases. According to this study, 80% of parents like seeing diverse families in advertising. But what’s more, the research found 49% of millennial parents were more likely to talk to friends about products that include more diverse family types in their ads and perhaps most importantly to brands 41% are more likely to purchase those products. Meanwhile, separate research cited from The Harris Poll by eMarketer indicates nearly 65% of 18-to-34-year-olds overall prefer shopping at retailers that offer a wide selection of multicultural products.
Diversity Advertising
Nothing quite sums up the need for ethnic diversity in brand marketing as much as the powerful photo essay published in the May issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.

Realistic Steps to Achieve Campaign Diversity in Advertising

While this research suggests a need for greater diversity in ads, the marketing industry itself suffers from a reputation of not being very inclusive in its hiring practices, which could, in part, explain why marketers struggle to come up with campaign strategies reflecting a range of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. 

Actioning Diversity in Hiring Practices Not Just Lip Service

As the Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall explained: he’s been in the industry for almost 30 years and, while lip service has been paid to diversity, it’s only been in the last few years that he’s seen a visible change. Mildenhall said he is attempting to affect his own change by not only actively looking to hire from a more diverse range of candidates, but also in demanding more diversity from the agencies Airbnb employs. Reflectively, Airbnb’s Superbowl ad celebrating diversity was one of the most popular in 2017.

Diversity in Visual Marketing  Stocktake, Then Move Forward

Companies are churning out visuals at an exponentially high rate: some experts estimate that most Americans are exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements each day. According to Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report, people upload an average of 1.8 billion digital images every single day. And when you add the fact that 74% of social media marketers use visual assets in their social media marketing, ahead of blogs (68%) and videos (60%) there’s quite a lot of visual data to stay on top of. 

There are a number of ways to achieve diversity in visual marketing. The first would be a stocktake of all your brand’s current and recent visuals. To do this, a Visual API would come in handy, quickly organizing and managing your visual content based on demographic-driven image analysis. Using face recognition technology, Demographic Analysis extracts demographic data (age, gender and multicultural appearance) based on facial characteristics within your image collection. Now you can be in control of your visual output, as you can search for your visual content based on the demographic data you require. 
The basics of Face Recognition and Demographic Image Analysis

Getty Images are helping brands move forward in their thinking with their Lean In Together Collection, a group of visuals designed to combat gender clichés.  Stock photography is easily accessible and much cheaper than hiring a photographer to produce images for a brochure or an ad or a website, but it’s often rife with stereotypes. In partnering with Sheryl Sandberg’s, Getty Images of the leading stock photo agencies in the world is taking a stand to
represent women, families and minorities in more empowering ways. Like Sheryl Sandberg said in an interview, “You can’t be what you can’t see. In an age where media are all around us, it is critical that images provide examples that both women and men can emulate.”
The next step would be to think beyond adding representations of diversity in advertisements, and instead take a more comprehensive approach across all operations. The messaging won’t be enough if the products are priced beyond affordability or aren’t accessible by all audiences. The messaging has to go beyond the numbers’ – it can’t be diversity for diversity’s sake. 

“You can’t be what you can’t see.”

The topic of diversity in 2017 is perhaps a more loaded one than it has been in the past, as politics designed to exclude certain segments of the US population seems to be ramping up. For brands to connect with consumers, it’s imperative that they’re inclusive, accessible and brave in challenging the status quo. Technology can only take you so far. We’ve come a long way but we have an enormously long way to go. Once brands and agencies truly understand the critical need for diversity in all their communication channels and workplaces, it’s a much brighter future. 


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