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17 Insights About Diversity From an Analysis of 2,738 FMCG Ads

Brands failed to deliver BLM promise of diverse and inclusive ads

Michael Murray

Assistant Marketing Manager

Black Lives Matter galvanised many companies to take a stance against systemic racism. Diversity and inclusion became a CMO priority, and a commitment was made to re-evaluate the ads brands spent billions of dollars spent a year promoting.

To learn more about how marketers responded to the Black Lives Matter and the stereotypes that perpetuate in advertising, we used our creative excellence technology to analyze 2,738 image and video ads deployed in the US in 2020 by some of the world’s best-known CPG, beauty, and alcohol brands.

The Black Lives Matter movement catalyzed promises of change but the data revealed that marketers did not deliver on the promises to better represent and portray Black people in advertising.

We had two hypotheses going into this analysis. We were right on one occasion.

  1. The Black Lives Matter protests would positively impact representation for Black men and women in advertising. Our hypothesis was wrong: While Black representation increased, it was not in a contextually positive way. Black people were less represented and speaking roles and leadership roles both fell during the months of protest, increasing only in the final months of 2020 (when sport occasions and sports-related advertising both increased).
  2. Increased representation of Black people would come at a price: increased stereotyping. Our hypothesis was right: Instances of racial stereotypes increased (i.e. portrayals of Black people as athletic and muscular — due to racist bias and physical stereotyping) when Black representation increased. Diversity within ad agencies and brands remains low, and most marketers believe that they’re creating progressive advertising. Until both are remedied, progressive portrayals of Black people will remain low.

Here are the top 5 things we uncovered:

  1. Ads continue to whitewash beauty. Casting choices fail to accommodate the full spectrum of skin tones, instead prioritising Black people that look white. Our ads don’t represent us and marketers are missing out on the business impact of the “Fenty Effect.”
  2. Casually improving representation across ads is not enough. Black people are more likely to be cast in ads where sport or exercise is a theme and less likely to be cast in leadership roles.
  3. Representation is not a box-ticking exercise. Marketers need to be aware of casting a single Black person in a social setting surrounded by white people. This leads to appearances of the “token Black friend” and ads that feel clichéd.
  4. Covid had a more positive and progressive impact on the portrayal of Black women in ads than Black Lives Matter. Black women cast in leadership roles increased nearly 13x in April when they were portrayed as doctors.
  5. Women continue to be cast as background or secondary characters. They need more speaking time. Despite 65% less screen time over the course of 2020, Black men were about 6% more likely than Black women to feature in speaking roles.

Read the full report here