This is a five-part, weekly series exploring — through data — the ways that biases and assumptions lead to ads that are unrepresentative of society.
Part one focuses on gender bias, while part two explores underrepresented races in ads. Part three exposes advertising’s rampant age bias and part four examines class bias in advertising. Part five will highlight a company actively fighting against this, by spotlighting how Diageo is combating a lack of diversity and inclusion.
40% of the U.S. population is multicultural: it’s made up of African Americans (13.4%), Asian Americans (5.8%), and Hispanic Americans (18.1%). This number is rapidly expanding and will reach 50% by 2044 according to the U.S. Census.
The total spending power of this group?
US$3.8 trillion (up US$600 billion in 2 years).
Multicultural consumers are a massive market: Hispanic Americans (US$1.5 trillion in annual buying power), Asian Americans (US$1 trillion in annual buying power), African Americans(US$1.3 trillion in annual buying power).
In addition, multicultural consumers make up a disproportionate amount of purchases in many ubiquitous categories.
But advertising continues to ignore people who make up a significant portion of US society.
Just five percent of all money spent on brand marketing went to multicultural consumers. Breaking this figure down sees Hispanic Americans targeted with just 3.6% of media revenue, African Americans (1.4%) and Asian Americans (0.1%).
This disparity represents a clear opportunity for more marketers to engage multicultural consumers. Attempting to reach multicultural individuals with a general communication strategy wastes money, reduces effectiveness, and puts brand reputation at risk.
Andrew McCaskill, Senior Vice President, Global Communications and Multicultural Marketing at Nielsen says it best,
“If a brand doesn’t have a multicultural strategy, it doesn’t have a growth strategy. The business case for multicultural outreach is clear. African-American consumers, and all diverse consumers, want to see themselves authentically represented in marketing, and they want brands to recognize their value to the bottomline.”
Diversity in ads does exist but is rarely representative or inclusive even though representation in ads is correlated with an increase in both stock price and public perception.
A study looked at 30 second TV ads from the top 50 media spenders in the US, across eight industries, amounting to 17,000 data points. They use metrics to track diversity and inclusivity, such as diversity of primary characters, and unstereotyped roles.
Their top three findings:
Diverse ads are better for your brand. Research from AIMM found that ads perceived with high cultural relevance enhance brand perception 2x and increase ad effectiveness 3x (vs low cultural relevance).
Carlos Santiago, co-founder of AIMM, says,
“We found that highly relevant ads go beyond winking and recognizing diversity and inclusion. Consistently, the most effective and impactful ads mirror consumers genuinely with positive reflections. These ads enhance brand perception, increase brand effectiveness, and significantly lift purchase intent and loyalty.”
For ads to better reflect culture, we must recognise that culture is in the eye of the beholder. We make ads for consumers, but our bias and assumptions get in our way, rendering our ads a reflection of ourselves and not of reality itself. Santiago continues, “The most important components that were tied to impact were authentic portrayal, positive role models, cultural values, inclusion of race and ethnicity, cultural pride and respect of culture.”
It takes diversity and inclusion in the workplace to create ads that truly reflect the multicultural and multifaceted society we live in. Black culture grows in influence — from music to fashion to sports, but people who identify as African American or black account for only 5 percent of those working in advertising, public relations and related sectors.
We’ve got a way to go before advertising is diverse and inclusive, but we should recognise that we’ve come a long way too. P&G’s “The Talk” and “The Look,” and more recently, “The Most Searched: A Celebration of Black History Makers” by Google, represent what is possible when the focus is on understanding black culture at its core.