29 August 2019
Author: Steve Wardlaw
We are, of course, slowly seeing more diverse representation in brand and advertising campaigns, albeit within the boundaries of what constitutes as ideal and aspirational: the John Lewis Christmas advert featuring a light-skinned, black middle class family with a trampolining dog; the Boots’ advert from a few years back featuring a mixed raced family; Lloyds Bank with a same-sex couple getting engaged.
But consumers are already becoming wary of tokenistic representation and disingenuity, with some of the world’s most renowned brands still getting it wrong with myopic products or campaigns that inadvertently insult rather than celebrate the marginalised.
This could stem from the lack of diversity and inclusion within the creative sector itself; an industry that is still predominantly full of white, middle class, university educated male thinkers with little empathy for the nuances and cultural sensitivities of the eclectic groups they are endeavouring to target. What results from the creative, then, is a kind of bland diversity that does little to develop a meaningful emotional connection between consumer and brand.
Let’s be clear: I’m definitely in for more diverse representation in advertising and brand campaigns, and I accept that the evolution of such representation is still in its relative infancy. Indeed, to show more representation is not without risk. It can alienate a consumer base that finds deviation from the norm uncomfortable. Brands must show backbone and bravery against the backlash and stay true to their convictions.
More and truer societal representation is just one part of a bigger solution to the problem. It's time for companies to put money where their mouth is and work hard towards becoming genuinely more diverse and inclusive within their own structure, and in the products and services they provide. Otherwise it’s just a hollow gesture, wearing the mantle of liberal forward-thinking values with no integrity or authenticity.
Steve Wardlaw is chairman of Emerald Life, the first insurance company ensuring equality for all, particularly women and the LGBT+ community, and a prominent LGBT+ activist.