Adverts are everywhere: on our buses and at our sports games; on our radios and TV’s; on our clothes and in our phones. On the whole, they are indiscriminate about who sees them; the advertising industry’s principal concern is finding new ways to make you watch what they’ve made. But do they represent the society they are trying to reach? It is no secret that advertising is not the most diverse industry, but now the drastic lack of diversity both behind and in front of the camera is threatening to leave the industry irretrievably separated from an increasing percentage of its target audience.
“Does our industry have a problem? In a word, yes.” This is the diagnosis of Richard Robinson, Managing Partner at Oystercatchers, and campaigner for increased diversity within the industry. In inner London, for example, 51% of the general population are from a BAME background, but only 20% of people in adverts come from a diverse background. And, in terms of in-agency discrimination, as Nishma Robb, Head of Ads Marketing, UK Google and Chair of Women at Google Uk can affirm, the situation is just as dramatic: “Women hold only 30% of executive roles, and those, like me, from an ethnic background, occupy only 12% of roles across agencies… only 8% in terms of senior leadership. The question is, what is happening? And what needs to be done about it?”
For Nadya Powell – co-founder of The Great British Diversity Experiment & SOWhite, the problem is not just an ethical one, but a business one too. Diversity makes business sense, she says; for any business that wants to be successful, solving advertising’s diversity problem ought to be a priority.
“If 20% of adverts include people from a BAME community, that’s not reflecting the world we’re in, and we know people see advertising that doesn’t reflect the world they’re in and they don’t respond well to the products and are less likely to buy it. In a business sense – you need your advertising to be more diverse to reach the groups that can potentially buy your products. And it’s the same with the people making the advertising, If they don’t come from the groups that you want to buy, they’re not going to be able to talk in the right way – the business of it is, if you want your business to be successful, you’ve got to reflect the community you want to sell to.”
Bejay Mulenga, the Co-Founder Filli Studio, Supa Academy – adds that there is acknowledgement of the issue at a corporate level, but that effective changes still remain elusive. “They know it’s important and they talk about it, but it’s not the be-all and the end-all at the end of the day… we need to move it towards a national conversation, and force agencies to take it as a priority.”
On that matter, at least there is consensus. Marie-Claire Barker, the Chief Global Talent Officer at MEC says that “just having discussions about it isn’t going to work” a rallying cry echoed by Robinson: “Stop waiting for the cavalry to come over the hill … don’t wait for your boss, do it yourself.”