From #Unstereotype to this week’s launch of the WFA Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, the marketing industry has long been aware of the need to get smarter in how they portray people; and it’s not just about window dressing – doing it right has an effect on brand perception and share price.

“Our content reaches billions of people every day; we can use that reach to positively challenge social expectations,” said Jerry Daykin, GSK’s senior media director for EMEA, who is heading up the WFA task force with former EA marketing lead Belinda Smith.

“Diversity doesn’t have to be the main subject of an advertisement,” he added. “Casually improving representation across your output helps to normalise diverse communities and reflects the world without virtue signalling.”

A new WARC Best Practice paper – Diversity in advertising is common, but here’s how to make it actually have impact – notes how such normalisation has to be about more than just simple representation.

Using the Heat Test, a tool to measure the quantity and quality of diversity in advertising across the US, Lindsay Wade, a brand strategist at Heat New York, explains that while 92% of the companies surveyed portrayed an ad with a person of colour in a primary role, less than half were in positions of power.

Similarly, 94% of brands portrayed a woman in a primary role, but more than half were in stereotypical roles.

And when Heat started to dig deeper an even more detailed story came out: only when diversity is portrayed in all its complexity does it have a positive impact on the brand itself.

“For brands that scored high in two-dimensional diversity (diversity that is void of nuance and relies on generic but physically diverse characters), there was no noticeable lift in customer perception or financial performance for the brand,” Wade reports.

“However, brands that scored high in three-dimensional diversity (those that prioritized showing diverse people who are also complex and multi-dimensional humans) showed a lift in both customer perception (83%) and stock price (69%) from 2017 to 2019.”

Sourced from WARC, WFA