FMCG giant Unilever has turned its gaze inwards as part of its ongoing campaign against stereotyping, with an exercise designed to jolt its top marketers into greater awareness of unwitting stereotyping and ‘Unstereotype Bootcamps’ to encourage greater participation by minority groups.

The former involved 63 leading Unilever marketers in the US, UK and Holland taking DNA tests to establish their geographical roots, followed by lessons from academic psychologists in how to stop stereotyping.

“The goal was to ‘unstereotype’ my marketers’ minds to make them more creative, do their job better and unleash the potential of our brand,” Aline Santos, Unilever’s executive vice-president of global marketing and head of diversity and inclusion, explained to Marketing Week.

“It was amazing to see how our marketers took this test and were surprised about themselves,” she added. “Many of them didn’t know their heritage that was coming from Asia or Africa. It was quite surprising.”

And that realisation seems to have prompted the sort of rethink Santos is looking for: academics reported a 35% reduction in “stereotypical inferences from consumer data” (the tendency to stereotype consumers) among those who took part.

Further down the hierarchy, ‘Unstereotype Bootcamps’ aim to foster team environments where minorities can speak up.

“[It’s] to make our teams understand the importance of a safe environment where people can have the space to speak up and people are really going to hear you,” Santos said. “Inclusion is the key to unlock true representation and diversity.”

It’s a direction of travel that brands really can’t ignore. Since last Friday, brands in the UK have to abide by new Advertising Standards Authority rules that prohibit the use of harmful gender stereotypes in ads. That’s something they arguably ought to have been doing already, as Kantar research has shown two thirds of women skip ads if they feel they negatively stereotype women.

And one can assume that sentiment applies to a similar extent to other groups that are stereotyped or underrepresented in advertising: progressive brands are reassessing their portrayal of ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, and the disabled.

But measurement is necessary, Santos stressed. “It’s super important to create a metric which everyone can use, and now with Unstereotype Alliance we have a metric that can be used by anyone in the globe for free.”

Sourced from Marketing Week; additional content by WARC staff