Advertising hasn’t cracked the issues it faces around diversity and inclusion, but Majbritt Rijs has a suggestion: get research agencies involved and hold them to account. 

Mad Men was brilliant and oh so entertaining. But advertising people can’t possibly still behave that way, right? Sure, there’s always a jerk hanging around somewhere, but by and large, there are lots of good people trying their best to do good work in a good way and to make a difference.

Problem is, the pressures have changed so much that “good” has often been pushed into the “nice to have” column, with little understanding of how to fit it back into the creative brief without force-fitting or pandering.

I work in consumer insights and research, so it should come as no surprise that I say the solutions to this problem, at least in part, lie there, since consumer research is the direct line to ‘normal people’. And from a strategic perspective, insights can help you understand what diversity and inclusion actually need to look like.

Between speaking directly to customers and having a team of diverse people who can include their experiences and viewpoints, you can get a crystal-clear picture of what it needs to be.

Represent everyone’s world

We run a project – called Project Eden – to explore what matters to people in the UK, and the last time we surveyed 2,000 Britons from across the country, we explored what diversity and inclusion means to real people.

The most common requirement – across all groups of people in the country – is that we avoid stereotyping and show the world in a realistic way. People of all gender identifications want to see real people of different sizes, shapes, ages and appearances shown in fair, natural and non-stereotyped ways as equal members of society. They want to see themselves represented as equally capable and valuable.

Britons want variety that reflects society, and that translates to multidimensional representation: they cite the need for more people of colour, different religions, gender identities, sexual preferences, family structures, accents, educations, backgrounds and interests. They want to see an accurate version of the world normal different people inhabit every day.

And finally, everyone wants to see – and this was the cohort identified most often by all groups as needing more inclusion – more people with disabilities and people with mental and physical illnesses. These groups are regularly invisible and under-represented, and practically all cohorts we surveyed wanted to see them represented in non-tokenised ways.

If we were to sum up what we learned from our study it would be: It’s not “represent my world”, it’s “represent everyone’s world honestly”.

Execute diversity and inclusion in meaningful ways

Insights and research are ideally placed to support marketers and advertisers in this task: from creative development through to execution testing through to closing the loop and measuring in-market impact.

Evaluate your agencies. Agencies which are diverse and inclusive themselves are the best positioned to help move the needle, because not only do they understand it – they live it. Having a variety of perspectives, backgrounds and experiences in-house allows these agencies to more intuitively identify any blind spots that others may miss.

Identify your audiences. Start with an unbiased and open-minded exploration of your customers. Require that your agencies fully measure and map all your customers and audiences comprehensively – who they really are and what they really want. Market research is perfectly positioned to explore “otherised” groups and what they think of your brand, products and communications approaches. Confirm the source of your insights and that it is truly diverse and that everyone is given a fair share of voice.

Ensure rigour in the research methods used. Structure and manage the research in such a way as to ensure that everyone feels included, can partake and give their opinions honestly and without fear. When interviewing, for example, consider choice of moderator or interview method, language, confidentiality and the impact of others and social norms to ensure that everyone taking part in the research experiences psychological safety and feels free to express themselves. And listen without bias. What methods and techniques do researchers have in place to ensure they don’t just hear what they know and already understand?

Validate the D&I delivery. Measure the extent to which you’ve delivered the diversity and inclusion you’d hoped to, in a way that resonated with audiences. Monitor social media activity around your campaigns and brands, engage influencers and activists, listen to staff, partners and clients; having a diverse team of people that are empowered to feedback honestly will help you understand what worked and what needs to improve. An external, objective and scientifically derived system of measurement and performance tracking will pay dividends in the long term – this is what research was born to do.

Build D&I into your campaign metrics. You don’t need to build a tracker specifically to measure this; you can simply add onto your existing ad and brand tracking systems a module specifically designed to measure the extent to which each execution delivered from a D&I perspective; diagnostics here will help you understand when ads perform and why they fall short. Maybe that execution that tested well but performed poorly was because it employed stereotypes or didn’t include all your audiences. These metrics may also explain poor ‘for people like me’ ratings, which so often cause consternation and head scratching.

Learn and improve over time. Your brand and ad trackers should be measuring not only the extent to which your campaign met your D&I objectives, but also how well each specific execution delivered on these – alongside the overall impact in market and on your brand perceptions, and what you can do to make things better next time.

There is a vast array of metrics that can be deployed to this end – after all, diversity and inclusion relates to many different groups of people and their fair, honest and non-stereotypical representation in many different guises – but that’s what your tracking agency is there to advise on.

Hold research agencies to account. Here’s the call to arms: hold your market research agencies to account and challenge them to support you and your D&I initiatives. Insights and research provide the perfect vehicle for having meaningful dialogues with audiences about who they are and what they want to see represented.

Use us to help you understand what to do, and how to do it, and over time we will all get better, and this will become second nature, which surely is ultimately the goal?