Video content has become such an important way for brands to gain meaningful attention with consumers and to turn audiences into engaged communities and brand advocates. However, this can only happen with true and authentic storytelling that represents our diverse world both in front of and behind the camera, says Steve Wheen, Founder, Distillery

Over the past few years we have seen a dramatic increase in online video consumption and more brands are embracing brand content in their marketing strategies. A massive 78% of people watch online videos every week, and 55% view online videos every day, according Social Media Week. And next year, online videos will make up more than 82% of all consumer internet traffic – 15 times higher than it was in 2017 (CISCO).

But so much of this content is failing to represent our diverse world. More is being done to focus on diverse representation in marketing, such as the World Federation of Advertisers’ open-source D&I guide for marketers, unveiled earlier this year. However, we have a long way to go with brand video content. Marketers, agencies, studios and content platforms must address the D&I issue in this ever growing area of marketing.

For brands, D&I is not a nice to have, it’s an imperative that will deliver measurable business benefits. Having the right diversity in video content is key to a brand conveying the right messaging in the right way. It also ensures that they engage with all their audiences in the right way. Put simply, a brand’s investment in film content will work so much harder when D&I is fully embraced.

And it’s not about just putting people from a community in video content in order to target that community. We’ve seen many mistakes over the years with brands inappropriately associating themselves with communities in order to make their products more attractive.

Embracing diverse creative talent and diverse creative work is about alignment of values. It’s about how a brand wants to portray itself and how it wants to be perceived across marketing-critical platforms. More consumers – especially younger ones – are looking for brands that align with their values. Through diverse and inclusive representation in video content, brands have a genuine opportunity to build-long lasting relationships with consumers that appreciate their approach and in many cases their purpose.

I believe that everybody involved in creating brand content is responsible for driving D&I. Marketers need to be aware of both their responsibilities and the benefits of ensuring diversity in content and should push their agency and/or studio to meet expected targets. I’ve been running the Outvertising Awards for the past four years, and one of the critical learnings from brands that are getting it right is that in order to have diverse and inclusive representation on screen you must have true representation behind the camera. This means diverse teams right from the planning stage, through to creative, production and distribution & amplification.

If you do not have diverse teams, then you can't authentically make diverse work. However, most creative agencies and studios will not have the right level of diversity for all projects. So it’s critical that they partner with organisations like Outvertising and the Diversity Standards Collective to get the right representation for all marketing briefs. If a marketer is uncertain about how their partners are managing D&I, they should ask what processes they have place. It’s all about the checks and balances – you may have a director from one community, but then you will different representation in the script, in the casting etc.

Brands quite rightly rely on their studio and agency partners for their expertise in storytelling. But when working through the briefing process, it’s important to remember that that you don’t know what you don’t know. Even if you think you have expert knowledge of a community, if you are not part of that community, your approach to storytelling may not be a true or relevant representation of that community. In order to avoid unconscious bias, you have to actively involve the community you are looking to portray. For example, with Trans Awareness Day, we always reach out to the trans community either to find a creator from that community to develop the content or to check through the visuals and the storytelling.

The good news is that more brands are now getting D&I right. I have seen a significant improvement in how the LGBTQ+ community and lifestyles are represented in the work submitted to the Outvertising Awards. Thankfully, we are now seeing fewer tokenistic nods to the LGBTQ+ community and far less over-sexualised content. Ultimately, what we are looking to recognise is authentic storytelling that represents different lifestyles and that ‘usualises’ the LGBTQ+ community.

A very good and beautifully simple example of true and authentic storytelling is ‘Sip Boldly’ for Naked Juice. In the context of the drinks category, it’s refreshing to tell a queer story. It playfully shows that being asked out by someone isn’t a drama or offensive. Rejection is part of dating – and daily life – regardless of your sexuality.

Another great example is Mastercard’s ‘True Name’, telling the story of how a seemingly simple switch can change lives. The company’s True Name service enables trans and non-binary individuals to display their chosen name on their cards. The creative content shows the importance of identity and highlights Mastercard’s commitment to equality and inclusion.