How Can UK Brands Work Towards Better Representing BAME Cultures in Advertising?
More than ever, brands are making efforts to increase the diversity within their ad campaigns. While inclusivity in advertising is undeniably important, if a demographic is represented poorly, these attempts can run the risk of doing more harm than good. Rather than presenting your brand as forward-thinking and inclusive, it can backfire and alienate your audience.
A recent study found that more than half of BAME people in the UK have thought that their culture was poorly represented in advertising. But what are the key reasons why so many BAME audiences feel this way, and what can brands do to help?
A Poor Portrayal
A study from 2018 found that 34% of black people in the UK felt that people of their ethnicity were inaccurately depicted in advertising, with 29% feeling that they were negatively portrayed. Similarly, 30% of Asian people thought that they were also represented inaccurately in advertising. The same study found that only 9% of white people thought that they were inaccurately depicted.
This issue may stem from the fact that only 7% of adverts feature BAME groups as dominant or main characters and 60% of ads feature only, or majority, white people. This leaves less on-screen opportunity for BAME people to be portrayed in a nuanced or varied way. Brands need to ensure that the representation goes further than simply having BAME people in campaigns and seek to actively include them in their creation.
Simple mistakes can make a BIG difference and quickly put off BAME audiences. When BAME audiences feel that the advertiser hasn’t done enough research about their particular background or culture, they can feel alienated by the attempt to reach out to them.
A qualitative study from Lloyds pointed out a one-size-fits-all approach can cause issues. “When BAME groups were included in advertising, they were often shown with very little cultural difference and instead were regularly shown immersed in Western culture, e.g. sat together having Christmas dinner. There seemed to be little attention paid to specific cultural heritage,” the study said.
Where To Find Inspiration
Transport For London’s diversity in advertising competition promised £500,000 worth of free advertising across their network for a campaign that challenged stereotypical representations of BAME groups and provided an “authentic” portrayal. The winner was lingerie brand Nubian Skin, which specialises in making “nude” colour underwear and bras that match a variety of darker skin tones.
Their Founder and Chief Executive, Ade Hassan MBE, explained how her campaign sought to make black people feel included and noticed in advertising. “Nude is such an important colour in lingerie. But as a black woman, I could never find my ‘nude’ as it was always beige,” she said. “We want to bring a smile to people, especially black people when they see a campaign that doesn’t feature a token black person but is truly representative of us.”
Meanwhile, Channel 4 launched the Diversity in Advertising Awards in 2015 and has given £1m every year to a brand and agency that have pitched the strongest idea for a campaign that celebrates diversity and inclusion.
Channel 4’s CMO, Zaid Al-Qassab, spoke about how the brands that they work with should have wider commitments to diversity: “It’s a broader societal challenge, and many in the marketing industry have been deliberately making positive steps on diversity and inclusion… but there’s a recognition that there’s a lot more still to do. Brands need to make demonstrable changes in what their core business is, rather than just make statements,” he said.
How To Make Positive Changes
One of the key areas to look at is representation within your creative workforce. A recent report found that ethnic diversity within advertising agencies is at its highest recorded level, but found that 97% of chair level positions such as Chief Executives and Managing Directors are held by white people, with only 1.9% being from a BAME background.
This might be a trickier issue to tackle in the short term. However, examining your company’s wider creative strategy and taking into account that the decision-makers may not have the necessary, in-depth knowledge to market and appeal to BAME audiences in an authentic way could help to make a difference. Being open to the idea that your creative strategies and diversity goals can always be improved upon is a great place to start.
Brands like Nubian Skin demonstrate how to do a diverse campaign in the right way. Their ads wanted to improve the quality of representation of BAME people and put them front and centre. A well-done campaign should focus on the quality of BAME portrayal and should ensure that their inclusion doesn’t feel tokenistic.