Why the advertising industry needs diversity

So it’s January 2018, I am doing my regular morning scroll on the TL while on my commute to work. Nothing out of the ordinary: Trump doing a madness, some guy chatting about women deceiving men with make-up, a girl promoting her christian blog, and then BAM. H&M’s new children’s campaign comes up. The monkey-jumper scandal where a little black boy was put into a monkey jumper and a little white boy was put into a ‘jungle survivor’ hoodie.

But this isn’t it…

In March 2018 I was chilling at home, on Facebook when I came across an video ad from Heineken selling their new ‘light’ beer which is set in the caribbean. The waiter slides a bottle of the new product past multiple black people of all shapes and sizes until it reaches a white woman, then displaying the caption ‘lighter is better’.


In October 2018 I was on my work laptop having a browse of our internal comms channel when someone posts a video from Twitter of GBK’s ad for a new range of Asian inspired burgers called #CurryWars. The video displayed a GBK worker standing outside of Indian restaurants with a banner promoting the GBK burger, saying that theirs is a ‘real’ Indian cuisine.

I could go on but I believe my point has been made. It is increasingly evident that diversity is needed in the download (1)advertising/communication sectors. These sectors cover a range of roles such as PR, design, strategy, marketing etc, which can be filled by a range of graduates such as English, History, Sociology, Psychology, Languages, Economics, Philosophy etc. Yet the spaces producing this content rarely hires a diverse range of people who come from these educational backgrounds.

Companies that are not investing in a diverse workforce face a risky prospect when producing campaigns as they may not have people to spot errors such as Pepsi’s in the production stage. This is not only unappealing to investors who would start feeling nervous about the negative publicity around the brand, but it also isolates whole demographics which would have been willing to spend. If agencies have a lot of people that sound alike and look alike then the likelihood is that they will think alike too. This means you get a narrow view on what’s actually happening within the world and more often than not a lot of people go under represented.

Often when we hear of diversity in the professional sphere its to do with gender. But diversity is not just a woman’s issue, it’s a human being issue. So this covers race, sexuality, gender, age, religion, and ability.

For myself, I have not shopped in H&M since the jumper situation, and their sales have dropped this year, resulting in numerous store closures globally and a rapid rush to adapt to the online market to cover losses. I do not believe I am informed enough to confidently say that this is a direct result of that particular campaign, but what I can say is that I hadn’t seen articles on H&M’s losses prior to the campaign. Seeing that jumper on my TL that day felt like a slight towards me for being born the wrong colour. It felt like they were telling me that we have not progressed as much as we would like to believe, and that the world still views me as subhuman. As a result, that is not a brand I want to profit off of my income. 

I want to encourage minorities to not only apply for communications and advertising roles, but to ensure that their money follows the brands that are actively ensuring diversity is a priority for them. Leaving such incidences unchallenged is a slippery slope to greater exclusions and slights within daily life, and that is a step in the wrong direction. But I also want to encourage companies (if my voice in the digital sphere is big enough to reach such people) to take a look at their organisations and the audiences they’re trying to reach to see whether the two look anything alike.

By Priscilla McGregor-Kerr



The Move

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