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Despite 25 Years Of Ad Growth, Diversity Remains A Challenge

This article is part of our Cannes 2019 collection. Click here for more.

A few months ago at Adobe Summit in Las Vegas, Adobe began its year-long celebration of 25 years of digital advertising, looking at the milestones and moments that brought the industry to the point it is at today.

The rise of digital advertising and increased diversity back in 1994 marked a turning point in advertising, a time when consumer demand for greater personalization and tailored experiences started to grow. Consumers wanted (and still want) to feel special and, above all else, recognized as the individuals they are and the communities they represent.

As part of the industry’s journey, and in order to get to the root of whether diversity in advertising has changed in the eyes of the people who consume it, Adobe conducted a global survey of over 2,000 consumers. The company looked across generation, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States to better understand how diversity in creative and the way diverse ads are delivered and targeted translate into brand advocacy and consumer engagement. (Adobe is CMO.com’s parent company.)

Here are three key findings that resulted from the survey:

1. Consumers Have Increasing Control Over A Brands’ Bottom Line
Most Americans (61%) find diversity in advertising important. In fact, 38% of consumers said they are more likely to trust brands that show more diversity in their ads. To put that into perspective, consider that over one-third of LGBTQ+, African Americans, and Millennial consumers said that doing so has a major impact on their likelihood to purchase products/services from a brand. This means a brand’s bottom line can be impacted by its willingness or unwillingness to include diversity within its advertising campaigns.

For example, 34% of respondents said they’ve boycotted a brand, at least temporarily, because they felt it did not represent their identity in its advertising. In fact, over half of LGBTQ+, African American, and Gen Z respondents have done so. This is not the time to play it safe. Instead, advertisers must get in front of diversity and put real plans into action toward personalizing consumer experiences, which means targeting to where these audiences are viewing ads. What’s relevant to one group is often irrelevant to another, and ads must be more reflective of these nuances across ethnic groups and communities. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, and this is not a U.S.-only issue.

Across the globe, most Australian consumers said they find diversity in advertising equally as important—in particular, younger, Asian, and LGBTQ+ Australians. Over one-third of these groups said diverse representation increases their likelihood to purchase products/services. While less common than in the U.S., a substantial proportion of Australians (21%) have boycotted a brand because they felt it did not represent their identity in its advertising.

Many in the U.K. agree with their global counterparts (65%) and see diversity in advertising as important. A significant number (26%) said they are more likely to purchase from brands with diverse advertising, and that number goes up to 40% when looking at LGBTQ+ respondents.

In fact, in Australia, the U.S., and the U.K., less than half of all respondents (30%, 42%, and 43%, respectively) said they’d be willing to provide personal data in exchange for more diverse ads. Just over half in the U.S. (59%) said they expect brands to be more diverse in exchange for sharing personal data. Consumers feel they already put a lot of themselves out there for brands to dissect. Brands can no longer continue to ask consumers for more information; there is a push-pull effect, and it’s reaching a breaking point.

In order to prevent a full-on spiral, advertisers need to focus on personalizing brand campaigns and creating multiple creative options in order to win consumers’ trust. The focus should also include targeting, as the two go hand-in-hand. After all, what good is a creative ad if it’s not optimized and targeted appropriately?

2. Up To 120 Million People In The U.S. Do Not See Themselves Portrayed In Ads
African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latino/Hispanic Americans make up nearly 37% of the U.S. population, yet these groups feel the least represented in advertising. Sixty-six percent of African-Americans said they feel their ethnic identity is often portrayed stereotypically, a sentiment shared by 53% of Latino/Hispanic Americans. Meanwhile, 51% of Asian Americans said their ethnicities are least represented in advertising. Advertising has not yet hit the mark when it comes to gender and ethnic representation, which is a major missed opportunity when it comes to personalization. If consumers are increasingly impacting brands’ bottom lines, brands need to get serious about developing creative that is more reflective of the world around us by investing in targeting that ensures ads reach the right audiences. One does not beget the other; advertisers need to look at creative and targeting together and determine how they can best optimize campaigns to reach wider, more diverse audiences.

Again, these issues are not special to the U.S. In Australia, 45% of respondents said they feel gender portrayal in ads leans more toward the female gender, and that ethnicities portrayed in ads leans heavily toward European Australians. Meanwhile, Aboriginal, African, and Middle Eastern Australians feel the least represented.

Results are similar across non-white ethnicities in the U.K., once again showing that lack of diversity in ads is a global issue.

3. Diversity In Advertising Today—Better, But Far From Perfect
Some industries have made strides when it comes to creating diverse ads. Specifically, food (33%), healthcare (30%), and retail (30%) are perceived to show the most diversity in ads in the U.S., while the reverse can be said for the banking, insurance, and automotive sectors. Why are the former industries perceived as achieving a more diverse status over others? Perhaps it points to the brands within these categories that have historically been called out for not being thoughtful enough in their approach toward diversity and inclusion. Having been burned in the past, brands within these industries understand how a misstep can impact consumer perception and, ultimately, business.

In Australia, the same industries are considered to show little diversity, while travel and hospitality (30%), retail (28%), and media and entertainment (27%) are those considered to show the most. In the U.K., ads across the retail (29%), media and entertainment (28%), food (26%), and healthcare (24%) industries are considered to show more diversity. These industries are making steps in the right direction, but consumers are looking for a leap. The onus is on advertisers across all industries to invest in more practices that lead to more inclusive and diverse ads.

Click on the links below for country-specific results: 

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