For better or for worse, advertising is extremely powerful. It has the ability to communicate norms to massive audiences in a way that can have a huge impact on shaping societal values.
Unfortunately, advertising has traditionally dragged behind social revolutions. This was noticeable after the Women’s Rights Movements of the 60s and 70s when women continued to be objectified and depicted as less capable than men. Now, with the Black Lives Matter Movement moving more into the spotlight than ever before, it makes us reflect more on how well the advertising industry is representing people of color and other diverse audiences.
Even though diversity in casting does exist, advertisers are still lacking the key elements to pave the way for greater inclusivity in the industry. According to an Ad Age study in 2019, 92% of brands aired ads with at least one person of color in a primary role, but only 15% were culturally represented by more than their skin color. Advertisers need to think beyond just including a black person in their ad and checking off a box. It’s essential to recognize and promote that diverse people are multidimensional and relatable human beings that consumers want to see represented in the media.
One of the roots of this problem is the lack of diversity in those creating ads. African Americans make up less than 6% of the industry in the U.S. and from those, less than 1% are advertising and promotion managers. This homogeneity of white communicators can lead to tone-deaf ads such as the infamous Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner that trivialized the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s vital for the people creating influential advertisements to have different perspectives in order to incorporate minorities in a more productive and inclusive way.
Not only will increasing diversity and inclusivity in the Ad industry help our society move in the right direction, but it can also help contribute to greater advertising success. Recent research showed that people are more likely to consider, or even purchase, a product after seeing an ad they think is diverse or inclusive. Whether brands are advocating for environmentalism, feminism, or anti-racism, Gen Z consumers, in particular, want to support brands that align with their values.
For these reasons, we need to hold the ad industry accountable and keep fighting for change. Advertising has the capacity to be used as a vessel for achieving greater equality, but our work is far from over.