65% of US consumers expect brands to promote diversity and inclusion in online advertising but 53% do not feel fully represented

A year on from the release last year of WARC’s Guide to brand activism in the Black Lives Matter era, WARC’s just-launched Spotlight US measures industry DEI progress, and what it takes to maintain momentum.

Cathy Taylor, US Commissioning Editor, WARC, says: “There is so much work to be done towards DEI in the marketing industry that the subject needs continued commitment and revisiting. Whether the issue is hiring and retaining talent, or how consumers respond to ads that feature diverse portrayals, the underpinnings of the argument for diversity – both in terms of staffing and marketing output — increasingly center on data.

“The evidence and data outlined in this latest Spotlight just published, highlights that despite some positive advances, overall DEI in media, marketing and advertising is lagging.”

Key themes highlighted in WARC’s Spotlight US: “DEI in marketing: How it’s progressing – and how it isn’t” are:

US consumers want to see diverse portrayals in online ads, but brands don’t necessarily deliver

A study conducted earlier this year by Meta found that 65% of US consumers expect brands to promote diversity and inclusion in their online advertising, but 53% “feel they do not feel fully represented in online advertising today.”

But despite some brands being slow to act, the study found that campaigns on Facebook with more diverse representation tend to have higher ad recall compared with campaigns featuring a single traditional representation.

Why brands and media owners should invest in content that reflects diversity

US TV content is becoming more diverse, but as Robert Vélez, Senior Director/Multicultural at Vevo notes, this content is more likely to be found on streaming platforms than on broadcast or cable: “Because of its ability to target on a more granular level, advertising against premium video and OTT programming is one of the most effective ways to build a relationship with an audience, and it’s also where programming featuring a more diverse set of characters is likely to be.” Read more here.

Vélez advises that brands and agencies should either place more media investment in minority-owned media or invest in the plethora of new programming from more established media players that both reflects and is attractive to diverse audiences.

Latinx, in particular, are becoming a major force

By 2050, nearly one-in-three Americans will be of Hispanic origin, according to Pew Research Center; in California, Latinx have outnumbered white people since 2014. As a group, Latinx are reshaping American mainstream pop culture, from food, sports and fashion to politics, music, and late-night television. 

This market is no longer just a piece of the US market: it is becoming the market, with $1.7 trillion in spending power. Without a long-term, focused strategy for the Hispanic market, marketers not only miss out on a huge opportunity, they risk the growth and success of their brands, notes Roberto Fonfría, Founder of the Miami agency El Autobus, (Anchor Worldwide).

The marketing world doesn’t match demographic reality

Diversity levels have increased in the US marketing industry, but there is still progress to be made.

Recent data from the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) and AIMM (Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing) showed almost 31% of those now employed in the marketing sector are from a non-Latinx white group. 

However, diversity within the industry still lags behind that of the wider US population meaning marketers do not fully represent the audiences they hope to reach. The report found that only 5% of senior marketers are Black, 8.9% are Latinx and 11.7% are Asian Americans, which is disproportionately high.

Other data shows that over time, representation for non-whites erodes on the way up the corporate ladder. Pam Yang, Co-founder of Agency DEI, says: “Between each level of influence, white talent gains 4-9% in representation. Starting with 63% in the Professional level … white representation jumps to 84% at the C-Suite/Officer level.”

There are problems with hiring, and retaining diverse talent

As the marketing community looks to become more representative, much of the focus has been on hiring, but representation alone does not mean inclusion and equity.

A recent study by VMLY&R found that appraisal systems are potentially not set up to enable success for Black people, while Asian people in advertising appear to be getting “stuck” at a certain managerial level.

Organizational systems need examination and recalibration to begin yielding equitable opportunities at scale to empower and enable success. 

Building out a talent pipeline may start at the community level

There are many approaches on how to tackle these issues. One is the model of Huenited Collective, a group founded in Cincinnati by local marketing executives who are building out the infrastructure to bring diverse talent into its marketing community at scale. 

Huenited Collective’s Co-Founder, Sean Ruggles of the Katalyst Group, says the Collective hopes to bring scale to DEI efforts across companies, because it’s business imperative: “As a collective, first we have to drive awareness of career possibilities through strategic partnerships, secondly recruit diverse talent with a focus on continued growth and equitable leadership opportunities, and thirdly build partnerships and facilitate membership that fosters this diverse talent to showcase their skillsets, as well as provide development.” Read more here.

To be truly equitable, there’s a need for Diversity Operating Systems

All of the issues raised in this Spotlight ladder up to a more encompassing truth – that diversity needs to be infused into the marketing industry rather than cobbled on. Davianne Harris of sparks & honey, says: “DEI must be woven into the fabric of the organization. Instead of solely building diverse teams, we need to build Diversity Operating Systems that embed equity into the daily rhythm of the work product and experience.” Read more here.

Read here a round-up of this latest Spotlight US by WARC’s Cathy Taylor. WARC’s Spotlight US is a bimonthly series which focuses on a timely industry topic facing brands in the market. It comprises a capsule collection of commentary, tackling the topic from a range of angles. Contributors to the series are industry experts offering on-ground insights to what’s working or developing.

WARC’s Spotlight series consists of a mixture of free content and content for WARC subscribers, and covers Australia, China, India, Southeast Asia and US.

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