How advertising is helping fight bias and make the world a more accepting (and sassier) place. Laura Jones, Senior Account Manager at The Union, muses on hidden biases and how uplifting it is that advertising has grown from contributing to them, to smashing them.
When it comes to marketing and advertising, the real power of communications is evident from the profound effect that they can have on these biases at a cultural, societal and individual level. It’s one reason why I personally ventured into Adland in the first place.
The Ad Council’s ‘love has no labels’ activism campaign is a great example of this; successfully making Americans realise and reconsider bias and discrimination they didn’t even know they had. Bias and discrimination are perhaps the most polarizing problems facing America today, yet research showed that 85% of Americans considered themselves to be unprejudiced.
To challenge this, the creative idea showed an x-ray screen view of couples kissing, embracing and dancing. Viewers mentally filled in the blanks of what friendship, romantic love and family constituted. When the couples were revealed, viewers in turn uncovered their implicit biases. For example, two skeletons kissing were revealed as two men. The campaign has made progress in encouraging people to embrace diversity and challenges misconceptions in a meaningful way.
Many other brands are joining and shaping the diversity conversation. A current campaign from River Island (who teamed up with an anti-bullying charity) ‘labels are for clothes, not people’ is a positive campaign which challenges stereotypes and labelling of others and shows how organisations are paving the way for change.
Empowerment is another strong strategic theme that comes through when fighting bias. The hugely successful ‘This Girl Can’ campaign (forgive us, we know this has already been discussed to death!) built its message on the finding that women’s fear of judgement was stopping them from exercising by empowering a tribe of real fierce women. Since the campaign ran it has made strides to narrow the gender gap in sport, is working its way to smash gender biases in society and made over 1.6 million women pick up their trainers.
We should be immensely proud and motivated that pieces of communication have generated that much change and so many positive conversations in the world.
Promoting diversity and improving bias is not only making the world a better place, but it’s also good for business. More progressive adverts are 47% more likely to be effective and trigger 25% more positive engagement. And less progressive ads generate double the negative reactions. Meanwhile, Under Armour are working to change their traditionally uber-masculine ‘aggressive’ sportswear brand into a symbol of female athletic aspiration, a change necessary in light of fierce competition from female sportswear strongholds Lululemon and Sweaty Betty.
However, we must not forget that advertising is not only open to bias, but has spent many years contributing to it! But the industry is certainly working harder to fight engrained stereotypes. The UK in particular is tightening the rules on sexist stereotyping in ads and more diverse recruitment in agencies.
This is a great thing. I know I won’t be the only one who will be glad to see the end of clichés like the fumbling clumsy Dad ‘attempting’ to do the weekly supermarket shop, or using a man in a dress as the butt of a joke. Neither will the British public continue to put up with giving women in commercials fewer lines than their male counterparts, or only giving them passive roles lacking in aspiration.
Society is changing. It’s an immensely exciting and forward-thinking time. And advertising can create the opportunities to talk about serious issues, and in turn change the way we behave and think about these issues. We as marketers have the responsibility to continue to keep up and be progressive and I for one am excited to see how much more empowered and sassy we can make the world.