How Advertisers Can Make Their Brand Message More Inclusive

Some lessons, unfortunately, need to be learned the hard way

Inclusivity needs to be an intentional effort on behalf of the agencies creating the content, otherwise change won't occur.
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Like every CMO, I spend much of my day in creative reviews. That means I am on the receiving end of a lot of beautiful images. But over the years, too many have been filled with perfect young hipsters, in beautiful houses, living in cool cities. Our products are for everyone, but our images were not telling that story.

We had a problem. So we started a journey to make sure that everyone can see themselves reflected in our creative work. We definitely do not have all the answers. But I want to share what we have learned—sometimes the hard way.

The makeup of your team matters

The first step is increasing diversity on the creative teams. As of this year, less than 6 percent of the advertising industry is Black, a figure that has been on the decline since 2010. There is no shortcut here. It takes time to seek out diverse talent. Everyone knows this. But in the rush to fill an open role it can be all too easy to fall back to the usual suspects.

When we are making a hire today, we ensure a diverse range of candidates from a wide range of backgrounds are considered before making a decision. And it is not just your own teams that matter; agency partners are critical too. For example, all too often when meeting with our agencies, I found myself looking at a room full of men. So we started to ask why? And what they could do about it? It is our responsibility to make sure we’re always asking these questions.

When we get this right, it can make all the difference. In another recent meeting where we were developing concepts for a new-to-market product, an agency lead spoke up about a feature for Hispanic users none of us had considered. He was Latino. His experiences gave him a different lens than everyone else in the room. That’s invaluable.

We also need to inspire the next generation of creatives. I am very proud that this year at Cannes Lions we will be launching a new program called Google Creative Campus. We’re working with organizations like Livity U.K. and the Marcus Graham Project in the U.S. to bring students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds to Cannes and Mountain View, Calif., for training and mentoring.

Not just a box you can tick

There are so many layers to diversity beyond gender or skin color. It is also about age. Geography. Socio-economic diversity. Relatable jobs. Abilities. Sexuality. Our images had lots of racial diversity. But everyone looked like they worked in tech and lived in hip urban neighborhoods.

To tell relatable stories, you also need a deep understanding and empathy for the people you want to reach.

To help us do better, we launched a half-day training course with guidance and tools for our teams, from how to recruit underrepresented groups for audience research to thinking about inclusion when defining your target audience. To date, 90 percent of our team and 200 of our key agency partners have taken the training and we are launching an e-learning course.

In our work, we also try to reflect the world we live in, not one disconnected from reality. For example, earlier this year we launched a social and digital campaign for the Pixel 2 phone called #QuestionYourLens. We worked with the rapper Logic to create a moment at the Grammys, showing real people and the stories behind their picture perfect images, including their struggle with depression.

No women in the kitchen, please!

To tell relatable stories, you also need a deep understanding and empathy for the people you want to reach. Stereotypes are the fastest way to show users you don’t understand them. Across the industry, only 37 percent of people who appear in ads are women. Of those, too many are seen in stereotypical roles. In a recent study, 85 percent of women said ads do not represent their real-world selves.

This story first appeared in the June 11, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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