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IAB insight: why diversity is critical for advertising


Victoria Usher

Published On:

July 16, 2019

Published In:

Business | Industry News

IAB insight: why diversity is critical for advertising

Diversity isn’t just a rising priority; it’s essential to the success of digital advertising. At last week’s Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) Diversity, Inclusion and Equality Seminar the message was clear: the industry has made significant progress towards better awareness and representation, but more work is needed.

So far, the diversity spotlight has focused on gender. The ban on gender stereotypes and initiatives aimed at reducing senior-level inequality have done much to redress the long-standing industry imbalance. Free the Bid, for instance, has seen the number of women leading agency projects increase from 0% to 59%. But gender is only one aspect of the broader diversity story. To engage richly varied audiences, brands need a larger spectrum of talent, and equally varied campaigns.

Three key takeaways from the seminar are as follows:

Authenticity speaks volumes

Inclusive marketing must be based on an in-depth understanding of specific needs and values. As noted by Tom Stevens, marketing leader for Pride in London and the IAB, brands often make the mistake of trying to engage specific groups — such as the LGBTQ+ community — by simply using well-known symbols. See the infamous case of the Marks & Spencer rainbow sandwich. Inclusivity, however, isn’t about tweaking standard offerings or messages; it’s about making authentic connections.

UK Head of Marketing for Microsoft Advertising, Tina Aird, echoes this statement and champions genuine empathy. Citing Tommy Hilfiger’s Adaptive clothing range and Microsoft’s Changing the Game initiative — where a hackaton fuelled the creation of more accessible gaming controllers — Aird feels brands must collaborate closely with their target audience to identify specific challenges and develop tailored solutions. Accessibility doesn’t need to be a bolt on; it can be an integral element of products and communications that forges lasting bonds with varied consumers.

A broad spectrum of skills

Valuable talent is being under-utilised across ad land, and for Helen Cooke, founder of MyPlus Consulting, companies must take charge of tackling this issue themselves. For starters, organisations should view disability through a new lens. Aside from the more widely acknowledged skills associated with neurodiverse individuals — such as the high concentration and analytical abilities linked to autism — there are multiple assets that managing disability can cultivate. Cooke points to resilience, determination, flexibility, listening, and a flair for interpersonal relations as a few of the assets businesses can harness. But businesses must also drive change. While inspirational talks are impactful to build enthusiasm, it takes action to reconfigure the fabric of the workforce; including assessing current diversity levels and creating strategies for attracting varied talent.

Accessible roles for all

The most crucial part of maximising appeal for diverse employees is an easily navigable entry point. Support for differently abled workers should focus less on training and more on addressing the lack of roles and challenging application processes. Akama Davies, Director of Global Solutions and Innovation at Xaxis and long-term Media Trust partner, passionately emphasises the importance of giving young talent a chance to prove their capability in full-time roles, and he also extols the business benefits: “to be the most competitive industry in the world, we must enable diverse talent to thrive.”

Continual expansion and evolution is paramount to move advertising forward. As argued by Emma Newman, UK Vice President at PubMatic, firms should challenge traditional recruitment processes — such as disclosing past salaries, written CVs, or in-person interviews — if they want to open their businesses up to a wider talent pool.

It can be easy to blame the state of the industry for inequality issues. But today’s under-representation doesn’t have to continue tomorrow. The innovators behind visibility initiatives, skills development, and recruitment drives have shown that a shift is possible. By joining them, brands can achieve and create their own wave of change.


By Catherine Luff, Content Manager 

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