Diversity in Advertising? Global survey spurs hope

Marketing experts from 5 countries on 4 continents were surveyed about Diversity in advertising. Their answers show that they know what is expected from them. However, mind-sets and actions vary.

Among marketing experts, there seems to be a surprising level of agreement across the globe when it comes to diversity. Collectively, across the countries surveyed, the latest Shutterstock research shows nine in ten of Generation X (91%) and Millennial (92%) marketers believe they are expected to use more diverse representation in their campaigns, and 88% of Generation X and 90% of Millennials believe that this helps the respective brand’s reputation. At the same time, they realise that there is still room for improvement in regards to D&I. The level of perceived opportunity has not only remained on the same level as in the previous year (2017 figures in brackets), ongoing criticism of campaigns for being sexist or stereotyping persist.

Agreement to ‘room for growth in using more diverse images’ by country:

  • Australia: 87% (93%)
  • Brazil: 95% (92%)
  • Germany: 86% (n/a)
  • U.K.: 88% (93%)
  • U.S.: 89% (91%)

Vast differences: purposes and priorities for D&I in marketing

In assessing the criteria for selecting imagery for campaigns, differences become visible that appear to mirror the respective local business mind-sets:

While in Germany, more tactical considerations could lead marketers to use more diverse imagery (create an emotional reaction (32%) and improve shareability of images (32%)), Brazilian (44%) and Australian (38%) marketers were more interested in the connection between the images and the brand message. The North Atlantic geographies think that such imagery will best represent ‘modern day society’ (British (45%) and American (37%)) – or should they have said customers and markets?

Reality check: here is an analysis of the current SuperBowl (2019) ads from a D&I perspective

Brazilians lead on transgender, androgynous and non-binary gender images

Over the past 12 months, 36% of Brazilian marketers have used more images featuring women in their marketing campaigns, 19% have started using more images of transgender models and 18% featuring gender fluid, non-binary or androgynous models, leading the way compared to the other countries surveyed. They also rank highest (45%) for having used more images featuring racially diverse models in the last 12 months.

UK struggling with regulation-based gender issues

Following the recent introduction of the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) gender stereotyping ban, 74% of UK marketers say they have been impacted by that standard (compared to 57% the previous year). Half (51%) of the respondents also agree that there are some company concerns that gender-neutral advertising could negatively (!) impact bottom line while 60% (younger generations more, older less) agree that gender is no longer as important of a factor when it comes to targeting in marketing campaigns.

Traditional mind-sets in Germany

Echoing discussions of the past 15 years, ‘only’ 60% of German marketers agreed that a gender stereotyping ban (similar to the UK one) should exist for advertising in Germany, and ‘only’ 50% believe it is important to support gender fluidity through marketing campaigns. Both are the lowest figures among the other countries surveyed, and relatively low agreements within the context of the survey. The country also ranks last regarding the use of more images featuring racially diverse models, transgender models, or people with a disability.

Scope and Learning for D&I and marketing practices

While this latest research does not analyse the actual imagery in advertising it shed light on the proclaimed opinions, perceptions and intentions of marketing experts. Their answers may or may not be influenced by social expectancy, peer group think or messages spread in special interest media and filter bubbles. Similar to the results from previous research, high levels of interest are coupled with low awareness for the hard business case. Furthermore, the question of diverse imagery can only be on element of a larger approach that accommodates differences within the mass market and market segments in a credible and relevant way.

An overview of D&I in marketing, sales and CRM

Larger-scale data about the extent to which this is already happening are scarce and exist mainly for local markets. The do show consistently, however, that neither product nor communication strategies – above or below-the-line – nor sales (front end, customer service…) are anywhere close to the diversity of the actual existing customer base – regarding ethnic or cultural diversity, gender, LGBT, age, disability or religion.

Report about D&I marketing research

Instead, the internet provides a platform for different communities to finally voice their anger about, for example, sexism in advertising, all-white, all-young – you name it – approaches in marketing. The persistency of these campaigns confirm the high percentages of agreement regarding the ‘room for growth’ for D&I in marketing.

Report about, for example, sexism in advertising


The Shutterstock survey



Biased Mass Marketing