August 24, 2021 by Jason Pittock | 9 min reading time

The United States is home to a massive melting pot of people. Yet, diversity in the States isn’t a strong suit when it comes to advertising and mass media, in general. As odd as it may sound to many, diversity in advertising is still lacking -- but we're on a better path than we were a couple of decades ago.

statistics diversity in advertising

How so? A NewsCred study shows that 91% of marketers believe that diversity in advertising materials isn’t strong enough. Of those marketers, 88% believe that using diversity in advertising images helps to improve a brand’s reputation. 

The challenge is how to put those beliefs into practice. We’ve got some good tips and examples to help you get started and keep the ball rolling. 

Diversity in the U.S. Population 

How diverse is the United States population? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2015 and 2016 the racial and ethnic minority populations grew faster than the Caucasian population. 

We can get a clearer view of diversity in the advertising industry in the United States by pulling data from a Pew research report. The report highlights the following 10 demographics that are shaping the fabric in the United States:

  1. Over the last 50 years, almost 59 million immigrants have entered the country, mostly from Asia and Latin America.
  2. The foreign-born population was only 5% in 1965 compared with 14% today. 
  3. Predictions show that the majority of the population growth in the United States will be a result of new Asian and Hispanic immigration. 
  4. Asia has now surpassed Latin America (inclusive of Mexico), as the largest source of new immigrants streaming into the United States. 
  5. The millennial generation (born 1981-1996) could potentially grow larger than the baby boomers (born 1946-1964) and become the largest adult generation. 
  6. American families are starting to look different than in past generations. Marriage rates are down and so are two-parent households. Divorce rates are on the upswing, the single population is at an all-time high, and a lot more people are living together outside of marriage.
  7. The role of women in society is improving as women are increasingly getting jobs, aiming for leadership positions, and serving on corporate boards of directors. 
  8. Before 2015, middle-class families made up the majority of households, but the number of Americans with middle-class status is shrinking. The middle class recently fell below 50%. 
  9. The number of Christians is dropping, and the number of people that don’t identify with any type of religion is rising. 
  10. People are living longer as they age, which is causing growth in the global population. The overall population has nearly tripled worldwide, and it’s doubled in the United States. 

These statistics show us that societies are diverse and the social landscape is always changing. When societies change, the most successful marketing campaigns reflect those changes. 

The Importance of Diversity in Marketing Campaigns

Truth be told, people simply relate better to images when they can see themselves reflected in the ads. They start thinking, “Hey, that person is like me. I could use that product or service and it would enrich my life too!” 

Shoppers that can relate to your ads quickly become buyers, and buyers increase your revenue.

5 Key Steps to Improving Diversity in Advertising

Diversity in advertising encompasses more than pulling in one or more minority actors or actresses into your ad. To be successful in portraying diversity, you have to understand what diversity means to your audience. 

how to improve diversity in advertising

Here are 5 tips for improving diversity in advertising:

  1. Factor in different types of diversity. Diversity in the advertising industry covers a lot of territory like:
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disabilities
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Socioeconomic status  

All people represented by these demographics use products and services, and everyone likes to try new things. When consumers believe your ads are speaking directly to them, they’re motivated to pull out a credit card. 

  1. Steer clear of tokenism. Diversity and tokenism aren’t interchangeable terms. Tokenism is the practice of making small gestures to give the appearance of diversity in advertising. An example of tokenism is a brand that uses marginalized people in an ad to give the impression the company embraces diversity, yet diversity isn’t woven into the fabric of the company’s culture. Consumers know when a brand is being disingenuous.
  1. Develop diverse marketing teams. People are naturally drawn to other people who look, act, and think as they do. Are your marketing team members all the same? If so, you don’t have anyone to point out unconscious biases, let alone challenge them. Sure, it’s important to look at job candidates’ marketing skills, but it’s a mistake to overlook the value that diverse team members can bring to your marketing strategy.  
  1. Create a connection between the copy and the imagery. Images and content are reflective of your brand, and they need to be cohesive and consistent. Inconsistency will cause your audience to lose trust in your brand in a heartbeat. Here are some things to avoid using in your ad copy so your images have the maximum impact:
  • Slang
  • Euphemisms
  • Gender-specific language
  • Casual phrases
  • Language that calls attention to physical or mental health disabilities
  1. Don’t get caught up in ticking off boxes for diversity. Your ad doesn’t have to represent multiple minorities or other groups. When you overdo the diversity angle, it wreaks of tokenism and sends the opposite message of what you intended. Simply demonstrate that your brand is for all people, and it’s not just limited to one demographic. 

How Not to Do Inclusive Advertising

As a marketer, you can learn a lot about diversity from the successes and baubles that other marketers make. Here are a few examples of diversity at its worst and at its best. 

Examples of Diversity At Its Worst

  1. Procter & Gamble – In 2015, Procter & Gamble came out with a commercial that praised women for doing the bulk of the household chores, particularly when it came to the laundry. In 2018, they came out with an updated message that spoke to the importance of mothers teaching their sons the same household skills they teach their daughters. The marketing lesson? They stuck with their campaign, and the updated campaign incorporated gender balance into the message. 
  1. Pepsi – This popular soda brand came out with a highly controversial commercial in 2017, starring Kendall Jenner. Pepsi included diversity in advertising in all the wrong ways as it promoted racial and cultural stereotypes. If that wasn’t bad enough, it also trivialized social injustice, which was and continues to be a highly sensitive issue.
  1. Bedrock – A commercial real estate firm in Detroit challenged viewers with the caption, “See Detroit Like We Do.” The commercial quickly backfired when viewers called attention to the fact that the banner featured predominantly white people. Detroit is 80% black, and blacks were (rightfully) neither  inspired, nor amused. It was diversity in advertising at its worst. 

Examples of Diversity At Its Best 

  1. Burger King – Not everyone is a meat-lover, and Burger King set out to send a message that everyone can enjoy a burger. Everyone includes a diverse population of vegans, vegetarians, and non-beef eaters. This commercial invited a broader audience to give their new burger products a try. 
  1. Gillette – Shaving your face for the first time is a milestone in the life of every young man. Gillette considered the diversity of men when they created a commercial that celebrated the event from the perspective of a transgender teen and his father. 

It showcased diversity in advertising that was inclusive and heartwarming and garnered attention in a really good way. In this case, veering from tradition was an effective strategy – one that competitors perceived as too risky. 

  1. The White Collection Bridal Boutique – Located in Portishead, England, this bridal retailer drew surprise when it placed a wheelchair in the store window, and set a mannequin on it adorned with a lovely wedding gown and veil. People that can’t walk get married all the time, but they don’t readily get chosen to pose at the altar in an ad campaign. Diversity in advertising that speaks to different abilities is a real winner. 

Inclusive advertising tells people, “I get you!” It says you understand people think differently and enjoy different lifestyles. Whoever they are, you think they’re pretty cool to hang out with, and your brand looks pretty good on them too. 

So, where do we go from here with diversity in the advertising industry? How do we move advertising forward with a focus on diversity, equality, and inclusion? 

The Pew research study we noted earlier sends a clear message to marketers that viewers want ads to reflect who they are and how they live. If you want consumers to like your advertising approach, they need to be able to see themselves reflected in your ads. When you get diversity in advertising right, you’ll see the results in your revenue. 

How do you accomplish that in a genuine, meaningful way? Incorporate diverse people into your marketing teams. They’ll bring cross-cultural questions and a cross-cultural mindset to invigorate your marketing meetings and come up with new ideas that resonate with diversity.

In this podcast/ webinar, Karina Tama, CEO of Senior Care Clicks, speaks about her experience as a non-native speaker in the digital world.

Don’t be afraid to step outside the box and make a commitment to diversity and inclusion. It’s a win for the advertiser, your brand, and your customers – inclusively, and equally. 

Be cognizant that each prospect gets the same value from your brand, no matter who they are or what they look like. Keep that sentiment alive as you work on your marketing plan.

Jason is the CMO @ ClickGUARD. He is passionate about all things PPC, SEO and has extensive customer acquisition experience. When not writing about SEM he can be found surfing the wildest ocean waves of the South American coast.