The advertising industry used to make history. If it doesn’t listen to consumers and enact systemic change, it may become history.

According to new research findings from Kantar, people are increasingly disconnected from advertising, with less than one in five believing that ads are representative of wider society.

The findings of the study, commissioned by Unilever, were also significant regarding advertising’s impact on young people and marginalised communities. Some 71% of those surveyed believe stereotypes in media are harming the younger generation, while nearly one in two people from marginalised communities, including Black, Hispanic, Asian, LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities, feel they have been stereotyped in some way through advertising.

Commenting on the findings, Tarana Burke, founder of the ‘Me Too’ movement, says: “Society and consumers are telling brands out loud that they are hurting. This is the moment for the industry to show it listens to marginalised voices. Under-represented people need to not just feel included but be included. This is what will transform the messages we hear, the images we see, the products we use, and how each of these are created.

“The ad world must lend its talents to lead true change in society. It must listen to the people who are leading these lives and these movements, and ACT on what is heard. When anyone feels represented in the mainstream, it has the power to fulfil the fundamental human need to be heard – one that the industry can actually help deliver on.”

Act 2 Unsterotype: making inclusive marketing a priority

Our answer is ‘Act 2 Unstereotype’, which will see us broadening our 2016 commitment to Unstereotype and challenging ourselves to create marketing, not just advertising, that will help influence the next generation of people to be free from prejudice.

The aim is to go even deeper to make real, structural changes to the entire marketing process. And to provoke and integrate more diverse and inclusive thinking across every brand – from new product development through to advertising production.

“If we want to see systemic change in society, we need to see systemic change in our industry. Act 2 Unstereotype helps brands create a generation free from prejudice. Inclusive marketing is not a choice anymore; we must act now,” says Aline Santos, Chief Brand Officer and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer.

Act 2 Unstereotype in action

Through Act 2 Unstereotype, our company and our brands will work to:

  • Provoke inclusive thinking across the end-to-end marketing process, from consumer insight, brand DNA and proposition, marketing mix development and creative development to behind the camera and on-screen portrayals.
  • Ensure an Unstereotype charter for every Unilever brand, outlining the equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) commitments the brand will deliver through its marketing.
  • Increase representation of people from diverse groups on screen and behind the camera.
  • Eradicate any digital alterations to photography – a 100% ban on changing models’ body shape, size, proportion or skin colour.

And we’ve already begun. Earlier this year, we saw the launch of our Positive Beauty vision, with the ambition to eliminate the word ‘normal’ from packaging and advertising across all beauty and personal care brands. We are also spending €2 billion annually with suppliers owned and led by people from under-represented groups.

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