2017 has given us a female Doctor Who, a mixed-race model on the cover of Vogue and the election of the first openly gay Irish Prime Minister (the fourth openly gay head of state in the world). But as the wider world looks to be catching up with the 21st Century, in adland the diversity debate rages on.

Research conducted as part of our quarterly consumer tracking study – The QT – identified that whilst 56% of Brits feel the debate around diversity is more widespread than ever, only 24% agree they feel represented in modern advertising.

What is particularly stark is that these figures are not driven by the groups you would imagine feel most uninspired. Many believe steps are being taken to represent LGBT and ethnic diversity, disability and gender, for example, but attitudes to regional representation are less favourable, with only 1% of those in the North East saying they felt advertising reflects life where they come from versus 18% of Londoners. This sort of London vs the rest of the UK divide is nothing new: Trinity Mirror’s ‘When Trust Falls Down’ study corroborates our findings that those outside London are simply more likely to feel that brands don’t understand what it’s like for people living in Britain today. It’s not surprising from our research then that a more significant proportion of Londoners (one in three) believe advertising is more progressive than wider culture.

Another point of interest is age. Giulietta, from our follow-up qualitative focus groups on Facebook Messenger, sums it up perfectly:

“I think that more of a range of people are now being shown in advertising – disabled, ethnic minorities, less so LGBTQ. As an older woman (60) I feel the only ads I see me in are daytime ads for incontinence aids or life insurance, and it does get on my nerves a bit.”

Indeed, only 12% of the 65+ demographic feel fairly represented, compared to 40% of the 18-24 cohort. Not only does this feel unfair, but it also lacks business sense. After all, official figures show that one in six pensioners is a millionaire, and Baby Boomers reportedly have a disposable income superior to any other generation.

So what does this mean for brands? Local media and relevant messaging can help to illustrate that you’re on your customers’ side in a more tangible way – especially outside the capital. Being representative doesn’t mean sacrificing being aspirational, but knowing your audience will help. Association and affiliation with progressive social causes can be recognisable and beneficial, but brands must take care not to simply “rainbow wash”. After all, two in five Brits (42%) feel brands sometimes exploit diversity events. Being true to your brand and your customers is a safe place to begin.

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