Minding the gaps in inclusive media

Despite being a richly diverse region, APAC is still lagging behind the times when it comes to diversity in media. Prajakta Paranjpe and Joyce Chua of EssenceMediacom unpack why that is — and what we can do about it.
This article is part of a content series on diversity, equity and inclusion for Campaign Asia-Pacific and Greater China’s Women to Watch, created in partnership with EssenceMediacom.
APAC is a truly diverse region, comprising 60% of the world’s population spread across over 50 countries and territories. Asia alone covers 11 time zones, about 2,300 languages, over 11 different religions, and a myriad of ethnic groups.
Yet, APAC respondents scored 10 to 15% below the global average on questions ranging from the importance of equal rights to an interest in other cultures, according to a GWI survey. There is still a lag in proactiveness towards diversity and inclusion here. We want to unpack the role media planning can play to forward inclusivity in APAC and the challenges we must overcome on this journey.
We looked at APAC-specific data from top media partners, top global advertisers across industries, and regional and local content creators. Our study focused on evaluating diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), standing from the perspective of audience targeting, efficiency and partnerships. Here is what we observed. 
APAC media platforms and publishers struggle with diversity
Our audit of over 30 top media partners in APAC reveals limited opportunities to meaningfully engage with diverse sets of audience groups. While reaching audiences using gender and age profiles is common, less than 15% of the media partners support outreach to identity-based segments such as ethnic groups. As we distil further and study their tracking and measurement capabilities, it becomes increasingly difficult to evaluate campaign success among underrepresented groups. 
However, there is a positive momentum bubbling. For example, Guardian Australia has long supported underrepresented audiences via its reporting and recently started ramping up its inclusive media capabilities by providing full-funnel support, from environmental targeting to reporting and measurement for underrepresented audience segments related to LGBTQ+, women’s rights and gender equity, progressives (people curious about key societal issues), and more.
However, even where capabilities exist, there are still gaps in the work we deliver as an industry. Gender representation, especially the equitable representation and inclusion of women in media and media plans, remains a challenge. We need to recognise and address the inherent biases that exist within ourselves as marketers and in the platform algorithms built on legacy data. 
Legacy data and a different kind of pay gap
Over the years, performance-based marketing has evolved into a leading practice within digital advertising. With the support of data, technology, and platform innovations, this has evolved into a dependable mechanism to maximise efficient sales and conversions for brands. 
At its heart, however, is the notion that sales and conversions invariably skew towards male consumers. While campaigns tend to reach women and men in equal numbers, conversions may remain skewed towards men. From our study of top global advertisers across industries in APAC markets, in an aggregated meta-analysis of the cost per outcome, such as cost per click and cost per action, we observe that the cost of converting women tends to be higher than men by about 10 to 15%, even if consumption and decision-making across major purchase categories have become fairly evenly distributed between men and women today. 
Platform algorithms built on skewed datasets continue to attribute cost efficiencies to men over women, and the gap between who we convert versus the decision-makers who do not get retargeted continues to widen without any intervention. We see this gap in consumer categories such as electronics and technology, sports, apparel, and gaming, as well as B2B advertising instances. This difference is not limited to efficiency-based tactics — it also extends to relatively newer channels such as influencer marketing.
Our influencers do not look like us
Despite APAC advertiser spending on influencers projected to grow fourfold to $2.6 billion by 2025, social and influencer strategies do not always reflect the realities of who consumers are. 
Women’s voices are significantly underrepresented when it comes to making purchase decisions in many categories. Brands are still using male-dominated voices to speak to females who now account for over 40% of all decision-makers
The gaps are largest in the business and finance categories, where women influencers only account for 6% of all content, despite 48% of decision-makers being female (-42% gap). This extends into automotive, gaming, and even health and fitness, in descending order of size of gap. There are only bright sparks in parenting (-8% gap) and beauty (-1% gap).
Planning for more inclusive media investments
The diversity we have in APAC needs to be reflected in the tools we have as an industry and the way we need to commit to making media work better. To make a definitive shift towards better inclusivity, it is important to make inclusive media work for business. Three critical shifts can make this possible:
  • Know your gaps: While gaps in inclusive media may feel intuitive after being surfaced, knowing that they exist and quantifying them is the necessary first step. Data is important: look into the audience splits and opportunities from your initial plans, and compare them with the same splits in your post-campaign reports — have you missed any potential underrepresented groups? Do all cohorts consume media in the same way? Is there an inherent difference in the way mass or outcomes-based media are consumed or biased against certain groups? Is there a cost versus benefit understanding of what you might have missed?
  • Take affirmative action: Identification of existing gaps and/or opportunities will provide the fuel to fire affirmative action through feasible investments. Do you know the cost versus benefit of inclusivity? What is a reasonable premium that you can agree to pay? Have you sufficiently quantified the future growth potential of these audiences? Are you working with the right set of partners or do you need to onboard new ones for untapped potential? Take affirmative action and test business impact: invest in diverse audience groups, the right measurement partners, and evaluate to support future decisions.
  • Set the right measures: In a related article, EssenceMediacom’s Aarti Bharadwaj explained the importance of a DEI metric system, which would enable marketers to track and compare DEI initiatives consistently, rather than relying on anecdotal estimates for diversity. These measures need to be realisable, generalisable, coherent, and rational. We can only understand the impact of the actions we can consistently track, measure, optimise, and scale.

With the diversity of the region, APAC provides enough and more opportunities to small and large businesses alike, to engage underrepresented groups in a sustainable, business-friendly manner. No other region is as diverse as APAC and our media plans can be too.


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The Campaign Asia-Pacific Team