Matthew Miller
Oct 26, 2021

60% of agencies lack any process for ensuring DEI in their work: R3

Almost half of all advertising portrays negative gender-role stereotypes, and clients never demand DEI specifications in their briefs, according to 40% of agencies surveyed.

Ogilvy's work for Colgate cited as among the best in terms of gender representation
Ogilvy's work for Colgate cited as among the best in terms of gender representation

According to a new analysis of 300 video ads across Southeast Asia and Hong Kong by consultancy R3, a third of the work portrayed negative stereotypes of body image, 38% portrayed negative stereotypes of gender characteristics, and 44% portrayed negative stereotypes of gender roles. Only 10% of advertisements tried to break away from body-image stereotypes, only 6% tried to address objectification, only 16% pushed back against 'traditional' gender roles and only 15% broke 'norms' about gender characteristics. 

The 44% figure above for negative gender roles means that percentage of the ads "limited women to domestic, familial, and maternal roles, with narratives being told from a male perspective", the report authors said. Even when onscreen representation was equal, ads were twice as likely to have a male narrator, R3 added. 

Meanwhile, most agencies (60%) lack any formal process for building DEI into their creative output, according to R3's report entitled "Diversity: From Agency to Ads", which includes results from a survey of agencies in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, and Hong Kong, as well as the qualitative analysis of gender representation in the 300 video ads broadcast in the region.


“We need more people from diverse backgrounds in control of storytelling and production or we risk telling stories that are one-dimensional,” Shufen Goh, co-founder and principal at R3, said in a release.

But clients are not off the hook, as 40% of agencies said client briefs never ask them to meet DEI-related standards in the work they produce.

“Marketers can play a positive role and encourage greater change in the narratives being developed by requiring diversity among creative directors and producers and demanding more inclusive organisational design,” Goh added.

The survey buttresses findings in Campaign Asia-Pacific's own DEI research (see "Campaign-Kantar DEI survey: Policies in place, but genuine change yet to be seen") by showing ongoing gaps in agency representation between senior leaders and rank-and-file employees when it comes to both gender...

...and ethnic background:

The survey, supported by local agency organisations AAMS, 4As Malaysia, 4A Hong Kong, and 4As Philippines, also looked into what agencies are doing around DEI and what they can look at as next steps:

Specifically, the report recommends agencies work on:

  • Pay parity
  • Flexible working arrangements
  • Parental leave for maternity and paternity
  • Leadership training programme and professional networking groups
  • Investing in learning and development programs for employees
  • Fair and equitable hiring process that accepts and encourage diverse employees 

The report also listed the 10 ads with the best gender representation (and we have included videos of the first five below).

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