Rachel D’Cunha
Mar 3, 2022

Are media agencies complicit in industry's failure to drive better inclusivity?

Agencies should forge partnerships with minority-owned media to reach diverse audiences and untapped commercial potential.

Are media agencies complicit in industry's failure to drive better inclusivity?

The Black Pound Report, Lydia Amoah's recent and highly anticipated study, sheds light on the representation gap that’s still prominent in the advertising industry, as well as the untapped commercial potential of the UK’s black, Asian and multi-ethnic consumer spending power.

Assuming the question is non-rhetorical, my response to Campaign’s recent article covering the report, which asked whether brands are ignoring 16% of the UK population and a £4.5 billion spend, is a resounding yes on both counts. 

The Black Pound Report states that less than a quarter of diverse audiences feel that brands tailor to their needs, or that advertising reflects them, so it’s clear we still have a long way to go in terms of the way we represent these communities in our ads.

But while diverse representation in advertising has been a hot topic for several years, very few people in the industry are talking about the choices we make in media, i.e. how advertisers choose to spend their media budgets, and the implications from a diversity and inclusion point of view.   

Just as important as the messages we put out is where those messages show up, and ultimately what that does to either support or dismantle systemic bias in the world around us.

At Wavemaker, we realised an uncomfortable truth a couple of years ago - that the status quo of media planning and buying often overlooks, disregards, and in the worst case, can directly exclude people from diverse communities. 

From a lack of audience insight, limitations within planning and buying tools, and digital processes and ad tech that discriminates against diverse content, we were unintentionally complicit in the industry’s failure to drive better inclusivity. 

Community media outlets are specifically created for those from ethnic groups, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people and all other areas of diversity. 

They are often small businesses, that are run and owned by diverse audiences, and are also minority audience employers. They seek to serve the needs and further the interests of the communities they represent.

Many advertisers and planners assume "mainstream" media will reach the vast majority of the UK population, including those within diverse communities.

This isn’t necessarily wrong, but research by DECA for our client Nationwide Building Society – a brand pioneering media inclusivity – showed that 92% of consumers who identify as part of a diverse group want to see brands advertise in channels and environments designed by and for their community, as well as mainstream media.

The vast majority of community media brands will not have the same infrastructure or resources as the major players, meaning their offering to advertisers may seem inferior; fewer targeting or format options, less optimisation opportunities, perhaps lower viewability, and such like. If agencies or clients are even aware of these partners, they may discount them for these reasons. 

Thus the media landscape becomes a vicious cycle, stuck in a perpetual loop of the big media networks receiving all the investment while smaller diverse media outlets struggle for advertiser funding, limiting their capacity to develop their offering. 

At Wavemaker we believe inclusivity should be baked into everything we do, so rather than this knowledge and skill being contained within a specialist unit, it is fully integrated into our operating system. It is every Wavemaker’s responsibility to continually strive for better.

In particular, we’re proud of our work with Nationwide in this space. In 2020 we challenged each other to completely rethink our media approach; from audience insight, to strategic planning, to media implementation.

A common trap can be a lack of genuine understanding of our audiences from a diversity perspective. Having a nuanced view is critical, especially where targeting decisions could exclude different groups or lead to generalisations rather than capture representative perspectives. 

So we carried out deep dive analysis on Nationwide’s attitudinal segments, comprising 900+ lines of data for each, drawing out differences and similarities between different diverse communities.

We re-educated ourselves on the community media landscape, inviting smaller partners to Wavemaker’s offices and formalising a forum for them to meet our planning teams and clients.

Forging deeper partnerships with minority-owned media owners helps us understand how we can work with them to help our clients grow.

We’re committed to doing things differently for Nationwide. By analysing the strengths and weaknesses of individual channels to reach and resonate with different communities, we have actively diversified our media plans across every area.

With our mainstream media partners, we take the opportunity to promote and celebrate diversity in partnership with them, being part of Channel 4’s Back to Front initiative for example.

But the holy grail for our work is to prove that inclusive planning isn’t just a moral imperative, it is, as The Black Pound report indicates, a commercial one.

This isn’t a straightforward task, as the sad fact is that as an industry there are enduring issues that limit our ability to quantify and evaluate the impact of our inclusivity drive.

For example, diverse media titles and audiences are smaller and harder to track, and many are excluded from the industry reporting tools and systems agencies rely on daily.

But we have seen higher engagement rates to digital advertising in community media environments, and Brand Index data from YouGov shows strong positive increases in brand perceptions amongst diverse audiences towards Nationwide.

And as Lydia Amoah stipulates, these are vocal consumers who champion brands they trust, with 78% saying that if a brand or company impresses them, they will tell their friends, compared with 67% of white consumers. 

So yes, change is happening, but there’s so much more progress to make.

I would encourage everyone, regardless of their role and discipline, to ask themselves: how is my agency or organisation complicit in maintaining bias in the industry? What action can we take to do better? None of us have to be perfect, we just have to start.


Rachel D’Cunha is strategy partner at Wavemaker UK

Campaign UK

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