Diversity and representation are currently lacking in media planning, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, where video advertisements still portray singular images of body sizes, gender characteristics and gender roles.
As only a small percentage of ads are trying to break away from body-image stereotypes, objectification, traditional gender roles and norms about gender characteristics, the World Federation of Advertisers released a guide in January 2022 to tackle diversity and representation issues in the media planning and buying process. The guide covers topics like inclusive audience planning, measuring success and many more.
While not for the lack of trying, why have brands been slow to execute an inclusive media plan programmatically?
Mali Wuestenhagen, associate vice president of media services for Korea at Essence, says media agencies typically plan campaigns against provided brand briefs, which often include a definition of the audience deemed essential to achieve the brand's business goals or the audience that the product or service has identified as relevant.
However, brands expect agencies to dig deeper through market and audience research. On the one hand, this can lead to identifying different audiences of opportunity, which would result in further diversification of communications targets beyond a given brief. On the other hand, Wuestenhagen notes it can also help to gain a deeper understanding of sub-audience groups, which may require a differentiated planning approach by building more nuanced relevance to reach them effectively and authentically.
"Media plans need to be representative of today's society, and media needs to reflect the diversity of a brand's customers to be impactful," she adds.
Diversity and inclusion do not just start and end at the planning stage. Everyone in the digital ecosystem is responsible for change regarding DEI, says Laura Kusuma, senior vice president for APAC at Integral Ad Science (IAS).
She explains creative agencies must be more thoughtful by planning and thinking about particular audiences, publishers and adtech platforms. However, isolating that planning stage requires thinking outside of the norm and a nuanced understanding of the specific audiences brands are trying to target.
For example, if brands want to target migrant workers, they need to consider the magazines they read that are not in the mainstream media, the different spaces and places they are in, and consider all of these in the planning stage.
"We cannot forget, particularly in Southeast Asia and in the wider APAC region, that there is still a place for mainstream and social media. It comes down to thinking about where they are and what appeals to them. It is not just about using the same standard stock creative for every audience type, but thinking at the planning stage, not just from a media perspective, but from a creative standpoint. What will appeal to that audience? Do I need to change my message? Do I need to consider appealing to that audience at a different time in another place?"
—Laura Kusuma, IAS
Data and insights can reveal how a specific audience or community can be best reached through a unique partnership that has been confirmed as highly relevant and has the power to enable brand communications to build a stronger connection.
If this enables diverse content owners to have a more significant presence in society overall, then it should be part of a plan proposal, according to Wuestenhagen.
"Yet, media planners need to also assure that additional criteria are considered, such as the possibility of measurement, and that budgets are made available to demonstrate the impact of such partnerships," she explains.
"Evaluating the impact of diverse partnerships is imperative. Otherwise, they can potentially lose their place in plans. Demonstrating the true value that these media choices bring is key to making it a business imperative."
Sonya David, the strategy partner at Dentsu International, notes that while many of the agency's clients have purpose embedded into the core of their business, media is a space where they look for efficiency and effectiveness.
The balance then comes in terms of how brands try to deliver both simultaneously while also ensuring that they work with partners that help further the agenda, she explains. For example, when discussing sustainability and media, she advises brands to consider efficiency and effectiveness.
"If you can make your media work hard with minimum wastage, that is sustainability. We have scorecards that we set up at a global level to measure our carbon footprint, working very closely with IAB and other organisations to determine how we measure carbon footprint," David says.
"However, just agencies like Dentsu doing it does not make a difference. We have to partner with our clients and introduce them to partners that can help them with those goals."
For instance, Dentsu works with partners like Handprint Tech, Teads, and SeenThis as they can help the agency's clients ensure that their media delivery is sustainable.
Contributing to brand safety
Brand safety must and should form the foundation of every media plan. However, brands also need to acknowledge that when overdone, it can take away funds or, in worse cases, completely exclude diverse communities.
Media agencies are responsible for contributing to brand safety input in a way that is not discriminatory by getting feedback from a diverse group, says Wuestenhagen.
She explains that while brands and media agencies still look to scale in a brand-safe and proper context, the consideration of inclusion now adds another layer to quality and effectiveness, which is the power of driving meaningful relationships.
"When agencies can convey the significance of meaningful connections to advertisers, they can shift their focus away from just scale and towards more intimate and dynamic ties with diverse audiences and communities. This is indispensable to drive long-term brand impact while empowering diverse communities to have a voice."
"When agencies can convey the significance of meaningful connections to advertisers, they can shift their focus away from just scale and towards more intimate and dynamic ties with diverse audiences and communities," she says. "This is indispensable to drive long-term brand impact while empowering diverse communities to have a voice."
Kusuma adds that brands need to understand their corporate position regarding DEI. Then, they can use tools to target or stay away from a particular group to control what is appropriate for their brand and messaging.
"These tools can help brands understand multiple languages—whether Hindi or Bahasa Indonesian—to be more inclusive," she explains. "It is not just offering standard brand suitability segments like alcohol or hate speech but also considering culturally relevant details for practicality, such as Ramadan, Diwali or Chinese New Year, for example."
Tracking diverse audiences
It can be challenging to track diverse audiences and their impact due to their small-scale data pools, as they often result in smaller sample sizes. It is also likely that monitoring tools will not even capture unique representative media.
For example, measuring diverse communities might only be possible with dedicated research, which often comes with an additional price tag.
However, it can very well be worth the investment, as some brands reported positive results when reaching out to specific communities in a more tailored, representative context.
"Increasing potential engagement can result in long-term brand benefits when scaled up over time, allowing to reach a broader audience of diverse communities," says Wuestenhagen.
"Media planners should not give up on the efforts when met with initially inadequate results, but instead, continue to build on insights, improve the approach, and find solutions to challenges by working together with diverse partners and research companies."
To measure audiences fairly, David says brands need to use data and tools to ask them the right questions.
For example, they can ask questions like who are the people who are not buying? What are the barriers facing these people, and how we can help them? What are the pain points that they have, and how does the brand find a solution that is truly unique and suitable for their consumers that address these pain points?
"When you start with these questions, you can use data to support your solutions. Qualitative data gives you textual nuance and contextual understanding of the trustworthy people's stories," explains David.
"But, on the other hand, quantitative information shows you how good those ideas, approaches or media strategies are in terms of being scalable, not just in terms of across a population in one market but across multiple markets as well."