Lack of representation in ads causes disengagement in majority of UK audience

The across-the-board figure of 57% was even higher for those in typically underrepresented communities.

Advertisers risk disengaging the majority of the UK without diverse and appropriate representation in their ads, according to research from advertising agency Spark Foundry.

Its Insights Accelerated report covering the third quarter of 2023, which looks at changes in consumer search trends, found almost three-fifths (57%) of the UK said they disengaged from media and ads if they felt they were unrepresentative. The diversity section was based on the views of an external panel of 500 nationally representative people.

This percentage rose significantly for underrepresented communities – to 79% of Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals; 76% of neurodivergent people and 62% of LGBT+ people.

The main reason audiences said they tuned out was either a lack of representation or negative portrayal of their community, while inauthentic representation was offered up as the second-most common reason to disengage. 

“Brands must consider their stance on representation or risk alienating large groups of consumers,” said Spark Foundry UK chief strategy and innovation officer Marcos Angelides. “Representation cannot be inauthentic or tokenistic or brands could risk a negative reaction from consumers.” 

“Brands should continue to work to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion at every level of their businesses to reap the best rewards for their marketing efforts.”

According to previous studies from Edison Research and SXM Media on Black and Latino podcast listeners, audiences are more likely to be engaged with brands promoted by hosts that reflect their identity; 80% of Black listeners said they would be somewhat or very likely to trust the brands more and 54% of Latino listeners said they would trust the brands. 

Food and drink, and travel were deemed the most inclusive ad sectors; 70% and 69% of respondents respectively agreed their ads were inclusive.

As well as diversity, the report also focused on gaming and tech, and sustainability. All three areas were deemed of greatest strategic importance to ad clients.

The report noted a surge in interest in gaming as a topic across the quarter, as related social media mentions, recorded by Publicis Media’s social listening tool, rose 51% compared with the same period in 2022.

Interest around sustainability was down by 13% year on year, according to Publicis’ semantic analysis of Google search data, and Angelides noted this could be due to a shift in people’s priorities.

“As much as people care about sustainability, they will always have to prioritise their families first, and right now it seems difficult to be able to afford to do both,” said Angelides. “This proves that even when interest for the category hits a bump, savvy brands can still grow, by stealing a disproportionate volume of search from their nearest competitors.”

The report comes at a time when the ad industry is seeking more ways to create positive progress. Earlier this month, Unstereotype Alliance, a thought and action platform that aims to end stereotypes in advertising, launched a metric to measure the progressiveness of representation around age, race and ethnicity and disability in ads. The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) has also launched a guide to help marketers make campaigns more accessible, and is calling for subtitles to become the default.

This article was originally published on Campaign UK.