The recent furore around the BAFTA short list is a reminder that our audiences expect to see diversity on screen. BAFTA has been working on expanding its membership for a while, so the shortlist – criticised for its absence of women and minority representation – wasn’t truly reflective of the extensive efforts put in.
Now, it seems as if Hollywood is finally beginning to grasp what inclusivity looks like. Last year there was a crop of hugely successful films, packed with representation, including Us, The Favourite, Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk (below) and Colette. Box office receipts speak volumes.
Those hugely successful films walked away with a clutch of awards at last year’s Oscars. The Academy is notorious for being a pale, male and stale institution so to see Black Panther, a superhero blockbuster with a cast that was all-black but for two minor characters, garner multiple nominations and three wins has to be one of the biggest ringing endorsement that times they are a-changing. There is a huge appetite from audiences to see new stories and new idols, told using a fresh palette.
With audiences flocking to enjoy cinema that challenges perceptions, there has never been a better time for advertisers to serve up creative to match. Moving away from stale, clichéd tropes and walking the talk when it comes to brand purpose is what brands need to do to stand out.
Take Maltesers for example. Proving itself to be ahead of the curve, in 2017 its ad featuring disabled actors saw the brand grow sales by 8.1 per cent and brand affinity rise by 20 per cent. The ads celebrated the universally awkward situations people sometimes get into. This was no example of tokenism.
In fact it beggars belief that more brands haven’t worked harder on inclusivity until now. The Business Disability Forum states that the spending power of disabled people in the UK alone is nearly £250bn. The black and ethnic community in the UK is estimated to be worth £300bn to the economy and the spending might of the LGBTQ+ community has been put at around £6bn. As business cases go, surely these figures make diversity a no-brainer.
For advertisers it means that cinema is just the place for brave, heartfelt and above all, human advertising. As new audiences come to the cinema with the release of films that speak directly to them, advertisers have a unique opportunity to reach new segments and tell their stories in new ways. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is putting female voices on the map, with her writing credit on the upcoming Bond No Time To Die. Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan promises a long list of Chinese acting talent.
And it’s not just new audiences or specific communities that can be touched by a more diverse approach to advertising and filmmaking. According to research from UK by UM, from a survey of 2,000 nationally representative UK adults, 59 per cent liked seeing the ethnically diverse cast of Crazy Rich Asians, rising to 64 per cent among 16-24 year olds. Wonder Woman was a female-led hit. Diverse content doesn’t just attract diverse audiences – it is universally appealing.
By taking a leaf from Hollywood’s book and taking a diverse approach to the cornerstone of creativity, advertisers have a golden opportunity. Move away from the same old stories and stereotypes and embrace the world in its infinite variety.
Kathryn Jacob is CEO of Pearl & Dean.