Scots are tight, Brummies are dirty, says C4 report on class in ads

Channel 4’s “Mirror on Class and Social Grade” study is a stark reminder that the ad industry really needs to up its game in terms of diversity. In adland, anyone working class is on the breadline and the default family is middle class (assumed to be the aspirational norm), according to the survey of 1000 people and 100 media leaders.

Regional accents are a particular flashpoint for lazy stereotypes. Scottish voices are used for bank ads because they are deemed tight, a West Country accent makes you a little bit thick, Brummies are “dirty-handed working class,” and Southerners are automatically upper or middle class. People of a lower social grade are 55% more likely to be shown going about their daily life rather than doing something aspirational, and 50% more likely to be from an ethnic minority.

Cadbury’s “Glass and a half” campaign, particularly the “Garage” and “Mum’s Birthday” ads, are singled out at rare examples that buck the trend: they are authentic ads showing human connections – and the campaign has lifted sales by 22% as a result.

The middle class make-up of the industry takes a lot of the blame for eliminating nuance and relying on stereotypes. Vicki Maguire CCO Havas London, says: “We are very, very lazy, and we think that we’re at the cutting edge of culture, and that we inform it. We’re not – we’re at the back end of the pantomime horse, and we perpetuate it.”

Channel 4, which put together the report with Republic of Media, also suggests that an update of the ABC1 grading system would help counter pigeonholing and stereotypes. It was introduced in the 1950s and since then, household composition has become more multigenerational; the nature of work has changed (often involving multiple income streams, whether that’s taking on two jobs or enjoying property income); and the UK has become a much older population.

The old system isn’t specific either – it counts 60% of the UK population as ABC1. Instead, the report suggests, we should split people into affluence (income levels), affordability (financial security eg home ownership) and attention (the people who have the time to notice ads) categories.

Samantha Cannons, research manager at Channel 4, said: “Working on this project has made us unpick some of the assumptions around social grade and class and question whether this is okay – and what impact does this have on the ads being produced and broadcast to the nation? We don’t have all the answers – but we do want to raise some of the key issues surrounding the topic and provide some ideas to think differently about when it comes to advertising.”

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