BLOG IMAGE Keeva Stratton 1

When it comes to inclusion and diversity, a picture says more than words

This article was contributed by Femeconomy member Keeva Stratton, Founder & Brand Strategist, Quip Brands

When Brenè Brown was asked by branding extraordinaire Debbie Millman for her podcast Design Matters why she wanted to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader growing up, she explained, ‘It’s what I could see, and what you see is powerful.’

As a football loving family, the image of women she saw growing up were cheerleaders, and it formed her early aspirations.

What we see every day on our screens is powerful—it forms our view of the world. It defines what we believe as normal, limits our ambitions and colours our dreams.

That’s why representations of diversity are so essential, and why the most prolific and subversive image shapers—brands, through their advertising and marketing—hold a key responsibility to ensure the view of society they create is genuinely representative of the society it reflects.

Why what we see, matters.

According to Dustin Stout, there are around 300 million photos uploaded to Facebook every day. 300 million.

And, according to their 2020 paper on ‘Diverse and inclusive representation in online advertising: An exploration of the current landscape and people’s expectations’, Fernanda de Lima Alcantara revealed that when it comes to Facebook advertising (images that pass the infamous algorithmic gatekeepers), a great number of these images present a dangerous view.

Of women alone: ‘Female characters are 2x more likely than male characters to be shown cooking and to be depicted as primary caregivers.’

‘Female characters are 14.1x more likely than male characters to be shown in revealing clothing, 6.9x more likely to be visually or verbally objectified and 6.1x more likely to be shown in a state of partial nudity or to be physically objectified.  

Female characters are 4.8x more likely than male characters to be shown as very skinny.’

What we don’t see, matters too.

I recently interviewed WeFlex Founder, Tommy Trout, and his brother, Jackson Trout, about the importance of representation of disability in brand and marketing imagery.

When building their pitch deck, they struggled to find images that were representative of people with disability. Tommy explained, ‘what we found was a form of inspiration porn, where people with disabilities were presented as heroic for doing very ordinary things.’

People with disability are only ever seen as extraordinary, or in the case of not-for-profits, as the object of pity. Or, they are simply not seen at all.

The erasure of disability from marketing, advertising and commercial content denies the more than 4 million Australians who have a disability, or are neurodiverse, their identity in our collective consciousness. And, by not seeing disability in a range of normalised representations, we are in fact fueling a stigma around disability that marks it as abnormal.

This sense of difference and otherness is incredibly damaging. And, in an industry that claims it’s constantly battling for attention and engagement, it misses a key opportunity to genuinely engage a significant consumer market.

The same is true every time a brand excludes by age, race, gender, sexuality, or shape.

What can brand managers and marketers do?

Making diversity part of every brand’s DNA is something we believe in strongly at Quip Brands. To do so, we’ve developed five important checkpoints that every campaign should pass before it’s approved.

  1. Have diverse decision-makers. Whether it’s your board, or your executive creative team—unless your decision-makers are diverse, your campaigns will struggle to be truly inclusive. This includes clients, too.
  2. Use language with care. How we label people has a profound impact, so it’s vital when scripting or copywriting that every word is checked with a sensitivity lens.
  3. Check your biases and your blind spots. We all have them—whether they are cultural, age-based, gender or sexuality, we are inherently biased, and must be active in addressing our own.
  4. Speak to, not for, minorities. Any time you can gain direct insights, you should. And, if you’re targeting a specific audience, engaging an expert in that space is essential.
  5. Empower through image. Whether it’s during casting or in the way your images are composed, it’s important that your visuals elevate and provide authentic representations of different identities.

The power of image is so important. It tells us what is normal, and on a subconscious level, it shapes how we see the world and ourselves in it.

And, while it’s easy to focus on language when we think about diversity, inclusion, and equity, what the image of your brand says to the world is equally—if not more—important.

No matter how inclusive your messaging, if your images are filled with white, young, thin, able-bodied people, it’s telling us who belongs and who is seen—which in itself is rather telling.

We should not underestimate the power of visual content when it comes to moving towards a more inclusive society. And, if we genuinely want to increase engagement, we need to do a much better job of representing our beautifully diverse society, with an image of what true inclusivity looks like.

One where people of colour, different ages, abilities, body shapes, gender and sexualities are seen in a variety of roles—from the locker room to the boardroom—allowing us all to see ourselves without the limits of dated or negative stereotypes.

If you’d like to better understand how to build a truly welcoming and inclusive brand, Quip Brands can help.

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Posted by Jade Collins - Femeconomy Founder

Mother, wife, daughter, determined dreamer. Lover of books. Background in Human Resources leadership in global organisations.