People around the world are demanding to see themselves better represented in advertising. They want to see the true diversity of their communities depicted more often—and more accurately—across many areas, including race, gender, sexual orientation and people with disabilities. These expectations apply to brands’ full range of marketing, including their online campaigns.
While there has been quite a bit of research examining diversity in traditional advertising, misrepresentation and underrepresentation in online advertising have not been looked at as closely. We wanted to better understand people’s expectations of representation online and the impact of diverse and inclusive digital campaigns, so we recently undertook a wide-ranging research project in partnership with experts in the field. The effort included a survey of 1,200 people, a review of more than 1,200 brand lift studies and an analysis conducted with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media of more than 1,000 Facebook video ads.
Our goals were to explore where things stand with representation, people’s attitudes toward diversity in online advertising and the impact of diverse and inclusive representation on digital campaign performance. Fundamentally, we wanted to understand the state of diversity in online advertising and the value of representation to people and businesses.
Here we provide an overview of the findings and some key learnings for marketers. To explore the research in-depth, read a Q&A with the researcher and download the white paper.
Online advertising isn’t immune to misrepresentation and underrepresentation
Together with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media we examined a sample of 1,022 global Facebook video ads to assess how people are depicted in online campaigns.
The results indicate that limiting and negative representations are still present in online advertising, with some campaigns portraying people in stereotypical ways.
For example, the creative analysis found these gender-based issues:
- Women are 14.1 times more likely than men to be shown in revealing clothing and are 6.9 times more likely to be visually or verbally objectified;
- Men are 2.4 times more likely than women to be presented as angry and 1.4 times less likely to be shown as happy.
The creative analysis revealed that underrepresentation is an issue in online advertising as well, with certain groups often omitted from depictions. For example, people with disabilities were severely underrepresented in online ads (present in only 1.1% of the ads examined) as were members of the LGBTQ+ community (0.3%).
Diverse representation in online ads benefits both people and brands
Facebook commissioned Ipsos to survey 1,200 people ages 18 and older in Brazil, the United Kingdom and the United States who use Facebook regularly to understand attitudes about representation in online advertising.
The majority (54%) of consumers surveyed said they do not feel fully culturally represented in online advertising and most (71%) expect brands to promote diversity and inclusion in their online advertising.
Members of diverse communities often feel most impacted. For example, of those surveyed, Latino and Black Americans are 1.8 times more likely to say they see negative stereotypical representation in online ads.
Another key insight from the survey is that when brands do address representation, it has a range of positive effects, including helping to drive purchases and loyalty. Some 59% of consumers polled said they are more loyal to brands that stand for diversity and inclusion in online advertising, and 59% also said they prefer to buy from brands that stand for diversity and inclusion in online advertising.
Diverse representation can have a positive business impact
In order to understand the business impact of diversity in online campaigns, we analyzed the results of 25 brand lift studies in different verticals that were run in 2018 and 2019 and ran 4,000 simulations. We also conducted a meta-analysis of 1,207 brand lift studies.
We found that online campaigns with more diverse representation tend to have higher ad recall compared with campaigns featuring a single traditional representation. And in more than 90% of the simulations we ran, diverse representation was the winning strategy for ad recall lift.
An additional exploratory analysis also indicated that women tend to have higher ad recall for ads with female characters and men tend to have higher recall for ads with male characters. In other words, people seem to better recall online advertising featuring characters similar to themselves.
Ultimately, our work indicates that digital channels, like traditional channels, currently face challenges with misrepresentation and underrepresentation and that making campaigns more diverse and inclusive creates stronger bonds with consumers, delivers business benefits and has a positive impact on society.
How can online advertisers take action to accelerate inclusive representation?
What it means for marketers
Representation is often lacking in online ads
Our research found that limiting and negative stereotypical representations are present in online campaigns across several areas, like race and gender, and underrepresentation across certain groups is found as well.
People want brands to do better
Many consumers do not feel they are fully represented in online advertising today; people want brands to develop campaigns that are diverse and inclusive, and they are more likely to be loyal to brands that do.
Online advertising featuring diversity tends to have higher ad recall, and most people (59%) say they prefer to buy from brands that support diversity and inclusion.