Australian brands have been extremely slow to represent the diversity of Australia, and even slower to properly target its different sectors. But, as Claudine Capel reports, this melting pot is full of money.
When asked if Australian advertising today truly represents our society as it is, the answer from the industry is a resounding ‘no’. But the truth is that no-one seems to see this as a huge problem.
We know that consumers in general understand that the remit of advertisers is not to be representative – or even fair – but to make money. And therefore commercial advertising is perhaps not held under the same politically correct microscope as government advertising, or even TV shows, would be.
Yet, it’s fair to say our consumers would like to see Aussie brands try a bit harder. They’d like the world of ads to reflect the society we actually live in – with the various ethnic groups, and other sectors such as the gay community and the disabled – represented.
Some brands and sectors are doing this well and have done for a long time. But, others most certainly are not.
Yet interestingly, it’s not just the brands who want to be seen as politically correct and inclusive that stand to gain from reflecting diversity – it’s any brand that wants to make money. Global brands Nike, McDonald’s and Apple have known this for years and have become the go-to labels for young affluent people of every different nationality. But Aussie marketers seem to be ignoring the potential sitting in their own backyard.
Quoting figures from the 2011 Census, Lorraine Jokovic, chief executive of The Loud Group, which includes the Loud Multicultural division, explains: “One in four Australians speak a language other than English at home, and population growth from migration is 12 times faster than from Australian-born residents. Six years ago the multicultural markets’ spending power was valued at $75 billion annually, and that’s conservative.”
A 2010 study by Professor Andrew Jakubowicz, Professor of Sociology at the University of Technology Sydney, states that Britain has a lower proportion of people in society that are “visibly different” than Australia. Yet that diversity is actually much better represented on TV in the UK.
This is certainly something Aussie brands should sit up and take notice of. Not only because they want to be seen as progressive, but because they may be alienating consumers.
“If your target market cannot project themselves into your fantasy you probably won’t win them as customers,” explains Daniel Laforest, general manager of media agency Spots and Space. “We are well past the PR spin of multiculturalism that was so big in the ‘90s. Now it’s just good business.”
Money to be made
With Australia in 2013 more ethnically diverse than it has ever been, the spending power of ethnic Australians is also on the up.
Rick Yamine, managing director of marketing and research agency Cultural Partners, says brands here have been slow to realise this potential: “Everybody’s got an idea of the size and the wealth of the market but they’ve never strategically gone after it. And there are amazing gains to be made.The affluence coming in from China, Taiwan, Korea and India far outstretches anything there is here in the middle class.”
Jokovic of The Loud Group adds: “Population trends suggest that in the next two decades, one in two Australians will be of Asian background. These culturally and linguistically diverse – or CALD – audiences are young singles and couples, highly educated, affluent, brand conscious and aspirational, with disposable incomes higher than the Australian-born average.”
It’s not just ethnic communities with money to spend that are being ignored by brands in Australia. The disabled population is increasingly making in-roads into the world of work and changing perceptions that they are reliant and lack funds.
“Although people with disabilities are generally considered to be poor, they do have disposable income,” says Stephen Gianni, national policy officer at the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (ADFO). “They’re getting out and about more in the community, and their families and friends most certainly have disposable incomes.”
Brands that beg to differ
Yet, say you’re a marketing director, who knows all this, but wants to cast your net wide. You may feel that the larger proportion of your target market are Caucasian, able-bodied, middle income people. Therefore, those are the types of people you will cast in your ads. Because logically, representing the largest group will create the greatest resonance… right?
Gianni would disagree. “Although being white, middle class and male is the biggest segment of society, there is diversity within that segment. Even white, middle class males have relationships with their families, communities and schools – it’s much more complex than who they are as a primary consumer.
“The thing to remember is if I’m not from a minority group and I see an ad, which has a more complex representation of society, I automatically assume I am being included too.”
Andrew Cook, director of SBS Media, who has recently launched a campaign targeted at advertisers called Diversity Works (pictured below), knows the power of greater respresentation.
“There’s a feel-good factor when people aren’t excluded. The modern Australia is trying to make sure you talk to everyone equally and not just engage specific communities. So I think that brands that do advertise to those communities are going to resonate.”
The ads today that are reflecting diversity well are from those sectors actively going after minority groups, as Katherine Raskob, group marketing manager at SBS explains: “Traditionally, Australian telcos, banks and insurers have executed campaigns targeted to an increasingly diverse Australia because they recognise the power in reaching beyond the mainstream to attract more customers.”
Laforest, whose agency Spots and Space puts advertisers in touch with a whole spectrum of media channels – including indigenous, ethnic, LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex), community and disabled channels, points out some other examples of brands that have made a play into this space.
“Some industries have a natural market with migrants, such as travel, money transfer and telecommunications companies.
“Others do simple like things to win the market such as KFC offering Halal chicken, or the Melbourne supermarket chain , which last year advertised Italian Proscuitto at $17 per kilo – down from $40 per kilo – exclusively in the Italian media and attracted queues down the street.”
Other recent examples of brands targeting diverse ethnic markets are Perisher ski resort going after Indian visitors, the lotteries producing special Chinese New Year scratch cards and Western Union targeting Pacific Islander and Filipino customers.
The stumbling blocks
Yet why are brands, who are looking for customers among everyday Australians, failing to reflect diversity in their communications?
Not only that but, when they do represent difference, it’s not always in the best light. A 2005 study by Higgs and Milner called Portrayals Of Cultural Diversity In Australian Television Commercials: A Benchmark Study, showed the portrayal of ethnically diverse people in advertising was unbalanced.
While white/Caucasian characters were more likely to be shown in work-related situations and positions of responsibility, the characters from non-white backgrounds were “less likely to be spokespersons, more likely to be seen as recipients of help and more likely to be seen in passive situations”.
Although things may have changed somewhat since 2005, this study does raise a connected issue. On the one hand, stereotypes can be offensive and turn a consumer away from a brand’s messaging. But on the other, as brands only have a few precious seconds to get their message across, they can be useful.
Peter Butler, radio network manager for the Vision Australia Radio Network, a radio network aimed at the blind or vision impaired, says that minorities aren’t always represented “fairly”, but that he understands why.
“Ads tend to use stereotypes, but if you are trying to cut through you probably need to do that to make it understandable,” he says.
AFDO’s Gianni agrees: “Generally the disabled people represented in advertising are those where you can see their disability. The easiest one is someone in a wheelchair, blind people, or deaf people talking through sign language. The most difficult thing is to represent people whose disabilities you can’t see, such as anxiety sufferers.”
Representation of the gay community is also tricky in this sense because unless a brand is solely trying to speak to this sector, by running an ad in the gay press, then it is difficult to blend gay characters into a mainstream ad without making a point of it.
“How should a gay guy act in an advertisement?” asks Vision Australia’s Butler.
Raskob of SBS cites the example of the Westpac ads of January 2011 which caused complaints to the ASB for stereotyping gay men. “Perhaps Westpac went a bit far with its characterisation, but kudos to them for at least trying,” she says.
Johanne Walsh, director of children’s clothing brand Rock Your Baby, has recently used a child with Down Syndrome in her advertising, but understands that this can create controversy simply because it isn’t the norm. “I would like to see disabled or ‘different’ children being used in advertising more often but it is hard to escape the tokenism of it,” she says.
Chris Brown, CEO of DDB Australia, knows that while is is great to have ads that reflect difference, navigating the space and doing it “right” isn’t always easy. “I have a personal connection to this subject as my daughter has Down Syndrome so I understand the strong sentiment and connection to ensuring communication pieces can speak to the many faces of Australia,” he explains.
“The job of selecting talent is never an easy one. The question that is primarily asked is: can the consumer see themselves in the eyes, shoes, heart of this person? I passionately want broader representation but it is fair to say this is not always an easy challenge.”
Reaching out and getting it right
It seems that on the road to representative advertising, you can end up feeling damned if you do and damned if you don’t. So how does our imaginary marketing director make sure that when they represent diversity in their ads, they get it right?
Jules Hall, managing partner at The Hallway, believes the message of the ad needs to strike a chord, more than the diversity of characters within that ad. “In a multicultural nation like Australia, the more diverse the ethnicity of its audience is likely to be,” he says.
“But regardless of scale, brands first have to connect with their audience around a fundamental human truth, and then overlay ethnicity.”
(Above: The Victorian Government's 'Get it right on bin night' campaign')
SBS’ Raskob adds: “I would argue that consumers’ propensity to buy a product or service as a result of advertising is predicated on whether they feel that product or service is for them.”
She points to soap brand Dove and its ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’, which featured female body shapes that aimed to reflect real women’s bodies, rather than those of models. “Naturally, that advertising connected with a broader range of women who felt the products were for people like them,” she explains.
Rock Your Baby’s Walsh gets actual customers to be the stars of her ads, so she knows other customers will be able to relate. “We never use children from modelling agencies but put calls out on our social media. The children we use for our campaigns are already engaged with the brand, and therefore their ethnic diversity represents our real market,” she says.
All brands are wary of getting it wrong, and rightly so. They have to tread a fine line.
“Advertising sometimes wants to strike a chord and create a bit of controversy, and as long as it’s done in the right way and with a sense of humour it can work,” says SBS’ Cook. “But if it’s done in the wrong way culturally, it can have the opposite effect.”
Cultural Partners’ Yamine says a good understanding of the groups you are targeting or representing is crucial for advertisers. “If you don’t understand your market, you aren’t able to target it,” he says.
Something both Cook and Yamine feel is key is having insider knowledge of the diverse markets you are targeting. The engagement of experts – such as the multicultural division of Loud, Spots and Space, Cultural Partners or SBS – could be one place to start. But another option to consider is actually hiring staff from these target groups.
Ad agency Droga5 recently spearheaded a drive in the industry to hire disabled people called Creative Spirit. In terms of hiring greater numbers from ethnic communities, Australia can learn a lesson from the US.
“Many years ago, advertising agencies in the US recognised that if they wanted to more effectively market to minorities and diverse groups of consumers, they needed staff from these groups,” explains Raskob from SBS.
“With the help of specialist advertising councils and federations, they strove for recruitment programs that were effective in getting minorities interested in advertising and into agency roles where they could bring their perspective and expertise.
“Perhaps Australia could make some attempts at enlisting talent from a broader, non-traditionally white graduate population? That would a great start.”
Media plans with diversity
Aside from the etiquette of representing diversity correctly, another stumbling block for advertisers wanting to reach certain markets is that they don’t know how to speak their language, literally.
Stats provided by Spots and Space show that, in Australia, 2000 hours of programming each week is produced in a language other than English. There are 41 full-time foreign language radio stations throughout Australia plus numerous print, pay TV and online channels.
Alongside the foreign language media, the LGBTI community also has 11 print titles with a circulation of over 200,000, plus Melbourne has its own LGBTI radio station, and the visually impaired have their own radio network.
With all these smaller channels reaching a fraction of the population each time, you can see why marketing directors often take the easy route and stick with representing their largest market on mainstream channels.
“Many of the advertisers I’ve spoken with over the years believe that because the sheer number of publications and media available – for instance, there are 73 Chinese publications within Australia alone – that it’s too difficult to manage and they struggle to be able to fully understand the ROI,” says Loud’s Jokovic.
But Cultural Partners’ Yamine says ignoring these channels is a mistake.
“Research that we’ve done over two decades strongly supports targeting markets in their own channels and languages. It’s much more effective and is a fraction of the price of running ads in the mainstream media. Unfortunately it’s only well developed in certain languages in Australia, and in most other languages it’s still in its infancy.”
And Laforest adds:“Brands do play in this space. Some dip in at times of celebration like Chinese New Year, Diwali or Mardi Gras. But very few brands commit to including this media in their mix year-round.”
SBS’ Cook admits that the cost of producing different versions of your ad can rack up, but feels that brands should definitely consider it.
“Yes it does cost more, but some of these communities are fairly large, in the hundreds of thousands, so in those cases it’s certainly worthwhile,” he says. “Brands may have a separate budget to talk to the CALD community and when they do we are able to help them connect to these communities.”
Butler of Vision Australia says the data around these smaller channels needs to be improved, and that this would encourage brands to venture into this space.
“There needs to be a better awareness of the community media out there targeting a certain sector,” he says.
“The problem is that we can’t present the Nielsen figures the commercial sector can do. We use McNair Ingenuity, but it’s regarded as not as authentic as Nielsen’s results. I’ve been told by an agency ‘if you aren’t on the Nielsen figures, you aren’t on the radar’.”
DDB’s Brown also points out that new media channels such as social media can help.
“The advantage of social is that it gives brands a far greater opportunity to talk to minority groups, understand their needs and evaluate the effectiveness of their communication,” he says.
Just do it
The key message for brands to take away is that, despite the fact that targeting minority groups requires effort, it’s actually bad for business to leave it off of media plans – and there’s also no reason not to reflect a true-to-life portrait of Australia today in the ads themselves.
“It’s certainly worth the effort,” says Cultural Partners’ Yamine. “Ethnic groups often don’t have entrenched perceptions about brands. That’s why brands should be going after them. The results can be outstanding.”
In terms of the disabled community, AFDO’s Gianni believes there should be more discussion around the right way to target and portray this community in advertising.
“People don’t talk about women any more in the way they used to,” he says. “There’s a line that you don’t cross now and we need to establish that line for people with disabilties.”
DDB’s Brown feels the industry needs to take matters into its own hands on this issue. “We need to ensure this is put on the industry agenda as the advertising industry universally has been slow in the representation of broader groups and can certainly take more of a leading stance on this,” he says.
Interestingly, the Communications Council declined to be a part of this feature when approached, as they didn’t feel they had enough research available to back up their comments – which is perhaps a fact that speaks for itself.
Brown adds: “Australia provides a rich and diverse cultural lens through which we can showcase our communication. “There is no such thing as a stereotypical Australian and the industry’s challenge is to better reflect this in the campaigns we create.”
The closed captioning shop
Back in July 2012, a B&T investigation revealed the lack of commitment on the part of certain advertisers to add closed captioning – for the deaf and hearing impaired – to their commercials.
Big names such as Westfield, Coles, Ford, Hungry Jack’s and Woolworths were among advertisers who weren’t captioning, and with one in six Australians suffering from hearing impairment, there seemed to be no excuse. Days later, Coles and Hungry Jack’s backtracked and committed to include closed captioning on all future TVCs.
Michael Lockrey, deaf advocate and sales manager for Amara subtitles, an open source, crowd sourcing approach to captioning and subtitling, says unfortunately there has been no real change in the situation since then, that there is a barrier to entry with the prices of captioning in Australia being unnecessarily high, and the use of proprietary file formats stopping competitor services.
“The smart brands and advertisers already do the right thing because they understand that providing closed captioning on TVCs helps them to achieve their marketing objectives,” he says.
But he adds: “I still believe that there is a ‘closed shop’ mentality amongst the captioning service providers in Australia and they seem to charge very high rates for TVCs.”