We need better cultural intelligence and ‘the right people’ in the room

We need better cultural intelligence and ‘the right people’ in the room
Opinion: Strategy Leaders

A more inclusive approach fuelled by better cultural intelligence, and having the right people in the room, is more likely to result in long term growth for brands.


The ad industry has been working towards creating a more diversified, inclusive environment for a while.

Progress has been made around the level of diversity that can now be found in many adverts, and the changing media landscape means there’s more opportunity than ever to create targeted messages that will better resonate with different groups in different spaces.

Representation, as a whole, has improved. However, our research indicates that tokenistic representation is still an issue. Many people we spoke to feel their experiences are not properly understood and reflected back, or whilst visible, are only being give walk-on roles with limited meaning. There is clear demand still for the nuances of a community’s experiences—of the lives that make it up—to be better heard and identified.

The post-Covid landscape is fuelling this disconnect

The last few years have been difficult for many of us, with experiences creating wholesale shifts in attitudes, behaviours and values. For some minority groups, these changes have been tougher still, and a better understanding of these areas is essential for the development of more inclusive approaches.

Our report explores the challenges of Covid and the cost of living crisis, and the impact these events have had on the lives of six underrepresented groups in society. For some, the uncertainty associated with these events has created huge challenges. For others, it offered an opportunity to look at life from a fresh perspective.

We found, for example, that more than half of LGBTQ+ individuals feel like their worlds have shrunk so much they don’t know what to do with themselves, while just under half feel like they have lost touch with who they are. With the social isolation caused by the pandemic, those who may be struggling to find their place have been forced further out of social circles, with support harder to find.

And this feeling cuts across a range of groups; six in 10 adults living with a disability, for example, say they are now in “survival mode” due to these feelings of isolation. No surprise this group was the most likely to be finding it hard to be positive about the future, a feeling that has deepened further with the cost of living crisis.

Financial challenges, coming on top of two difficult years of pandemic, will continue to drive up these levels of loneliness and isolation. At Mindshare, we’ve been encouraging brands to seek out opportunities to help communities or financial services that are supportive in these areas. Finding ways to honour these different life experiences, rather than glossing over them with a sugar coated version of the truth will also be helpful, ensuring that brands don’t appear out of touch with the struggles different groups may be facing.

Understanding meaningful diversity

Frequently the people we spoke to expressed concern that brands are acting to simply try to fill a diversity quota or associate themselves with a movement for a few weeks, rather than actively acknowledging their potential as existing or future customers.

Brands connecting with events around Black Lives Matter were run for a month “while it was at the front of the news” but “by September everyone forgot, and it was all about Halloween”. Brands should not underestimate the power of consistency, of small actions, built on and done well to drive stronger ties and future growth opportunities.

A message that came through time and again in our research was the need for more realistic, authentic interpretations. People wanted their communities to be better integrated within a story or narrative — to be there for a reason, not simply appearing as a tick-box exercise. A gay couple holding hands or black family being featured for “a five second timeframe” midway through an advert might make overarching diversity stats look better, but it’s not including that community within the integral meaning of the advert, or acknowledging them as valued users of the product or service.

Remaining authentic and being true to values will always be a concern for any marketer, and this is no-less important when trying to become more inclusive. Telling stories in ways that transcend differences and focus on shared human truths will help with this challenge, even when celebrating one particular culture.

Diversity within advertising is beginning to move to a better place, but a more inclusive approach fuelled by better cultural intelligence, and having the right people in the room, is much more likely to result in good long-term growth for the future.

Julia Ayling is head of research & insights at Mindshare UK.

Strategy Leaders is our commitment to showcase the media industry’s most important strategy issues and debates, as well as focus on notable ad campaigns and from a media-planning lens.
Sign up for our daily newsletter and receive Strategy Leaders every Thursday.

Media Jobs