Kick back with the television, a magazine, or some quality YouTube time, and you’re likely to see diversity and inclusion in many ads. Ideally, you’ll see differently abled people, interracial couples with biracial children, active seniors, same-sex couples, people of short stature, full-figured models, and friend groups that resemble the United Nations on Casual Friday.
Are we where we should be in terms of representation? Not yet. Is D/I truly being celebrated, or are corporate marketers simply cynically covering their bases? I suspect it’s a mixed bag. Nonetheless, I’m glad we have more representation than we once did.
But while representation in CPG campaigns has increased, I think our industry – particularly in the digital space – has been slower to evolve. Visit a digital pharma property, and you’re likely to see “traditional” stock imagery, copy, and user experiences – where doctors are predominately white males (even though more women than men are enrolled in U.S. medical schools, and 60% of doctors under 35 are female), and other visible representation – for instance, same-sex couples, or models who are differently sized, transgender, non-binary, or disabled – are relegated only to brands that treat conditions related to those facets of a person.
Diversity isn’t just a nice idea. It has specific ramifications for treatment and diagnosis.
One peer-reviewed paper argued that “overrepresentation of females in certain categories of psychotropic drug advertising may serve to reinforce cultural stereotypes in physicians, so that they may diagnose and treat women differently in sex-biased ways.” And that was published in 2010 … not 1950.
Gender stereotypes can be so embedded that they can be used even in the face of conflicting medical evidence. One examination of an unbranded site (for a disease that affects men three times more than women) found that seven of the ten images on the site depicted female patients, versus only three images of men.
Do or Do Not. There Is No Try.
Marketers do want to change. But merely wanting to isn’t enough.
In a recent survey of 2,500 marketers conducted by stock-photo vendor Shutterstock, an overwhelming majority agreed that their campaigns should use more diverse imagery. But only a small portion had actually started using pictures that included any of the elements surveyed, which included racial, sexual, gender, or disability diversity.
But there are easy-to-implement steps you can take today to improve your digital campaigns’ representation of our true population in modern society, and avoid stereotyping, bias, and exclusion. Here are three easy ways to get started on becoming more diverse on your digital properties:
- Imagery can be inclusive. Consider what a patient, a healthcare professional, a caregiver, or a family could look like. Diverse stock imagery exists in abundance, as shown by collections like these from Shutterstock, Vice, and Representation Matters.
- Copy can be inclusive and neutral, not specific to the point of exclusivity. Consider the implied meanings as well as the specific words.
- Options in menus and drop-down choices can be reconsidered. Can your databases handle options outside a gender binary? Must you include a gender-based honorific?
I will note that updating your digital properties to better represent diverse populations is not the same as making your site accessible to diverse populations. That’s a different story entirely. Stay tuned for more on this important topic soon!