Marketers: How to check your unconscious bias at the door

Unconscious bias is causing brand underperformance and exacerbating societal problems, says this creative expert

Unconscious bias originating in marketing and advertising creative is affecting the financial performance of brands and perpetuating stereotypes in society.

Managing director of International Creative Services, Anne Miles, told CMO creative is not just reflecting society, it is also shaping it, with unconscious bias creeping its way into advertising and marketing, which then amplifies in society.

Miles saw it having a large negative impact on both society as well as brands, and said conscious effort has to be undertaken to counteractive it by brands, marketers and agencies to counteract it.

“Brands are impacting society because of the way agencies are leaving their unconscious bias in creative, and the clients are not picking it up. Ultimately, this leads to brands underperforming,” Miles explained. “Look at a random campaign depicting a typical family of two adults and two kids. We see this all the time, yet that’s not what families look like anymore. In fact, 67.5 per cent of families are non-traditional, so why are we still marketing to that stereotyped nuclear family?

“Ads keep showing boys doing boys thing like maths, and girls doing things like ballet dancing. Why do that? There’s a gender neutral approach that could be taken, but agencies just automatically think that’s what girls do and that’s what boys do, and they maintain it rather than thinking more carefully about it.

“Then there’s the over correction that happens, which I call diversity oversteer, where boys are shown doing the dancing, when there’s actually a middle ground. Sometimes, to market to opne sex the creative ridicules the other. Why did they need to do it that way? It’s fine to market to men, but you don’t need to put women down to do it; and vice versa, don’t put men down to market to women.

“Unfortunately, this bias amplifies, so by the time it gets to the consumer world it is having a large impact on society, and it’s originating within the creative.”

Miles said by not checking on unconscious bias, creative is amplifying stereotype problems already existing in society.

“Marketing and advertising creative is such a big part of what consumers see every day. Reflecting society and shaping is both happening, but we have control over it and if we take charge we can impact society in a positive way," she said. 

“To do this, creatives need to test their gut instead of just trusting their gut. Often, when you have unconscious bias in place you don’t know it until it is pointed out. We must measure and ask questions to see if it is correct, or if there is a bias in place. Has the creative perpetuated stereotypes? Has it overcorrected?”

Miles said while studies are yet to be done on the financial impact of diversity in creative, it is well known diversity in HR adds seven per cent to the bottom line. According to McKinsey’s ‘Diversity Matters’, companies in the top quartile of gender diversity were 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns that were above their national industry median. In addition, companies in the top quartile of racial/ethnic diversity were 35 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median.

“If brands knew diversity in creative added 7 per cent to their bottom line, they’d be lining up to do something about it,” she said.

According to the McKinsey report, the psychology of bias is driven by the human subconscious, rather than being under the control of rational and deliberate conscious thinking. This includes implicit stereotypes, which associates certain groups of people with certain behaviours, such as boys with maths and girls with dancing.

There is also ingroup favouritism or a preference for people who are like us, which leads to outgroup bias, including generalisations and discrimination.

How to check for unconscious bias in creative:

  • Market segmentation: Is segmentation based on potential and not just on old results? Is your segmentation reflecting actual population demographics, and is targeting basic demographics even necessary?
  • Channel targeting: Has your programmatic and AI been checked for minority bias? Does you data contain minority bias corrections?
  • Brand strategy: Is the brand purpose aligned authentically, and are you exploiting diversity or minority groups for inauthentic brand noise?
  • Creative: Has you copy been checked by gender and diverse team members? Do you really need to use she/he pronouns? Have you done a gut check? Are you using generalisations? Are you defining people by race, abilities, gender, etc? Is your art direction representing diversity? What about culturally inappropriate iconography and symbolism?
  • User experience: Are you tracking data that perpetuates stereotypes? Are you asking for data that isn’t necessary?
  • Approvals: are your approval processes taking into account diversity and inclusion? Have you taken out all subjectivity? Have you raised a diversity issue you see, even if it makes you unpopular?

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu

 

 

 

 

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