CANNES, FRANCE -- Unilever is utilizing its three-year-old “Unstereotype” initiative to determine whether implicit bias is embedded in the genetics of marketers.
The research, unveiled during a session at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity Monday, invited 60 advertising and marketing professionals across Unilever and its lead agency partners to provide DNA samples and participate in a pre-assessment to measure the extent of their stereotypical thinking.
Participants attended an immersive workshop at University College London for a deeper understanding of how and when stereotypes are learned, the brain mechanisms that govern them and how people can unlock stereotypical thought patterns to increase creative and inclusive thinking.
Project overseers then retested the participants (and a control sample) post-workshop with a 35% reduction in unconscious stereotyping among participating marketers.
"Becoming conscious of our blind spots, and the biases that are holding us back, is fundamental, but unconscious bias training has its limitations," said Aline Santos, executive vice president of global marketing and chief diversity & inclusion officer at Unilever. She added, "we’ve piloted this experimental approach and measured its impact because disruptive techniques and scientific methods will help us all to drive the action needed to be more progressive in our creative work.”
Unilever is also issuing a report card on the brand's efforts to increase the progressive depiction of people in advertisements across 370 Unilever brands in 54 global markets.
The research shows an improvement in the character depictions of both men and women across some 1,500 ads tested.
Characters portrayed as modern, confident or independent lead to an average 16% lift in creative performance, yet Unilever currently only does this across 58% of its ads featuring females and 46% with males.
There is a 17% lift on long-term brand equity with ads depicting a "confident" personality, particularly among female characters (18% lift) versus 12% lift for males. The company reports a 35% increase among those enjoying Unilever ads and a 28% lift in purchase intent.
Unilever, however, sees room for improvement, as only 45% of Unilever's pre-tested ads worldwide are seen as "strongly" progressive.
“This messaging is challenged by nuances and cultural references that are very different in developed and emerging markets,” explains Santos. “We need to push further in regions like Latin America and Europe to ensure we deliver progressive work that resonates locally.”
The next phase in the initiative will broaden the focus beyond gender to increase representation and diverse character portrayals across age, disability, LGBTQ+, ethnicity and other dimensions of identity that are often ignored in advertising.
This report was prepared by Kantar Millward Brown in May 2019, based on Unilever brand advertising from the first quarter of 2017 to the first quarter of 2019.