'Feeling Seen USA' Report Finds Support For Diverse Advertising


For as much as some marketers think that any diverse representation in advertising risks alienating a wide audience, a recent report from System1 shows that isn’t the case.

The “Feeling Seen USA” report by the digital marketing platform analyzed audience’s emotional responses to 98 ads that  focused on diversity and inclusion, across a nationally representative sample group drawn from the general public and a custom group comprised of the diverse group represented. Based on these responses, System1 then determined a quantitative score for each ad using its effectiveness metric -- with a star system ranging from one to six stars.

The main takeaway from the report is that such ads are more effective than average. “Again and again we found a broad base of support for and enjoyment of these inclusive ads,” System1 wrote. “If there’s a culture war to be fought, advertising isn’t a popular battleground.”



“We can all agree it's the right thing to do. That doesn't mean some people aren't worried about the risk,” System Chief Customer Officer and “Feeling Seen USA” author Jon Evans told Marketing Daily, while suggesting such fears placed too much emphasis on social media channels that aren’t reflective of how most people respond to such representation.

“If you take the conversation away from fear, the data supports it being the right thing to do" from a business perspective, “as well as the moral thing to do.”

System 1 found that the ads tested for “Feeling Seen USA” had an average score of 3.8 stars with a nationally representative general audience, compared to an average star rating of just two stars among the U.S. ads tested by System 1 overall.  To determine whether this result was not simply due to the sample over-indexing on high-profile brands with big marketing budgets, they also compared performance with other ads from such brands -- including Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, and P&G.

The results showed a “consistent pattern,” System1 reported. “When a brand launched a diversity-themed ad, it outperformed their average ad output by at least 0.5-Stars and in some cases nearly 2 Stars.”

Among the top-performing ads measured by System1 were a holiday ad from Hallmark centered around a deaf child, which scored 5.9 stars across both nationally representative and disabled audience segments); and an American Airlines “Putting Them First” ad, which scored 4.5 stars with a nationally representative audience, and got a boost to 5.9 stars with both Black audiences and women.

“We found some ads which were loved among both the population as a whole and the included groups. We found some which fell flat. We found a few which worked fine for most people but didn’t ring true for the group featured in the ad,” ” the report summarized. “Most importantly, we found ads which were strong amongst a national sample and then even stronger among the groups whose lives and experiences they featured.”

The report refers to the latter phenomenon of an ad performing well with a general population but great among a feature group, as “the diversity dividend,” and concludes that it’s “one of the biggest benefits of aiming for diversity and inclusion in advertising.”

Oreo’s “Proud Parent” ad, for example, scored 3.3 stars with a nationally representative audience, but 5.9 stars with an LGTBQ+ audience.

The report included some takeaways from brands about how to approach inclusivity in advertising. Among these is the importance of focusing on an individual’s story, rather than trying to represent a diverse group in totality; and the need to not relegate such inclusivity to specific months or weeks focused on a given group.

“When you try to represent a big group [in an ad] and put lots of different people in it, and different stories, it appeals to nobody: it’s seen as tokenstic,” Evans told Marketing Daily, something he said was particularly important for LGBTQ+ representation.

“Tell one person’s story well, and it will create far more empathy and happiness within the audience,” he added, explaining such an approach will “come across as more authentic and other people [will] respect the brand more.”

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