Adland's role in a diverse Britain

Why ethnic minority groups aren't wooed by brands like anyone else is a complete mystery, Jim Thornton writes.

  • McDonald’s: communications have always embraced multicultural Britain without using race as an issue to provoke a reaction

    McDonald’s: communications have always embraced multicultural Britain without using race as an issue to provoke a reaction

  • O2: aimed to reward customers for their loyalty and differ from other international sim advertising

    O2: aimed to reward customers for their loyalty and differ from other international sim advertising

  • Coca-Cola: embraced diversity consistently

    Coca-Cola: embraced diversity consistently

  • Apple



In Exodus, his thought-provoking new book about immigration, the economist Paul Collier makes the point that the age-old argument about whether immigration is a good or bad thing is a wholly irrelevant one.

If, instead, we start from the truism that migration drives diversity, then the debate becomes not about whether diversity is good or bad, but about just how much diversity is too much before the foundations of a nation start to crack.

Now, this debate should never be led by a half-English, half-Scottish, white, middle-class, ex-public school boy like myself who was brought up in a village in south Cheshire and now lives in a village in East Sussex. But it is precisely because of my almost exclusively Anglo-Saxon origins that I’ve always loved the diversity that migrants bring to this country.

My 50 years living on this island have been as much, if not more, influenced by the increasing diversity of cultures than any other generation alive. Every aspect of my life – from the music I first heard as a kid, to the food I eat, to the sporting heroes I worship – has been enriched by diversity.

So when I was asked to creative direct a campaign advertising the different call rates to different countries available on the O2 international sim to the immigrant communities of the UK, the team and I saw an opportunity to celebrate the cultural diversity with which all the different migrant communities of Britain have enhanced all our lives.

The international sim market is an almost exclusively price-led, commoditised market in which no brand has made much more of an effort than shouting their rate loudly from the rooftops while badging it with the national flag of the particular destination they are talking about purely as a form of signage. Which is at best lazy and, at worst, lazily patronising.

Quite why these communities shouldn’t be wooed by brands and rewarded for their attention just like anyone else is a complete mystery, but I suspect if both brands and agencies alike actually read the IPA Ethnic Diversity Forum’s report entitled 2012 Multicultural Britain, they would very quickly realise the potential of markets they have hitherto largely pretended did not exist.

Credibility and authenticity are essential attributes for a conversation with any customer

Of course, there’s a big difference between a brand talking to minority ethnic communities about a product specific to them in an authentic, rewarding and culturally relevant way and the issue of inclusivity across the entire range of a brand’s communications. Frankly, that the latter is still, in 2013, a genuine issue should be as embarrassing to our industry as Greg Dyke’s commission has been to The FA.

But when I scan through the library of British advertising that lives in that little bit of my brain that is not dedicated to all things Stoke City, it’s McDonald’s that stands out a mile as the most inclusive brand over the past three decades.

Ever since it arrived on these shores, McDonald’s advertising has consistently reflected the diverse ethnicity of the UK as a vital, integral thread, woven seamlessly into the fabric of modern Britain. It has never "used" race or ethnicity as an issue designed to provoke a reaction, as one could argue a certain "famous for its exquisitely folded jumpers" clothing brand has in the past.

Not surprisingly, given they make a lot of work designed to appeal to the broadest possible target market there is – the entire world – it is the huge global mass-market brands such as Apple, Dove and Coca-Cola that have arguably embraced diversity and inclusivity most successfully and consistently across their communications.

But what differentiates McDonald’s from these brands is that almost all of its communications are developed by local markets to better enable them to demonstrate an appreciation of their market and reflect their customers with credibility and authenticity.

Credibility and authenticity are the two most essential attributes required for a conversation with any existing or potential customer, irrespective of race, religion, colour or creed. Anything less is just ignorant and insulting and plays to the lowest common denominator like the advertising equivalent of the Daily Mail. And, surely, no brand wants to be that…

Jim Thornton is a creative director at VCCP


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