Diversity drives creativity: the most inspiring campaigns from the past year

We asked a selection of Campaign's global editors to pick the most inspiring diverse and creative campaigns they have seen over the past 12 months. The work they chose provides a compelling case as to why diversity continues to be the advertising industry's greatest opportunity.

Diversity drives creativity: the most inspiring campaigns from the past year
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This girl can 

Sport England / FCB Inferno

Claire Beale
Global editor-in-chief, Campaign

We’re two years in to the "This girl can" campaign, but this groundbreaking work still has an exciting freshness.

Created by FCB Inferno for Sport England, the ambition was to get women moving again. Sports participation in the UK is suffering from a significant gender gap – two million fewer 14- to 40-year-old women take part in sport compared with men, despite the fact that 75%  say they want to be more active. 

"This girl can" is based on a brilliantly powerful insight: the fear of judgement by others is the primary barrier holding women back from participating in sport. They’re worried about how they look, whether they’re any good, or are being selfish spending time on themselves instead of their families. 

Directed by one of the world’s most-acclaimed female commercials directors, Kim Gehrig, the first work was a beautifully shot, but no-holds-barred, celebration of women exercising. It captured exhilarating scenes of powerful, determined, fierce, and, yes, wobbly and gloriously sweaty women playing sports or getting fit.

The film was backed up by the creation of a social-media community on Twitter and Facebook, with a tailored algorithm that sent encouraging tweets to women who were themselves tweeting about exercise or thinking of hitting the gym.

And it worked. As a result of the first campaign, 1.6 million women have started exercising, and  the number playing sport and being active is increasing faster than the number of men.

So, to build on the momentum, a fresh tranche of work was released earlier this year, again focusing on empowering images of women participating in sports. This time the film was accompanied by a soundtrack of the late Maya Angelou reciting her poem Phenomenal Women.

"This girl can" remains standout creativity.  Unfortunately, though, this is not just because of the intelligence, warmth and style with which it has been crafted. The campaign also stands out because it has  yet  to be joined by a wave of other similarly bold and boundary-pushing work reframing the way women are portrayed in commercials. 

That’s disappointing, and when you consider the success of the campaign strategy, it’s also a serious missed opportunity. Too few brands have embraced the lessons here on how to open up interesting new dialogues with women. The industry needs to work together to change that. Not just because it’s socially important to do so, but because it’s clearly good for business.

Gurdeep Singh & Daughters

Star Plus / Ogilvy Mumbai

Prasad Sangameshwaran
Managing editor, Campaign India

There is something about the signboards on Indian shop-fronts. They are colourful. Or they are hilarious, when they are misspelled. 

Depending on the grammar, or the translation from English to Hindi or vice versa, the wording tells you a lot about the owner’s socioeconomic background, or even the kind of merchandise you could expect at that retail point. 

In the signage of small and medium-sized businesses, another thing that gets highlighted is the ownership pattern. Many times these signs would say "XYZ & Sons", "XYZ Brothers" or "XYZ Bros.", and so on. 

This 2017 advertising film for television broadcaster Star Plus, entitled "Gurdeep Singh & Daughters", brings out the story of gender diversity through store signboards in a simple, sweet, yet powerful manner.

The ad features Gurdeep Singh, a sweet-shop owner in a small town. When a customer notices that business is booming, he praises Gurdeep Singh. He, in turn, attributes the success to his children, who took the business online. The customer takes it for granted that these children are boys, until the shop’s owner corrects him. 

When the customer walks outside the shop, he sees the newly installed sign that displays "Gurdeep Singh & Daughters". 

The film ends with the thought that progress does not distinguish between girls and boys. It’s the thinking that matters. This progressive thinking is what the brand’s positioning, "Nayi Soch" (new way of thinking, in Hindi) is all about.

The other thing that stood out about the film was the timing of its release and its star cast. It was launched soon after the success of Dangal, a movie that put the spotlight on the issue of gender sensitivity in sports. 

The film’s director, a former adman, Nitesh Tiwari, and lead actor Aamir Khan, who’s known for his progressive views, were both involved in the Star Plus film. Khan brought empathy and credibility to the role of the father whose progressive thinking gives his daughters the freedom to flourish. 

There are many brands that try hard – really hard – to drive home the message of being gender sensitive. This ad shows that there is a subtle, yet powerful, way of getting the message across. 

What wows you


David Blecken
Editor, Campaign Japan

A film for Toyota for the Japanese market, this spot presented a vision of the future not just in terms of technology, but also the country’s social make-up.

Work that genuinely promotes diversity doesn’t have to shout about the fact that it is doing so. As one of the most interesting examples from Japan last year, this Toyota spot was very subtle, yet also very significant.

Now, Japan as a country is known for many things, but diversity is not one of them. The average Japanese person would tell you they live in a mono-cultural society. From the government’s standpoint, "diversity" means bringing more women into the workforce. 

The possibility of opening up the nation to immigrants – which seems increasingly necessary as the population continues to shrink – is broached gingerly. 

Bearing all this in mind, it was refreshing to see Toyota, as one of Japan’s biggest companies, acknowledge that the composition of society is changing. 

The film, rolled out in June last year, under the banner "What wows you", is set at an indefinite time in the future. It features an elderly gentleman behind the wheel of a self-driving car, who has been liberated by technology to enjoy the open road once again.

While this is all very nice, what makes the work immediately more interesting is that the gentleman in question is not Japanese. Neither is he a major international celebrity. He is just an average Joe who is shown to live in Japan and be connected to a mixed-race family. (One assumes the family featured includes his son, who is married to a Japanese woman with whom he has had children.)

To appreciate the significance of this, it’s important to understand that mixed-race couples or families almost never feature in Japanese advertising (although mixed-race individuals are popular brand ambassadors). 

This is an example of a major brand normalising families that are not purely Japanese, and a clear reminder of the role brands can play in reflecting, and sometimes supporting, social change. From a viewer perspective, the execution also adds a level of interest far beyond the generic "open road" shots so ubiquitous in automotive advertising.

*Toyota does not disclose agency partners in this region as company policy.

This land  

Johnnie Walker / Anomaly New York

Douglas Quenqua
Editor-in-chief, Campaign US

Regardless of your political bent, the dawn of election day 2016 felt like a sigh of relief for Americans.

The campaign had been long – bruising and long. Like, really long. By the time we went to the polls, Americans had endured more than a year of misogyny, racism and staggering dishonesty, and that was just the news media. 

Donald J Trump had beaten 17 Republican hopefuls to claim the party’s nod by pushing the boundaries of decency, from calling Mexican immigrants "rapists" and suggesting that his Democrat opponent should be thrown in jail to declaring a temporary end to Muslim immigration if he won.

But the time had come for him to lose. It was a lock, a joke, a no-brainer, said the polls. Tomorrow, for better or worse, we could all go back to our regularly scheduled programming. 

It was into this atmosphere that Diageo’s Johnnie Walker introduced the latest iteration of its 17-year-old "Keep walking" campaign, a stirring 90-second repudiation of all things Trump called "This land". Not that the candidate (or his opponent, or the election) was mentioned. But the spot, crafted by Anomaly New York, was so well timed and expertly scripted that no explanation was needed.  

"Only look back to see how far you’ve come," read the opening copy, superimposed over a mountain range at sunrise. A Latino-accented voiceover read the lyrics to This Land Is Your Land, the classic Woody Guthrie folk song about unity and acceptance. Inspiring images of black and Hispanic Americans – celebrating, working, running, returning from war – were intercut with majestic landscapes. The final copy was a small, powerful tweak on the brand’s usual tagline: "Keep walking America."

The ad hit a nerve, going viral online and singlehandedly giving Campaign US one of its top traffic days ever. It was inspiring, effervescent and entirely of the moment. 

But the inevitable didn’t happen. Trump took the White House, leaving the many brands, media outlets and lobbyists who’d banked on a Hillary Clinton win scrambling to adjust.

But viewed today, the Johnnie Walker ad doesn’t feel diminished. Its optimism now seems rooted in defiance, its diversity more insistent than celebratory. It may not be the message Diageo intended, but ageing well was never about predicting the future. 

Not a bad message for a Scotch brand.   

Marriage Market Takeover 

SK-II / Foresman & Bodenfors

Robert Sawatzky
Head of content, Campaign Asia

In this campaign, Japanese cosmetics brand SK-II, owned by Procter & Gamble, took on the stigma faced by unmarried Chinese women over 25, commonly referred to as sheng nu, or "leftover women".

The short film profiles several young, single women in Shanghai, with raw emotional power coming through a series of interviews with their parents who complain and appear to disparage their daughters, right to their faces.

The parents are then taken to the Shanghai "marriage market", a place where they can post notices of eligible children and their attributes in hopes of matchmaking. But on arrival, they instead find posters of their daughters telling them to respect their lifestyles in moving messages that seem to change their parents’ views. Hugs follow.

The ad immediately went viral, with 2.7 million views on Chinese social media in its first three days, reaching tens of millions of views globally over the next few months.

The ad was truly powerful, but, as one Asian critic pointed out, it failed to emphasise that marriage is no longer an obligation to family or society, but a choice. The ad was unclear about what changed the parents’ minds but still required their consent. A stronger message might have shown the parents unmoved and their daughters living on in defiance.

But this wasn’t a public awareness campaign. It was an ad for a cosmetics brand that doesn’t actually want to stir debate as much as subtly weave itself into an apparent message of empowerment. And it did so expertly and subtly.

This ad was part of SK-II’s wider #ChangeDestiny campaign, with an overarching message of self-transformation that fits perfectly with a beauty brand looking to sell women products that help change their physical image. 

Linking a beauty product to the issue, however, requires skill and subtlety. We don’t see women applying SK-II makeup. That would be crude. In fact, we see SK-II and its hashtag only at the end of the film. But the posters of the daughters at the marriage market show them transformed – their parents remark how beautiful these "leftover women" are. Their forceful messages become something beautiful, which the parents recognise and admire for the first time in front of the cameras.

When the SK-II logo appears at the end, viewers subconsciously know its cosmetics were behind their lovely appearances in the market. The cathartic feelings of parental acceptance then project goodwill toward the brand. A YouGov survey showed soaring brand recognition and purchase intent as the campaign unfolded.

This wasn’t just a marriage market takeover. It was a brand co-opting a societal more, beautifully done.