As we begin to draw into the winter of 2020, there are many of us who are hoping to ourselves – surely things can only get better next year? 2020 has brought challenges of all shapes and sizes – not least the pandemic – and has forced organisations to move quickly and adapt, responding to problems they wouldn’t have imagined likely before. However, the year has also shone a light on many home truths that have for too long been swept under the carpet.
Many of those who kept the country running at the peak of the crisis – such as supermarket workers, teachers and NHS employees - were those who have often felt overlooked or under-recognised by society at large and were often from groups of people who face continuing discrimination because of their gender, ethnicity, age, disability or class. The tragic death of George Floyd this summer also made all of us – as individuals, organisations and governments – think more about how we talk and act in relation to racism.
Thinking about my own life, I can see that I am both lucky and privileged. While I can educate myself and try to understand the issues facing many of my friends, colleagues and fellow citizens continue to face, I will never experience them to the same extent that they have to. However, I believe that I do have a responsibility to use my position to listen and make positive changes so that all people – regardless of their characteristics – feel they have the same opportunity to speak and act as their peers.
I also realise that our industry can – and needs to – step up and play a vital role in changing the narrative and perceptions. We have to make sure that the campaigns we create are not only pushing the boundaries when it comes to innovation and imagination, but also are truly representative. Making campaigns that reflect society rather than a stylised version is not just the right thing to do, but will also make them more relevant to the audiences we want and need to reach.
The importance of campaigns being more inclusive is one of the key reasons why I am so passionate about our Diversity in Advertising competition (from City Hall and TfL). The competition looks to challenge brands and advertisers to think more creatively when it comes to diversity and inclusion: How can they use their power to make sure that we’re not relying on one-dimensional portrayals or stereotypes in advertising? Or, potentially worse, just not including certain people at all?
The two previous competitions have focused on better representing women and black, Asian and minority ethnic Londoners, and each year we have been overwhelmed by the responses we received. With such a strong level of competition, it has always been difficult to choose the winners - but I think all of us who saw Nubian Skin’s campaign last year with a relevant take on nude underwear, or Holland & Barrett’s interpretation of the menopause in 2019, would agree that they were inspiring and illustrated what the sector is capable of.
The topic this time is “Ageism” and the portrayal of those over 55 in ads. Research carried out by UCL about representation in advertising revealed that people over the age of 55 reported feeling “invisible” and “irrelevant”, with fewer than one in four respondents able to recall seeing an advert featuring someone with wrinkles. Moreover, Lloyds Banking research in 2016 found that while those over 65 years old made up 17.7% of the population, they only featured in around 6% of advertising. When they did appear, it was often only as a wise, engaged parent or grandparent.
As I get older, perhaps this topic feels even more relevant to me. I have certainly been guilty – in my younger days – of holding preconceptions about what it would be like to be in my fifties or older – assumptions that have not borne fruit! However, we mustn’t use this as an excuse. While I may have a few more laughter lines, I still have the energy and ambition that I did when I was starting out – and now with my experience to build on. We need to see the reality lived by many older people more clearly depicted in our advertising. And I cannot wait to see this year’s entries.
Chris Macleod is director, customer and revenue at Transport for London