Maltesers shines spotlight on misrepresented women in latest effort to diversify advertising

Maltesers is telling stories of diverse women who are often invisible in advertising, in a follow-up to the brand's successful campaign that aimed to break taboos of people with disabilities.

The "Celebrating similarities" spots by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO continue the Mars brand’s  "Look on the light side" campaign, giving a light-hearted take on awkward or taboo moments. "Powerpoint" is about women going through menopause, while "Accountant" is about a lesbian who laments the challenges of dating.   

They will air for the first time on Monday (23 April) on TV and online. Maltesers has also partnered with Channel 4 to run spots during First Dates, in which diverse couples will relay their first date stories in a funny or relatable way.

"Celebrating similarities" follows Maltesers’ 2016 campaign in which people with disabilities recounted humorous everyday situations, such as a woman with cerebral palsy who experiences a mishap while having sex with her new boyfriend. That campaign won Channel 4’s Superhumans Wanted competition for the Rio Paralympics, which awarded £1m in free airtime to the best creative idea about diversity. 

Invisible women

This latest effort by Maltesers aims to tackle a different diversity problem: the inequality of gender representation in advertising. But it goes a step further by "telling the stories of women often not heard," said Michele Oliver, the vice-president of marketing for Mars UK. 

"It’s not just gender, it’s the intersectionality of it. We’re looking to tell stories of older women, women of colour, gay women, single mothers," Oliver explained. "Not only are women not seen in advertising, but the roles they play and types of women we do see are very narrow." 

And just as before, these Maltesers ads address this problem with a "lightness of touch" in line with the brand’s down-to-earth nature, Oliver said: "We want Maltesers to have a purpose but it doesn’t mean it’s activist."

The campaign was created by Michael Jones and Charlotte Adorjan, and directed by Clay Weiner through Biscuit. MediaCom is handling media planning and buying.

The difficult second album

In developing these new ads Maltesers faced the challenge of following its most successful campaign in the brand’s history. "Look on the light side of disability" was the brand’s most effective campaign in terms of sales in the past ten years, and the ads remain its best performing in the UK at the moment, Oliver said.

"If it’s not commercially successful we’ll take it off air, but the unintended benefits have been significant," she said, explaining that the ads have been well received on social media, among employees and among new talent. 

Diversity and inclusion were already issues important to Oliver, but the commercial success of the last campaign laid the groundwork for a provocative next chapter. 

Real voices

As before, Maltesers partnered with charities – this time Stonewall and Age UK – to consult on the campaign. It also pulled together focus groups with real women, whose stories inspired those depicted in the ads. 

Through those stories Oliver said she hopes people will see that "we’ve got more in common than we have different. Whatever our backgrounds, we’re all struggling with the same things, whether that’s balancing work and home life, dating or getting older." 

This approach of consulting expert charities and real people was crucial because "we need more diversity in creative departments," Oliver said. 

"If you had more women – more older women, more gay women and women of colour – they would get it more intuitively. But we’re a long way off that, and as a consequence it’s important to recognise the gap and say, look, we don’t know," she said. "Creative directors can’t pretend to know the stories of these women, so they need to go and listen to them." 

A big mission

Oliver has a bigger mission beyond changing Mars’ advertising: she wants to inspire the entire UK market to lead the way in creating diverse and inclusive communications.

"I can feel there’s a sea change happening in the industry… but I never think it’s happening fast enough," she said. "In the UK we have a real opportunity for the rest of the world to watch us and be inspired by how we can lead the change."