Why brands should care about ethnicity

WPP’s trailblazing Consumer Equality Equation report is a must-read. In the third of a four-part series, we look at what tangible actions brands can take to address consumer inequality

Why brands should care about ethnicity

What do the smartest brands get right? They sell the best products and they offer the best services. But they also have something else critical in common: they actively reflect modern society and embrace all cultures, all experiences and all voices. They are for everyone. 

Not only that, these most successful of brands evolve and reinvent themselves to continually reflect societal changes and maintain their currency and relevance.

Yet, too many brands fail to fully acknowledge and represent the world as it truly is, in all of its wonderful diversity. The result is that many brands exclude and overlook large swathes of their potential growth audience. 

WPP’s Consumer Equality Equation report looks into the relationship between ethnicity and the consumer experience in the UK. Produced alongside GroupM and Ogilvy Consulting, with original research from BAV, Choreograph and Kantar, it is the most comprehensive, as well as the meatiest and deepest of studies ever undertaken on the subject. And is a blueprint for brands seeking to better understand and serve the UK consumer. 

“Brands should pay close attention to the messages and campaigns they create, and continually question whether their creative is relatable – can people see themselves accurately reflected in what they are seeing or hearing?”

Miriam Habibi, head of advanced media, GroupM UK

Commenting on the report, Miriam Habibi, head of advanced media at GroupM UK, emphasises that, especially when it comes to featuring people from underrepresented groups, “this must be done in a way that presents these groups as ‘normal’, rather than stereotypical.”

Be trustworthy 

Genuinely reflecting society matters. The vast majority of respondents (82%) say that brands play an important role in shaping Britain’s culture, while 80% say brands have a “responsibility to reflect modern Britain. That responsibility also comes with being trusted.

How can you gain that trust? For people from minority ethnic groups, trust is higher for brands that are more ethnically representative in their advertising (79% v 60% for white respondents). Trust is also won by being actively involved in understanding and learning what is important to people from minority ethnic groups. This means sparking conversations between brands and their audiences.

Consumers from minority ethnic groups placed racial equality as the joint highest (72%) of any issue that brands should be having conversations about. This was level with conversations around equality for people with disabilities, followed closely by climate change and sustainability (71%), and human rights (also 71%). Of the 12 conversation choices offered, respondents from minority ethnic groups cared more about each issue than white respondents. 

“Brands which fail to address consumer inequality with the same thoughtfulness and consideration as any other business issue, run the risk of losing their authenticity. Without this, trust and business outcomes are on the line too.” 

Amber Tomlinson, product director at GroupM UK 

Superficial and tokenistic attempts to communicate with diverse communities “can be spotted a mile off,” says GroupM UK’s product director Amber Tomlinson, “and brands which do not change tack will feel the effects sooner rather than later.”

One area which brands can tap into in an “always on” manner is programmatic media. Taking on board the learnings from the study, GroupM has adapted its programmatic media strategy with the vision of making programmatic media activation more inclusive of modern Britain.

Understand traits 

The second article in this series, ‘From minority to majority: ethnicity and the consumer experience’, pointed to the importance of not thinking of minority ethnic groups as a single, homogenous entity. This is particularly true of brand attributes that appeal to different ethnicities, and the report offers unique insights here. Particularly appealing brand traits across all respondents included “aspirational”, “modern”, “innovative”,”‘dynamic”, and “worth paying more for”, as well as being inclusive and sustainable. 

“People from minority ethnic groups were very progressive and forward-looking in their attitudes,” says Nicola Jopling, head of growth strategy at GroupM. “They favoured brands that were dynamic and innovative and high energy – it felt like a real appetite for ‘what’s next?’. The findings suggest that to appeal to these growth audiences, brands need to have a constant momentum and always be evolutionary.” 

“Brands should take time to understand the value of different advertising channels – particularly those owned by under-represented groups or which specialise in content for community audiences. As advertisers, it’s our duty to ensure these media businesses are supported through partnership and continuous investment, as ultimately this research shows they are a trusted and critical part of building trust for consumers from minority ethnic groups.”

Miriam Habibi, head of advanced media, GroupM UK

Also interesting were the attributes showing the largest gaps between groups, which tended to diverge between white respondents and minority ethnic respondents. One of the biggest differences was courage, which was a key factor for south asian and black respondents. The report notes: “Be more courageous. Courage is currently an untapped concept for most brands, although new global challenger brands exude and define this attribute, especially for respondents from minority ethnic groups.”

This is timely. During a cost-of-living crisis, brands can be guilty of playing it too safe and falling behind braver competition. Now is not the time to adhere to the old status quo. 

Embrace D&I in recruitment

All good progress starts at home. If you think of your workplace, is it reflective of society? Is it striving to be diverse and inclusive? If it’s not, there’s a problem. 

Research from last year found that employees from minority ethnic groups account for only one-in-16 management positions in the UK. In some areas across the UK, recruiting employees from various backgrounds can be more of a challenge than if your business is based in, say, London. But hybrid and fully remote working means there are now means to proactively recruit talent with different lived experiences. 

This proves fruitful in many ways - opening workplaces up to new perspectives, new skill sets and working towards a truly reflective workforce who can bring a variety of consumer perspectives too. This is particularly critical for the advertising industry, ensuring true diversity both in front and behind the camera when creating campaigns.

Jopling concludes: “Our industry has a tremendous influence on society and culture, and we all have the responsibility to do positive things with that privilege. Consumers from minority ethnic groups are very concerned about inequality, sustainability and climate. So the more that brands are prepared to step forward and do something positive, the more they will be recognised for their efforts.” 

Learn more and explore the findings at


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