‘Big uplift’ in performance when diverse audience see themselves represented in ads

When black people see themselves represented in ads, it can lead to a very high emotional response from black audiences and a “big uplift” in performance for advertisers.

That is a key finding from a new study conducted by advertising effectiveness experts System1 as part of its Feeling Seen report series – an initiative backed by ITV and diversity specialists DECA – which suggested more diverse advertising can produce a “diversity dividend”.

The research examined six current ads – from Asda, Google, Levi Roots, Nationwide, Virgin Media and campaigning organisation You Can Adopt – that feature diverse audiences and found they created a far greater emotional response with a black, British audience than other ads, according to System1’s scoring.

The majority of the ads (four out of six) reached the top score of five to 5.9 stars for emotional response when watched by black viewers – achieved by only 1% of all ads that air.

The score is used to predict media spend and brand growth, based on System1’s methodology.

This compared with the same ads scoring between two and four stars when viewed by the general population.

In general, an ad would score 2.4 stars on average when tested with a nationally representative sample of viewers, System1 noted.

The findings show that “like most good diverse advertising, feeling seen, feels good – when people see their life or culture represented on screen, it resonates more powerfully and emotionally”.

“Diverse advertising unites us – advertising that strongly appeals to a minority group will usually appeal to the general population, proving there’s no downside to making inclusive work”

Those with the biggest differences in scores between black audiences and the general population were Asda’s “Arrive like you mean it” (5.4 stars compared with 2.1), Virgin Media’s “Faster brings us closer” (5.0 stars compared with 1.9) and Nationwide’s “How would things be different?” (4.8 stars compared with 2.1).

By looking at these three ads with the lowest “general population” scores, System1 suggested ways to strike a balance in creating an ad that has broad enough appeal to cater to both black and general audiences.

The findings showed black audiences viewing the ads in the study were more likely to pick up on emotional elements, so advertisers should emphasise elements such as characters, acting and stories unfolding, “which aren’t so culturally determined and may then have the same impact on general audiences”.

Ads featuring black music traditionally use older tracks, often released two or more decades previously, that are “rich in association and recall”, which could suggest why more modern RnB and grime tunes “may not resonate as effectively with the general audience”, the research suggested.

Creating work with “generally broad appeal” is more effective than producing ads that target smaller populations.

It advised making minor creative shifts rather than new work entirely. “Different audiences don’t need different advertising, they just need to feel seen within varied elements of the advertising,” the market research firm said.

The six ads that featured in the research are running during Black History Month, which continues until the end of October.

Kerry Collinge, director of marketing and partnerships in Europe at System1, said its recent Feeling Seen report on diverse advertising had shown the value for brands.

“Using our detailed testing that measures long-term brand building and short-term sales growth, we can really see that demonstrating the authentic lived experiences of diverse communities is strongly resonating when they feel seen in the work,” Collinge said.


At System1, we help the world’s largest advertisers make confident creative decisions that lead to transformational business results. Our powerful audience insights platform provides detail analysis on audience response and our advertising insights platform helps you to predict success of ads and ideas.

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