Tips for Developing Great Diverse Ads

System1’s Feeling Seen USA report, a playbook for prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in advertising, tested nearly 60 ads to see how they score with the general population and the diverse groups they feature.

To get a better understanding of how ad agencies and brands can work together to create successful diverse ads, we recently sat down with Jason Rosario, Global Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer at BBDO Worldwide. BBDO works with iconic brands such as Snickers, Macy’s, M&Ms, Bacardi and more.

Rosario, who previously served as manager of global diversity and inclusion at Verizon Media, began at BBDO in 2020. Since then, he has helped the agency develop and launch the Creative Compass, a tool designed to codify inclusive practices throughout the creative value chain. He has also launched a partnership with the New York City Department of Education called ADiverse, a curriculum program with the goal of raising awareness of and building interest for careers in advertising among underrepresented communities.

Why is it so important to get the creative brief right when developing diverse ads?

Jason Rosario –

The brief is a critical first step because it encourages our clients to consider DE&I as part of the business problem they are looking to solve for early on instead of something they try to solve for at the casting stage. It also gives the entire creative team a clear direction of the project and ensures that creative is aligned with the brand’s overall mission and purpose. If we view the brief as a map, it must also come with a clear set of instructions about the people we want to feature and the story we want to tell so that these are reflected in the casting and the final product.

Unfortunately, studies show that when we are not intentional about writing briefs for specific identities and communities, those roles tend to go to white actors over 68% of the time. In an appearance-based industry, one with a history of discrimination, we have to be specific about the characters in our stories and consider their set, setting and language in our casting decisions. Otherwise, we run the risk of creating ads that aren’t truly representative of the diverse communities in which we live.

You believe that clients sometimes have to be challenged when creating diverse ads. Why is this the case?

Jason Rosario –

Both agencies and clients are responsible for getting diverse storytelling right, and sometimes one party has to step in to reset expectations, offer guidance and point out any blind spots that may exist. Being able to have open discussions about the proposed creative enables us to gently push clients in a direction that perhaps feels foreign but is genuine and inspiring for the diverse audience at hand, as well as the general public.

In those instances, we help clients understand which dimensions of diversity they can speak on credibly, and help them develop the language to do so. It’s important that the story not only feels authentic for diverse viewers the ad is speaking to but is also authentic for the brand. If there is a disconnect between the message and the brand’s mission and values, people will be quick to point it out or may ignore the inauthentic message altogether. To avoid this, agencies and brands must be comfortable pushing one another in the early stages of development.

Why shouldn’t diversity be thought of as a “check the box” exercise?

Jason Rosario –

“Checking the box” means that diversity is an afterthought in the ad, when in fact it must be ingrained into the fabric of the story. Many of the most successful ads featuring diversity don’t simply cast diverse characters, they tell inspiring and relatable stories about those characters that real people can relate to and learn from. At BBDO, we truly believe that representation alone does not make for a great ad. There needs to be a compelling story told in order for people to have a positive emotional reaction to the work. This is why brands and agencies must dig deeper and go beyond a simple checkmark.

How can ad testing make diverse ads more effective?

Jason Rosario –

Ad testing can be extremely enlightening, whether it’s in the storyboard stage, animatic or even a finished draft. Ad testing that reports on viewers’ emotions can help agencies and brands better understand whether the intended feelings of happiness are being felt, whether feelings of sadness are being successfully resolved by the end of the ad or whether negative emotions like anger or disgust are present.

Additionally, testing that highlights insights from the general population as well as custom samples featuring viewers from underrepresented groups can showcase how the ad will impact long-term brand building among these audiences. Having this information available before launching an ad is a gamechanger – it can reconfirm that the project has accomplished its planned objectives, or it can provide useful recommendations for pivoting in a new direction.

What is your favorite diverse ad created by BBDO and why?

Jason Rosario –

My favorite piece of work comes from our BBDO India team for Ariel. The campaign is called #ShareTheLoad and has been in the market for seven years. At its core, it challenges the stereotypical gender roles by illuminating the disproportionate weight of responsibilities women carry in the home. It connects deeply to a fundamental human truth that we all deserve to be seen and treated equitably. As a man who has worked to dismantle patriarchal norms both in and out the workplace, it was particularly powerful to see this work come to light for one of our most important clients.

Learn more about the brands that are getting it right when it comes to diverse advertising, and best practices that you can apply within your organization to create effective diverse ads.

Get In Touch

Got a Marketing problem? We'd love to hear about it. Tell us what you're looking for and we'll get in touch ASAP.