Exploring Diverse Advertising in the UK and U.S.

Diversity and inclusion are high on the agenda in British and American marketing. We’ve published Feeling Seen reports in both markets demonstrating how effective diverse advertising can be. But it’s no surprise that there are significant differences between what works in the UK and the U.S. Respecting and celebrating difference is at the heart of Feeling Seen – and that goes for different countries too.

Here are the four things to bear in mind when looking at the differences and similarities between the two markets:

1. UK: Feeling Seen Feels Better

Two insights are central to Feeling Seen – “Feeling Seen Feels Good” and “Diverse Advertising Unites Us.” Both are true in the U.S. and Britain, but the emphasis is different.

In Britain, we see more ads get a “diversity dividend” – an uplift in effectiveness among the featured group – and these diversity dividends are larger. There are more ads, like IKEA’s and Pataks’, where representation alone is enough to earn the dividend – simply seeing people like you on screen drives positive emotion. In Britain, feeling seen really does feel good.

In the U.S., there are fewer diversity dividend ads and some where effectiveness actually drops among the featured group. And representation isn’t always enough on its own – ads need to go further into advocacy and allyship. Feeling seen needs to go hand in hand with being heard.

This trend is almost certainly down to the higher, more diverse U.S. population – specialist agencies thrive, like those for African American and Hispanic consumers, and that’s made mainstream advertising more diverse too. Representation has been rarer on UK screens, so it’s a few years behind the U.S. in this.

2. U.S.: Diverse Advertising Unites Us

The other key Feeling Seen insight is “Diverse Advertising Unites Us.” This one holds truer in the U.S., where explicitly diverse advertising scores far higher than average among the general public. Despite political divisions, American audiences like to see diversity on screen and brands promoting greater understanding and opportunities for diverse groups.

We see the same trend in the UK, but not as strongly. In Britain, the diversity dividends among featured groups are what stands out from the data. In the U.S., it’s the overall emotional uplift that comes when brands make diverse ads.

There are two reasons this might be occurring. One is that diversity-themed ads in the U.S. are more of a contrast to the average, highly product-focused U.S. ad. They are more likely to have right-brained elements – dialogue, strong characters, a story and moments of human connection – which drive effectiveness.

The other is that diversity is something America as a culture aspires to – the American ideal is a country where anyone can overcome obstacles and thrive. Whatever the reality, diverse ads retell that story in ways people like.

3. Different Cultures, Different Ads

Beyond both of those nuances, there are general differences in what U.S. and UK audiences respond to. These don’t change just because an ad is diverse.

American audiences in general respond better to overt sentimentality, to didactic ads and bold statements, and to appeals to patriotism than British audiences do. Some of the most successful U.S. ads in the study – like American Airlines’ ad – combined diversity with patriotic themes.

British audiences are more likely to enjoy low-key storytelling, nostalgia, and ordinary “slice-of-life” narratives, like Cadburys’ “Fence.” While humour is rare in diverse advertising, it turns up more often in the UK, with ads like Maltesers’ “Boyfriend.”

These are generalisations and won’t apply to every ad in each country, but they’re a reminder that the pursuit of diversity doesn’t erase existing cultural differences.

4. Similar as well as Different

Finally, it’s worth emphasising that a lot of what we found in Feeling Seen was very similar in each country! The two main insights above are true in both, just to different degrees. Other insights – like the need to tell stories about somebody, not everybody, and how vital it is to show the joy in diverse communities, not just their problems – seem to be universal.

For a closer look at the companies getting diverse advertising right and the insights that can help your brand or agency make effective diverse ads, download our Feeling Seen reports.

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