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In November 2022, the Association for National Advertisers’ Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing (AIMM) launched its latest annual diversity report for the advertising and marketing industry. The report found overall ethnic skew across the industry was sitting at 32.3% diverse, up from 30.8% the year prior. This contrasts with a US Census 2020 ethnicity skew of 42% diverse.

While they might be US figures, the sentiment fuelling the report and transparency it provides is something the Australian marketing and advertising industry should sit up and take notice of. With Australia’s multicultural population now sitting at 51.5%, impetus for Australia’s marketing and advertising industry to embrace culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people across the supply chain and ecosystem, as well as through campaigns and creative executions, is more critical than ever.

The report is one of many resources created by the AIMM to lift multicultural representation across the marketing and advertising industry itself, as well as in campaigns and creative. The AIMM has also created a certified diverse suppliers list and has many other programs advocating for a more culturally inclusive industry.

It’s worth noting the AIMM is part of the ANA’s CMO Growth Council, formed to build a roadmap for driving business growth through marketing. Through all 12 key ambitions, multicultural marketing and cultural inclusion appears as a key lever of growth, with 40 per cent multicultural diversity the target in the supply chain.

Championing inclusivity should be obvious to marketers and business leaders: It makes commercial and brand sense. Cultural diversity can foster innovation, fresh ideas and perspectives, leading to better representation of modern society in products and services. By contrast, a lack of ethnic inclusion can lead to poor business outcomes and stifle growth.

For example, the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) Global DEI Census 2023 found ethnic minorities are twice as likely to leave the industry due to a lack of inclusion and/or discrimination. What’s more, 30% of ethnic minorities believe their ethnicity is hindering their careers versus 13% of the ethnic majority.

Externally, in marketing and campaign execution, diversity and inclusion has demonstrated impact through more authentic engagement with consumers. Inclusivity is also what consumers demand from brands as part of a broader push to see organisations take responsibility for the role they play in society and sustainability, and to be more representative of the social fabric.

Yet in Australia, multicultural diversity remains little considered. While gender, sexuality and First Nations representation have gained the spotlight in Australia, what’s less proactively pursued is ethnic and multicultural inclusivity. With half the population boasting multicultural backgrounds, this is a gap marketing can’t afford to ignore any longer.

Glaring gaps in the marketing supply chain

Many in the marketing and advertising ecosystem agree we continue to suffer underrepresentation of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people in the supply chain. The glaring gaps for Avish Gordhan, Chief Creative Officer at Dentsu Creative, are not just in creative output, but diversity of creative teams developing the work audiences consume.

“Despite the importance of every aspect of the media supply chain to reach multicultural Australia, the things audiences consume are not media placements, strategies or digital ecosystems: Audiences consume content that is made by creative people,” he said.

“If we do not get the voices of diverse Australia into our businesses to create the content that will talk to our evolving Australian demographic, we will struggle to reach audiences effectively. Or we will have to rely, foolishly, on the hope these newest generations of Australians will assimilate to the ideas of a creative workforce that only represents one portion of the country.” Gordhan says

Gordhan believed industry needs to work harder on looking beyond representation as a tool to reaching diverse audiences. “We need to understand them and their lives more intimately.”

This lack of multicultural representation can be seen in the influencer marketing ecosystem. “From a brand perspective, there is a tendency to focus on major Anglo-centric holidays such as Mother’s Day and Christmas, while often ignoring the celebrations and observances of faith-based holidays such as Diwali and Ramadan,” Born Bred Talent founder, Clare Winterbourne, said.

“To truly embrace the multiculturalism that is now the mainstream, it is crucial for brands to recognise and celebrate the diversity of their audience. This means actively seeking out and collaborating with multicultural creators and partners who can authentically represent different cultural backgrounds and experiences. By doing so, brands can foster a more inclusive and representative influencer marketing landscape that resonates with the diverse population of Australia.”

 

Thinkerbell brand strategy chief, Katrina Khao, sees gaps wherever she looks. “Whilst I often hear ‘just hire more diverse people’, in my opinion that’s quite a shallow view of the problem,” she said. “In order to be able to hire more diverse talent, people, agencies and so forth, there needs to be the supply to match the demand. Which there currently isn’t. We need to help create supply by finding ways to help unblock pathways for those who are underrepresented with a focus on the macro blockers – cultural and systemic, not just the physical immediate barriers.” Digivizer founder and CEO, Emma Lo Russo, called on organisations to ensure diversity not only exists within their organisation, but within different teams and role types. “A focus on skills, aptitude, experience, potential and personal values that align with those of the organisation make a huge difference, in part because this approach removes bias from the recruitment and screening processes,” she said. Digivizer has employees who were born in India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Brazil, Norway, China (mainland and Hong Kong), Thailand, Indonesia, Burma, the US and the UK. “Multicultural representation not only best reflects the broader customer base, it delivers additional benefits. We see that in the teams we actually have,” Lo Russo said. Payoffs include diversity of thought, empathy and an understanding of audiences Digivizer and its clients seek to influence. Global market opportunities, and greater understanding of local markets, also delivers greater success.

“People, not entities, make buying decisions, and customers buy from people, not brands,” Lo Russo said. “Even in servicing these customers, it moves beyond language and is much more than translation: It’s an understanding of nuances and localisation you could not possibly otherwise know.

“We operate in the digital marketing space, which by definition is global in scope. We therefore need to have diverse cultural and international representation to ensure we can operate globally. There’s no way we can expect to understand global markets from one national or geographic perspective.”

Gordhan cited similar commercial dividends. “The quicker we recognise the economic benefit of being able to speak with authenticity, subtlety and sincerity to this growing audience, the quicker brands will gain new customers. That’s money in the bank. If you believe Byron Sharp, growth comes from gaining new customers. We have a new audience – a steadily growing multicultural audience.”

Yet against this, Khao cited the challenge of marketing being a mass market game. “It’s nearly always easier to reflect culture than it is to lead it. This creates a constant tension for people in marketing, especially those with progressive views who want to use the brands they work with to make cultural change,” she commented.

What steps do marketers and advertisers need to take?

Winterbourne shared a number of steps to help brands build more cultural diversity into influencer marketing programs and activations. The first is actively seeking out creator talent from various cultural backgrounds and collaborating to create authentic and meaningful content.

“We regularly host focus groups with our talent and engage with the wider community to gauge their responses to proposed brand campaigns,” she explained. “This helps us gather valuable insights and brainstorm ideas on how to effectively communication with niche audiences outside of the mainstream.”

Winterbourne also pointed to Born Bred’s ‘Born Blak’ joint collaboration with Publicis Groupe to create awareness and understanding of Australia’s Indigenous community.

Thinkerbell’s DE+I strategy triggered an audit on what diversity exists within the business versus the blindspots. This led to two action plans. The first is working with universities and high schools to create a pipeline of ‘Thinkers and Tinkers’ from more diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.

“Secondly, we’re reviewing our recruitment journey with the aim to remove as much unconscious bias as possible,” Khao said. “We are trying to understand how we best make sure the culture in our business is inclusive, to ensure that as we begin to focus on bringing in more diversity, we and they are set up for success.”

At Digivizer, hiring processes are designed to look for international exposure, representation, intelligence and insight. “We encourage all of our employees to participate equally, and we work to create new opportunities for them to do so. This includes gaining experience in social situations, in working groups, presentations and in developing language skills,” Lo Russo said.

“Where English is not a first language, we build in content reviews before it goes to English-speaking clients, and we focus on the strengths of the individuals who created the content, plans, programs, technology or reports.” Lo Russo said.

But barriers clearly remain. Agencies CulturalPulse spoke to across the marketing ecosystem saw CALD inclusion hindered by systemic, historical and cultural forces.

“As an industry, we struggle to attract diverse talent at a junior level. That has a generational impact on the make-up of our businesses. It explains the lack of multicultural senior leadership,” Gordhan commented. “Worryingly, it’s not getting easier to attract diverse talent to the business. We need to address the talent pipeline and work closer with educational institutions to show off this industry as a viable option for diverse talent.

“There is also a tendency to ignore the changing make-up of the country. Too often I hear the feedback clients don’t want to ‘alienate the core’. This is coded language; in essence it’s a fear-based – and somewhat naïve – statement that middle, white Australia is not ready for diversity. That fear is based in history; it comes from a time when this country was predominantly monochromatic.

“But if you look around and pay attention to other sectors of business, you see the steady transformation of those industries to be more culturally, linguistically and racially diverse. We need to stop using archaic ideas about what we think Australia is and look at the make-up of the country as it actually is.”

A common inhibitor Winterbourne spied is the lack of knowledge and prioritisation in educating oneself from the ground up.

“Brand often focus on including diversity from a visual standpoint, aiming to showcase diverse faces and backgrounds in their influencer campaigns. While this is a step in the right direction, it is crucial to go beyond surface-level representation and consider where the diverse community consume content,” she said. An opportunity is tapping non-Western social channels and platforms like Little Red Book and Weibo, or even TikTok, which boast of millions of users from non-western communities.

“Another inhibitor is the lack of knowledge and understanding among brands about diverse communities and their unique experiences,” she continued.

“Brands may unintentionally overlook important cultural nuances, resulting in missed opportunities to connect with these communities authentically. This lack of understanding can hinder the industry’s progress in fostering cultural inclusivity and limit its potential to drive revenue and acceptance in wider communities.” (Winterbourne)

Khao suggested the speed with which the industry operates isn’t helping matters. “This means we are always looking to the people we trust and have worked with before for efficiency’s sake. But that means it’s difficult to consider new suppliers, without unconsciously thinking ‘that’ll be too hard and take too long’,” she said. “The second is the fear of getting it wrong.”

But Lo Russo disagreed there’s a dearth of multicultural talent in the digital marketing analytics and digital marketing services space. “If barriers exist, they are likely to be more at national policy levels. Any such barriers can apply – or be applied – in any direction,” she said. “When we do see obstructions, for example visa restrictions, they apply in multiple contexts. But these obstacles are driven by or reflect government policy, not the result of multicultural constraints.”

Finding the right measurement

So are specific metrics, KPIs, insights and frameworks that can help improve multicultural representation in the media and marketing supply chain? For Gordhan, measurement comes back to attentiveness and deliberateness.

“Look at every part of the process with a multicultural lens and decide where the opportunities exist to bring in diversity. From a creative perspective, look specifically at the production process: Can you incorporate diversity with talent, musicians, directors and crew?” he asked.

Gordhan also advised marketing teams to audit their work at least twice a year – and extend this to suppliers. “Do you have multicultural representation in your research and strategy partners, amongst your media planners, in your creative teams? If you don’t, you need to ask your suppliers to show you they understand the changing shape of the Australian audience.”

Another critical point in pushing transformation is to recognise accountability lies with both the agency and client. “If the people holding the purse strings were only to engage suppliers who have a diversity ratio they find acceptable, the supply chain will change accordingly. Nothing transforms businesses quicker than a threat to new business,” Gordhan argued.  But there’s recognition closing the gap can’t be done all at once.

“The challenge with shifting towards a more diverse and multicultural supply chain is daunting for most,” Gordhan admitted. “So focus on three or four things you want to transform and deliver that before moving on.”

Born Bred head of First Nations creator development, Ash Jackson, agreed specific metrics can help the industry improve multicultural representation in the influencer marketing supply chain. For example, some brands and clients have started taking steps towards improving multicultural representation quotas per campaigns. Born Bred measures, KPIs and creates outcomes to hold itself accountable and progress multicultural representation. Another initiative is the First Nations Creator Development channel. “We actively put forward First Nations talent to brands for creative concept development. This allows brands to not only access diverse perspectives and nuances from First Nations talent but also actively educate themselves on First Nation perspectives,” Jackson said.  Born Bred Talent’s aim is continuously growing its First Nations Creator Roster by at least 33% year-on-year. “However, it is essential to move beyond quotas and consider the broader context of cultural understanding and education,” Jackson said. “While many brands express an interest in engaging with diverse groups, there is often a lack of education and commitment to learning about different cultural groups prior to enlisting multicultural talent. To truly improve multicultural representation, brands must invest in education and cultural competency. This includes understanding the nuances, traditions and values of diverse communities and approaching collaborations with sensitivity and respect.”

For Khao, the “sheer awkwardness and fear of getting it wrong or being ‘exposed’ for not having everything together” can cause inaction as well as a fear of setting up measurements that expose gaps.

“I think standardised measures / frameworks can be quite daunting and difficult to get a large volume of businesses to take on. Instead, measure your business against yourself,” she advised. “Do an audit, understand where your baseline is and set incremental and achievable goals. The incremental and achievable part is really important because the journey to progress in this space can feel pretty hard.” Lo Russo saw value in reporting the DEI mix, but a risk in attaching KPIs to multicultural representation. “Performance and associated attributes such as attitude, acquiring new skills, and improvements to the way individuals work, are all under the control of the individual,” she said. “Their cultural background is given. Company cultures can and should, in my view, promote diversity, but company cultures are frameworks in which individuals operate and perform.” For instance, marketing programs and strategies that include global sales or market development across multiple cultures, markets, nations or regions do need to include multicultural references as part of their programs’ objectives. “If a company does not have the right multicultural inputs or sensitivities, or if the thinking and strategic development is not diverse enough, those programs will fail for these reasons,” Lo Russo added.

Where multicultural supply chains make an impact?

When multicultural is present in the marketing and advertising supply chain, results are compelling. Born Bred observed significant lifts in results achieved in multiculturally-oriented influencer marketing supply chains.

“When we see campaigns that genuinely seek to speak to a wider audience and take into account these cultural nuances, we have observed a significant uplift in results. By leveraging cross-platform content and tailoring it to fit specific platforms such as Instagram, TikTok or Little Red Book, brands can effectively reach and engage with diverse audiences,” Jackson said.

A brand that stands out for Jackson is David Jones and its commitment to authentic multicultural influencer marketing strategies. This has included actively collaborating with diverse creators who represent a range of cultures and backgrounds. “David Jones not only showcases diversity but also celebrates the rich tapestry of Australian multiculturalism. Their efforts go beyond just visual representation as they engage with influencers who can authentically connect with their respective communities across multi-platform endeavours,” Jackson said.

“Cotton On is another brand making strides in promoting cultural diversity in influencer marketing. The brand has been actively partnering with creators from different cultural backgrounds, ensuring campaigns resonate with a wide range of audiences.

“Both David Jones and Cotton On exemplify brands that go beyond surface-level diversity and focus on creating authentic and culturally sensitive influencer marketing strategies. They recognise the importance of representation and are actively seeking to creators who can connect with diverse audiences. By doing so, these brands are not only expanding their reach but also fostering a sense of inclusivity and cultural appreciation.”

Gordhan has hands-on experience of Tourism Australia’s Indigenous consultation in strategic and creative development processes.

“The brand is constantly pushing for active involvement from diverse communities in the creation and delivery of work,” Gordhan said. “From musicians to writers to performers, cultural diversity is not only incorporated in a passive, consultative manner.”

“Instead, diversity is part of the creation process. As a result, there is an authenticity to the work. That authenticity has a tangible value; it builds trust within diverse communities, it broadens everyone’s [suppliers, creators and customers’] relationships with the brand, and it creates the opportunity for more insightful and impactful collaboration in the future.” (Gordhan)