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Inclusive advertising needs to start at the pitch

To make sure what you're saying is truly exclusive and representative, it needs to start at the pitch.

Yes. Don't worry. The Hippos are back. 
(If you want to be in on the joke look back at the first piece in this series and the second). 
You’ll also find some brilliant insights. 
(However, as a recap, to keep some continuity in this run of pieces we’ve created a fictional world where a group of Hippos ((the dominant majority)) run an ad agency). 
But for now, back to the hallowed halls of Hippo, Hippo, Crocodile and Lemur where the Hippos are in a quandary. And most likely a mudhole. 
They are up for a pitch. It’s a really big account. 
They’ve nailed every other aspect. The idea is incredible (a conceit based on a pun on the Greek goddess Hippolyta). The Strategy is strong. The cost is comparable. 
Sadly, though, their DE&I is disastrous. 
Humperdink, the planning Hippo who is smart but a bit unscrupulous looks at Coco (The Crocodile) who’s also a bit of a wrong’un, and whispers something. 
What are they going to do? 

What they shouldn’t do, but what we are hearing many agencies are doing, is say they are diverse, or propose diversity and inclusion in their campaigns or comms in the pitch, then turn their back on that when they actually make the campaign. Using DE&I, or the promise of it, as a tool to win a pitch - not make better work

We put our heads together and tried to work out why this might be. 

To falsely create the impression that DE&I is something that is fundamental to their philosophy and process? To gain a competitive advantage, given the growing need for clients to align themselves with agencies who understand how important this is? To mask the fact that they have a total lack of diversity in their staff makeup? That they fear being left behind, but think it's too difficult or costly to do the right thing and hire/think inclusively?  Essentially many lead with being performative in pitches rather than having a real intention to do it - instead preferring to spend that money on production or “something cool”. 

And most worrying of all. They think they can get away with it. And, it seems, some have. 

Which is worrying, for a number of reasons. 

If that agency presents a diverse strategy, or worse, work that you have been led to believe has been checked or will be checked within a community, it is speaking to but hasn’t, then your work has a real chance of hugely blowing up in your face. At best, that community merely ignores you in future. At worst, a massive PR nightmare that could bring the whole company down. Both are not great outcomes. 

This unchecked work will also totally miss the real community view and create a falsehood, a masquerade - merely adding to the issues we have as an industry - not solving them at all. 

But, most importantly for you as marketers, without actually investing this time and money into the DE&I angles in the pitch, you might just miss out on finding new audiences or new insights from those communities that could become major revenue streams. We regularly get feedback from the communities we speak to and the testing we do shows that products are used in different ways in different communities. Clever brands can then remake, re-launch and re-position to realise some new revenue streams. 

This happened with Arla who found through our research that one of their products was used far more by one specific community than any other, and, critically, in a completely different way to what they thought. By re-working their comms and approach they opened up a huge new revenue stream beyond their competitors. 

Taking DE&I seriously can also lead to much better work, from a societal perspective and for your awards cabinet. This year 74% of Cannes Lions were purpose-driven, and purpose-driven Cannes Grand Prix winners were peaking; they were only 66% in 2016,  and a trifling 17% in 2012.

But to be honest, we didn't spend too long on the why and what ifs, because that’s not who we are. For us, it's not so much about the issues, but much more about how to fix them. 

So we put the heads back together for a little longer and came up with some thoughts about how you can avoid any of this at the pitch stage. 

Firstly, don’t take anything told to you in a pitch process at face value, ask for further explanation, evidence even, of where and how any collaboration with us, or anyone else, made a difference.

Ask much more specific questions about other DE&I campaigns they have worked on and how they handled them - who they worked with and how they made sure the work was authentic and representative

Ask them if and how their business practices are up to DE&I standards. What initiatives have they done? What change are they making? This will show you if there is a real intent to actually do what they say they are going to do, or spend the money they say they are going to spend.  


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