News & Views

Opinion / Diversity Isn’t Just About Other People

by Simon Kemp


Simon Kemp, Insider’s Head of APAC, offers a series of practical tips to help marketers embrace diversity, and identify richer insights in the process.



Once again, diversity is one of the hottest topics reverberating around the Palais and the parties in Cannes.

Sadly, precious little seems to have changed since the eerily similar conversations of this time last year – and the year before that.

We continue to lament our industry’s woeful lack of diversity, yet we’ve made disappointingly little progress in delivering any kind of meaningful change.

So how do we break this cycle?

The obvious answer is that we must urgently and proactively change the way we build our teams – we must ensure that our companies appeal to people across the spectrums of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and lifestyle, and we must actively bring that diversity into our teams too.

But diversity isn’t just about other people.

We all need to be more diverse in our thinking and approach.

The rationale for diversity

As advertisers, we should be no strangers to differentiation. It’s the guiding principle in almost everything we do.

However, advertising people are a remarkably homogenous bunch, regardless of whether they’re brand- or agency-side.

Technologies like social media and streaming content have brought us closer together – we can now watch the same shows, listen to the same bands, and share our favourite ads from every corner of the globe – but these tools are also resulting in a convergence of our references and ideas.

They result in ever-tighter echo chambers that limit our inspiration and reduce our potential for truly innovative creativity.

As a result, we’re losing our ability to create differentiated brands and work.

So, how do we escape the homogeneity?

Ironically, the same tools that have helped bring about these ‘filter bubbles’ can also help us to escape them.

Anthropology by technology

Technology may be fostering an increasingly homogenous ‘global culture’, but public social platforms like Instagram and Twitter, and global content platforms like Netflix and Spotify, can also help us to see the world from a variety of different perspectives.

These perspectives won’t be representative of everyone in the world of course – there’s still a degree of selection bias, even when platforms count their users in the billions – but by building carefully curated feeds, these platforms can broaden our horizons and help us embrace far greater diversity.

The tips below are based on my experiments over the past few years, but it’s worth stressing that finding your own, unique set of influences is the key to making this work for you.

Twitter

Twitter’s 328 million users rarely represent the mainstream, but it’s precisely because the platform is so rich in ‘outlier’ perspectives that it is such a valuable source of insight.

The best way to use of Twitter in this context is to create Twitter lists (read this guide to learn how) that are deliberately rich in contradictory or opposing perspectives, and then use a free tool like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to browse this content on an ongoing basis.

For example, I’ve got a ‘Diverse News’ list that includes The New York Times, Breitbart News, The BBC, Al Jazeera, China’s People’s Daily, The Tehran Times, and a wealth of other news outlets from around the world.



The purpose of this list isn’t just to get the headlines, though; it’s designed to help me understand how different countries and cultures treat the same world events and stories.

Despite the inevitable bias of its English-language focus, it’s remarkable how much this small list has re-shaped my understanding of how the world works, and broadened my thinking on just about every topic.

This approach isn’t just relevant to tracking current affairs, though; you can create Twitter lists for just about any topic, from fashion to food to finance and beyond.

Instagram

If you spend all day, every day working on the same brand or in the same category, it’s easy to develop ‘tunnel vision’ that limits innovation and differentiation.

Instagram is one of the quickest and easiest ways to break out of this, but I also find it’s one of the richest sources of insight.

You may need to wade through a few irrelevant posts and the occasional piece of #NSFW content to find inspiration, but hashtags will make this quest easier.

For example, if you work for a fashion brand, try scrolling through Instagram’s search results for the #fashion hashtag – all 386 million of them.

You may dismiss these ‘top-level’ hashtags as being too generic or obvious, but if you try that same search now, you’ll quickly notice that your personal concept of ‘fashion’ doesn’t match that of everybody who’s using the hashtag.



And that’s exactly what you want.

The aim is not to judge, either. Resist the temptation to apply existing perspectives and prejudices as you scroll through the feed, and actively look for things that don’t match your worldview.

As you dig deeper into individual posts, you’ll likely find other hashtags that crop up frequently in the same posts. For example, #OOTD (outfit of the day), #style and #look are common tags for fashion-related posts.

A quick scroll through these other hashtags will give you a slightly different perspective on the same topic, and these subtle differences can help to challenge preconceptions and inspire new ideas.

You may also want to explore more specific tags like #ArabFashion and #LondonStyle, which will offer more niche insights into culture and context around the world.

You’ll find hashtags for almost everything on Instagram, but I’ve found this approach is particularly useful for exploring ‘lifestyle’ categories like beauty, automotive, food, and alcohol.


Netflix

If you’re looking for some more ‘passive’ inspiration, Netflix is a great place to start. You’ll obviously need an account, and the available content will vary by country, but I’ve found plenty of surprises and new perspectives even in a ‘smaller’ market like Singapore.

For example, as part of a recent brief, I was looking for some nuanced insights into Japanese culture, so I did a quick search for content designed for Japanese audiences (almost every Netflix show includes English subtitles).



I ended up watching Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories and Terrace House; both are totally different in style, content and approach, but each gave me intriguing insights into Japanese content preferences, as well as some new perspectives on Japanese culture. I then strayed into Netflix’s immense collection of Japanese anime, but that’s a story for another day…

Depending on which category your brand operates in, you may be able to find some direct inspiration. For example, if you work on a food brand, Netflix’s broad selection of cookery and food shows from around the world should help you uncover a wealth of new insights and ideas.

However, this approach isn’t just about looking for direct answers. I’ve found that watching foreign language movies – or even a different genre to my usual preference – helps to activate different parts of my brain and inspires more diverse ideas.

Some ‘lo-fi’ options

It’s not just new technology that can broaden the diversity of your perspectives, though; you can often find rich insights just by walking out of your front door and looking up.

For example, take a ride on public transport, and watch the behaviour of your fellow travellers. If you take a morning commute, put your devices away, turn off your music for a while, and indulge in some people watching.

It might seem a bit overwhelming at first – our instinct is often to try to create a personal space ‘bubble’ when we get onto public transport – but you only need to do this for a few minutes to get some interesting, new perspectives. What devices are people using? What are people doing on those devices? Which brands are most popular? What are the different fashions?

You can take this a step further by using different modes of transport too; try catching the bus if you’re normally a subway person, or even taking a different subway line to see if the crowd is different.

The same approach works in cafés and restaurants too; grab a drink, put your devices away, and just watch people for a while.

Parting thought

None of the suggestions above can fix issues like the lack of gender and racial diversity in our industry, and I’d like to stress that addressing these issues should be a top priority for all of us.

However, by opening our own minds to a greater diversity of influence and inspiration, we’ll better understand the value that such diversity can bring, and hopefully we’ll understand how to embrace it too.

So, don’t just ‘think different’; do different too.