‘Return on inclusion is the new ROI’ 

Put DEI at the heart of creativity and you can win more than awards, says Creative Equals’ Ali Hanan

The tide is turning in the creative world – brands have awoken to the importance and value of building campaigns centred around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Finally, the drive for impact is taking the place of performative action and we are here to celebrate every moment of it.

Culture-shifting creativity that addresses issues of inequality, prejudice and discrimination is no longer the reserve of the Glass Lion. In fact, in 2022, 50% of Titanium winners had a DEI focus and covered a range of issues, from women’s health to neurodiversity.

When campaigns go beyond diverse representation into a space that creates impact, the results can be life changing for individuals and the communities they live in. Take the Morning After Island campaign from the Strategic Group for the Emergency Contraceptive Pill (GE-PAE). For over a decade, GE-PAE faced a serious headwind in its fight to repeal the prohibition of the morning after pill in Honduras – the only Latin American country to ban this contraception.

So, the GE-PAE took action and built a floating platform off the coast of the Latin American nation where they could legally provide the pill to hundreds of women in need. The real-world impact has been outstanding; in March this year, the president of Honduras, Xiomara Castro, signed an executive order ending the ban on emergency contraception. Judges awarded the campaign eight Cannes Lions including Golds in Health & Wellness, Glass, and Brand Experience & Activation.

Hidden figures 

WeCapital’s Data Tienda is another fresh take on a systemic problem. Millions of low-income women in Mexico cannot study or start a business because they do not have access to bank credit. In response, financial institution WeCapital worked with DDB Mexico to collect payment records from small neighbourhood businesses to help these women build a credit history that guarantees their access to the financial sector and enables them to achieve financial inclusion, economic autonomy and empowerment.

Since the platform’s launch, more than 10,300 women have registered to build their credit history and more than 2,300 women have received microloans for their businesses and study plans. The project also won Grands Prix in the Creative Data and Glass categories at Cannes last year.

This line-up of excellence is not complete without a look at Vaseline’s See My Skin. Systemic racism and deep-rooted healthcare inequities in the US have long led to misdiagnosis and untreated conditions, which can be attributed to the lack of imagery available of conditions on Black and Brown skin. To address this, Vaseline – with Edelman, New York – aggregated thousands of images highlighting conditions on these skin types to build the world’s most diverse medical image library.

As a brand that exists to give everybody healthy skin, Vaseline committed to raising awareness of the racially biased systems that impact algorithmic search, providing proper representation and access to equal care, and most of all, helping these communities be seen. The result at Cannes Lions? Gold in Sustainable Development Goals and a Bronze in Health & Wellness.

There were many more brands in the 2022 Cannes Lions cohort whose award-winning work has been the foundation for positive impact, including Whisper’s The Missing Chapter, Harley-Davidson’s Tough Turban and Samsung’s Quest for Dyslexia.

Pain points 

As we reach the halfway point of 2023, it’s clear brands’ momentum with driving impact remains strong. Nurofen recently launched the second phase of its ground-breaking See My Pain campaign, in which the brand, working with McCann London, shines a light on how medical professionals often dismiss the pain of women.

Efrain Ayala, global creativity and diversity and inclusion director at Reckitt and a 2023 Glass Jury member, explains that simply representing diversity in communications and services is not enough to make a real impact: ‘Consumers are looking for more, demanding that the brands they support are actively involved in creating a better world. This can only be achieved by brands understanding how their products and services can make a positive contribution to society. Establishing a meaningful connection between a brand’s offerings and the greater good will result in a truly measurable impact on society, while also driving bottom-line growth.’

For brands to continue turning big visions into radical initiatives, they must ensure diversity is at the creative table in the first place. After all, who makes the work, shapes the work. Not only will brands with a genuine commitment to DEI be building fairer and more equal societies, they will also reap the rewards of the new ROI: the return on inclusion.

So, are you in it to be performative or to drive impact? Only one of these has the potential to change the world.

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