Study: Americans want more diversity in ads

Honey Maid commercial
Source: Honey Maid | YouTube

As American families become more diverse, companies are learning their advertising also has to become more inclusive.

A new study by BabyCenter and market research company YouGov that surveyed over 2,000 people finds that 80 percent of parents like to see diverse families in advertisements. Sixty-six percent said that brands that showed reverence for all kinds of families was a considering factor when purchasing a product.

When it comes to millennial parents, the openness to accepting interracial and LGBT families is more pronounced. About 2 in 5 millennial parents said they were more likely to purchase products from companies that feature diverse families in their ads. Seven in 10 have actively not bought something because they did not agree with what the company stood for.

The results and implications of the survey will be further discussed on Saturday at the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas.

"The fact is nearly half of millennial parents are more likely to talk to their friends about products that include diverse family types in their ads," said Julie Michaelson, head of global sales for BabyCenter, a family advice website owned by Johnson & Johnson. "It's very, very important to have that talk about your brand be positive and not negative."

The changing attitudes reflect the increase in different families in the U.S. The survey found that 40 percent of families reflect "modern" types, meaning single-parent households, co-habitating (non-married) parents, LGBTQ parents, mixed-race parents and households with a stay-at-home dad.

Still, it is hard to deny that there is often controversy when diverse families are featured in ad campaigns. Tylenol's #HowWeFamily campaign highlighted some LGBT households, and got some backlash. Cheerios gained some negative attention after it had an interracial family in its commercials. Honey Maid was in the national spotlight when it showed LGBT families in its "This is Wholesome" campaign. Wells Fargo faced a boycott from Billy Graham churches when it showed a lesbian couple adopting a child.

The negativity is mostly a vocal minority being amplified by the press and social media, said Michaelson.

"Social media is playing a huge role in that," she said. "You are not going to please 100 percent of the people all the time. On the flip side, when that does happen, you're going to have this overwhelmingly positive response, too."

Chloe Gottlieb, senior vice president and executive creative director at R/GA, believes the antagonism is more a reflection of older generations. As younger people with more open minds become more important, brands will have to adopt their values.

"We are still in a transition time," said Gottlieb. "Brands are being brave, but there are still some people who aren't as comfortable, and they are reflecting it back."

Michaelson pointed out the need to be authentic with your messaging in order to resonate with core consumers.

"We heard a lot from the moms that when gay marriage was passed, a lot of brands jumped on that bandwagon and had a lot of flags all over their advertising," she said. "That's not how to do it. If that representation doesn't feel real, it can really backfire on their brand.

However, to accurately reflect multicultural and LGBT families, the advertising world is going to have to change as well. As with many careers, Gottlieb pointed out that men and women start out in equal numbers, but there is a huge drop off in women advertising leaders in the C-suite and vice president level.

The lack of minorities has been documented as well, and it's hard to represent different viewpoints when varied opinions aren't there.

Gottlieb added that studies like this help prove the need for diversity in the advertising agency world.

"My hope is that agencies are starting to wake up and see that there is a disconnect between the people who are creating the marketing and who they are marketing to," she said.