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‘Token black person’ ads unpopular with viewers

TOKENISM: Consumers are sceptical of brands that feature a single black person in adverts with a group of white people, according to new research

VIEWERS FIND adverts that feature one black person as part of a group of white people “tokenistic”, a new report has found.

While brands’ efforts to jump on the diversity bandwagon has seen the number of black and ethnic minority people in adverts become more common, the way in which they have been incorporated does not impress many viewers.

Data from focus group interviews indicates that consumers are sceptical of brands that attempt to seek favour with audiences by including a lone ethnic minority person, also referred to as “the one black friend”, in white groups.

A study of 1,000 adverts broadcast in the UK in 2018 found that 37 per cent of advertisements featured black people. They make up 3 per cent of the population.

The survey found that ethnic minorities believed the representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in commercials was poor, with just 28 per cent of BAME individuals believing they were well represented compared to 41 per cent of the entire population.

“Many minorities criticise brands for ‘trying too hard’ to show diversity through shallow representation of different groups,” The Times reported the researchers wrote.

“Across groups, many criticise how BAME characters are still shown as the ‘one black friend’ within a group of white people.”

Instead of the token approach, respondents said they want adverts to showcase ethnic minority people in a way that recognises their distinctive cultures and does not simply depict them “assimilating” and engaging in “stereotypically British things”.

As part of its bid to improve inclusion in advertising, Channel 4 launched a Diversity in Advertising award.

This year’s focus is LGBT+ representation.

The award, which grants the winner £1 million worth of commercial airtime, will be given to the entry that “puts people from the LGBT+ community at the heart of their advertising without being tokenistic”.

Matt Salmon, Channel 4’s head of agency and client sales, said: “Our study, and the focus groups we conducted alongside it, showed that despite the lip service paid to diversity, there’s still a long way to go before we have authentic representation in television ads.

“Channel 4 is determined to drive change in this area and we particularly want to challenge advertisers to up their game in the representation of people from the LGBT+ community.”

LGBT+ people appear in 3 per cent of adverts and make up six per cent of the population.

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