As marketers, we spend an extraordinary amount of money ensuring we are advertising in safe environments and we have made huge leaps forward. The Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM), for instance, was set up to help advertisers more confidently navigate the inventory their advertising is funding, and to reduce the availability and monetisation of harmful content. It has been an unequivocal success, and that’s a strong starting point for the industry to now leap from. 

But it seems odd that we solely rate media as either safe or harmful, as if those were the only two possible categories. Safety is important, but why don’t we place the same value on identifying content that isn’t just brand-safe but actually brilliant for society? Content that is supporting inclusive and diverse narratives and people that reflect our vibrant nation and our evolving cultural identity? Where monetising under-represented voices whose content represents true reach to all audiences, some of whom may be alienated by the mainstream?

This kind of media investment activism is the focus of the session I will be chairing at MAD//Fest 2023, where we’re delighted to be hearing from panellists including Isabel Massey from Diageo, Deborah Gbadamosi from diversity media specialist Brand Advance Group, Maya Orr of influencer agency Connect and indie planning and buying specialist 16x9’s Elizabeth Anyaegbuna.

Often, conversations about inclusivity in advertising revolve around brands who have commendably changed the narrative of their creative. But changing the media narrative is both more complicated and, ultimately, more meaningful - and advertising budgets represent a huge force for change.

Diageo, a client of ours, has already laid down a marker in this department, with a meaningful shift in investment - on a global scale - into platforms and publishers who are making mainstream media more inclusive. It’s a complicated process, involving carefully identifying diverse owned and operated media suppliers as well as underrepresented programming and voices on mainstream channels and shifting investment priorities. Inevitably, using smaller publishers and suppliers can mean an initial weakening of KPIs. Our work with Diageo has proven out the effectiveness of these channels over time, and so its vital advertisers stay on course. 

But as well as being the right thing to do, helping to broaden the range of progressive inventory sources is not a charitable venture but a smart one. The UK may lack well-established, well-funded diverse media, but it certainly doesn’t lack diverse audiences, and if brands are to reach them, they need to fund the media platforms that speak to all.

Part of the goal, of course, is not only to boost diverse media, but to urge the mainstream to embrace a more diverse outlook too. We’d love to see commercial broadcasters consistently and un-sensationally bringing non-white, non-hetero, non-orthodox lives and spectacles onto the national schedules, whether that’s lesbian dating, or Muslim comedy, or women’s sport. We know audiences are there, and we also know that, if they are served content that reflects their passions, they will grow fast.

Investment from brands can jump-start content that risk-averse broadcasters and publishers might judge to be unviable - and demonstrate that, when a niche becomes big enough, it is not a niche anymore, but a worthy part of the mainstream.

These are the subjects we’ll be discussing - how to bring out new, diverse voices, from publishers to influencers; how to challenge entrenched attitudes at an editorial level that dictate what’s interesting or relevant; how, as marketers, we can achieve reach, invest productively and create cost-positive campaigns in these developing environments.

For the media, this is a huge and meaningful challenge, and one that deserves every bit as much focus as the obsession with media safety. Since we seem to have mastered the art of pouring fortunes into doing no harm, maybe now is the time to divert some of that money into doing good.

Hannah will be chairing a panel on this topic at MAD//Fest in July.