Advertising through the ages: minority groups

Minority groups: Group of multi ethnic team having a meeting in office. Business team having discussion over new project.
Jacob Lund / Alamy Stock Photo

Create advertisements that meet the demands of your audience and explore the growth of diversity in advertising.

We’re back with the next blog in our ‘advertising through the ages‘ series, to delve into the representation of two of the most talked about minority groups in advertising. We’ll also bring you up to speed on the expectations placed on advertisers today to meet the changing demands of their audiences.

So, what do we mean by a minority group?

Quite simply, a minority group is labelled as such because it is not a ‘majority’. The most common minority groups that frequently reach the media include people with differing abilities, ethnicity, religion, sexuality or gender. The advertising world has travelled a long way to get to where we are today, but there are growing societal pressures placed on advertisers to embrace diversity in every form.

Statistics show that in 2011, just 5% of UK advertisements featured minorities, compared to 2016 where figures were sitting at around 19%. Despite this showing an improvement, it also highlights that there is still a way to go if we’re going to achieve full inclusivity in advertising.

We’re kicking things off with gender

It’s been at the forefront of brands’ minds over the last couple of years as advertising authorities really began to push towards change in the way gender is represented in advertising.  Below, we take a closer look at how things have progressed and give some examples of brands who are taking proactive approaches to achieve the ultimate goal: an empowering and accepting global advertising stage.

In 2016, labelled by some as the ‘year of the transgender advertisement’, we witnessed countless global brands launching adverts that raised awareness of and included transgender people. This was considered a bold move at the time, but did wonders for raising the profile of the LGBTQ+ community.

There was speculation about the authenticity and motives of brands in this movement: was it genuine support and acceptance of the transgender community, or simply a move to make profit by appearing supportive? As time has progressed, speculation has died down and it’s clear to see those brands who continually push the boundaries and drive inclusivity and those who were doing it for some added publicity.

In 2017, the term ‘gender-neutral’ began to move into the spotlight.  Advertising authorities like the ASA called for tougher guidelines around gender stereotyping in advertisements, encouraging advertisers to avoid distinguishing roles according to people’s sex or gender. Brands responded to the call for change and throughout the year we saw some bold moves being made. From gender-neutral terminology such as ‘police officer’ or ‘firefighter’, to modern-day family dynamics such as same-sex parents and gender-neutral clothing ranges, the gender-neutral movement was propelled into motion.

We explore this in more detail in our blog ‘gender stereotyping and the changing face of advertising’.

Who are the brands that are leading the way?


A touching set of documentaries released by Google in 2016 gave an insight into the lives of transgender people who are making a difference in their communities. The real-life element resonated well and demonstrated Google’s genuine efforts to understand, support and include the transgender community.


As we propelled into 2017, the exposure the LGBTQ+ community was receiving had increased and yet more brands were lining up to show their support. One notable campaign came from Smirnoff in November 2017, as it continued its drive towards inclusivity. Smirnoff, in partnership with the LGBT Foundation, released the next phase of their ‘We’re Open’ campaign – a striking and vibrant advert targeted at igniting change in nightlife culture. We love this fantastic example of diversity being embraced and celebrated.

John Lewis

In September 2017, retailer John Lewis announced it would no longer use girls’ and boys’ labels in its children’s clothing ranges. This was the first major brand to demonstrate its support towards gender-neutrality, with companies such as Marks and Spencer, River Island and Abercrombie & Fitch all following suit in the months afterwards.

Let’s talk ethnicity

For many of us, our understanding is that adverts featuring only white models generates the image of a non-inclusive brand. And today, the general consensus is that this is no longer an appropriate way to conduct advertisements. Of course, any move towards embracing diversity is encouraged and demonstrates how much more accepting society is today.  However, there are conflicting reports on what the best approach to ethnic diversity is in advertising, which we give examples of below.

The growing trend for many advertisers across the world is to mix up their usual content by choosing imagery and models that embrace diversity. Studies show that 51% of marketers are now very much in-tune with the notion that they need to represent modern society in their marketing. Following on from the most recent guidelines from the ASA around gender stereotyping, many brands are increasingly turning to ethnically diverse imagery in their advertising to improve their brand reputation and align with the changing expectations advertisers are facing.

Now, on the flip side, one perspective suggests that the inclusion of ethnic minority groups in ad campaigns can actually have a backlash effect on some people. A study from the International Journal of Research in Marketing found that members of ethnic minority groups showed a more positive response to ads that featured white models. Although people respond well when they see an ad that features their ethnic group, there’s a much more unexpected outcome when their own ethnic group is not featured. In particular, where ethnicity plays a big part in someone’s life, members of these minority groups can be left feeling confused and even more excluded than they did before. It’s worth thinking about when you’re planning your next ad campaign, that’s for sure.

So, what does the future hold?

No brand can ever evade scrutiny from the demands of the public – someone somewhere will not be happy with the content you’ve produced. But one the crucial points to take away from this is that in order to meet even the most basic of demands, advertisers need to show a commitment to the move towards inclusivity. If a business is showing a modern-day view of society and demonstrating that gender, race or a disability do not in fact determine what a person should, shouldn’t, can or can’t do, then it’s on the right track.

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