February 6, 2023

Digital Marketing Education

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Actors of color appear less often in ads, study shows

“This is about putting out to the industry that, as a whole, we are not seeing representation at the level that we hear it being discussed,” said Melinda McLaughlin, chief marketing officer of Extreme Reach. “We all know that marketers do wield enormous power in affecting sort of the cultural norms and how certainly children at a young age begin to create a sense of what people do from the people and situations that they see in advertising.”

The findings also show that roughly two-thirds of the faces seen and voices heard in ads are male. Extreme Reach did not find a single industry in which women’s faces or voices were as common as men’s. Three large ad verticals—retail, food & beverage and sports—include female voices at a higher percentage than they are seen. 

The restaurant ad vertical, made up of 83% actors appearing to be adults ages 20-39, was found to be the most diverse, featuring the most Black and Asian actors and ranking among the top 5 verticals depicting Hispanic/Latino actors.

“Some customers, we were already helping them tag other diversity categories, even without AI,” said Andrew Blake, a U.K.-based data scientist who performed the study analysis. Now, Extreme Reach can track details including “body type, hair type, hair color, disabilities [and] gender context,” Blake said, including whether gender roles are shown in stereotypical ways.

Extreme Reach is hoping to expand the benchmark and make it even more accurate, said Blake. Researchers are in the process of taking specific indicators that are being manually described and feeding them into the software in order to train future models. This may include factors such as diversity of body type/size, representation of people with disabilities, and breakdowns of who performs which actions in ads (i.e., driving, shopping, household chores, etc.). 


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