Cheers adgrunts, I hope you're knee-deep in wrapping paper&ribbons, Christmas party invites, and have found all the perfect gifts that you want to give this year. My favorite part of Christmas is hunting for "the perfect gift", which can be difficult - but not nearly as hard as making the "perfect Christmas advert".
Now, the Diversity Standards Collective (DSC) has just done research on this year's Christmas ads.
Using its Certification ad testing tool, the organisation tested 12 Christmas ads featuring Black and mixed raced casts. The new tool asked members of the Black community from across the UK if they thought these ads were "authentic or representative" of their community to gain qualitative and high-quality solution-based feedback to help change content for the better.
The research found that tokenism, negative stereotyping and inauthentic representation of the festive season is still a huge part of creativity and casting in current Christmas advertising.
The testing found that only 5 out of 12 ads scored more than 75% and passed, but that the other 7 were not seen to be representative or authentic.
Well, that's not great results. So which ads scored well, and which ones did poorly?
Here is the list:
#1 DSC Community CERTIFIED (84%) JD Sports ‘King of the Game’
#2 DSC Community CERTIFIED (82%) H. Samuel ‘Unwrap the Sparkle’
#3 DSC Community CERTIFIED (81%) Boots ‘#Joyforall’
4 DSC Community CERTIFIED (80%) O2 ‘The Snowgran’
5 DSC Community CERTIFIED (76%) Very ‘ Gifts for all your Christmases’
6. DSC Community FAILED (74%) Disney ‘The Gift’
7 DSC Community FAILED (63%) Argos ‘They’re coming. Be ready’
8 DSC Community FAILED (69%) Tesco ‘The Christmas Party’
9 DSC Community FAILED (68%) Sainsbury’s ‘Once upon a pud’
10 DSC Community FAILED (69%) The National Lottery ‘A Christmas Love Story’
11 DSC Community FAILED (64%). Lidl ‘The Story of the bear’
12 DSC Community FAILED (57%) Shelter ‘Brave Face’
Conclusion? The main finding of the research is that tokenism is still rife in advertising. Unsurprising. And here is exactly how it was done.
While agencies and clients are beginning to feature Black and mixed-race people in their ads, there is not enough thought put into the nuances of why they are in those ads in the first place or the lived experiences of those communities. For example, feedback from the community on the Sainsbury’s ad featuring Alison Hammond as a Queen, said:
- “Feels like tokenism. Making a royal person Black in the U.K. is the furthest from reality ever.”
- “It was just Black famous casting. No attempt at authentic portrayal.”
- “As much as I love Allison Hammond, I don't think the ad as a whole is there to portray the community.”
- “It’s not authentic because it’s doing the lazy thing of flipping the racial paradigm to fit diversity quotas. It doesn’t feel down to earth or of this world.”
Rich Miles, the Founder and CEO of The Diversity Standards Collective, said: “The advertising industry’s race to become the best Christmas ad is now a cultural event, but this research shows that many of these ads are only representative of and authentic for, one culture and that’s not the same one as the characters they’ve cast. With this research and this tool, we want to not only puncture the self-congratulatory nature of this whole contest but also help the industry start thinking differently about the ads it’s putting out and make sure they just ask the communities in question first. To enable them to think more and do better. To remember that there are vital audiences who think very differently about our work and don’t just want to see a token Black, brown or queer face on their screens.
“Next year, pause and think about how the work you are making is viewed through the lens of other communities. And you can do this by directly asking those communities. This research wasn’t carried out to expose brands and agencies, merely to shine a light on how people truly feel about representation and where, as an industry, we are.”
Alex Groom, Executive Creative Director, Cake, said: “We set out to make a film that truly reflects youth culture in this country, featuring some of the most talented stars from sport and entertainment. To know that it resonated so highly with the Black community for its authenticity and because of the representation in the cast is brilliant. Knowing that is more important to us than any creative award.”
Advice for making next year’s Christmas ads more representative and authentic
- Stop just thinking about casting, think about not just who else is in the room, but about what else is in the room; what’s on the table and how and why those characters might be doing what they are doing, because in most cases it will be slightly different.
- Ensuring you gain research and insight right at the start of your creative process; share things like your strategy and initial ideas with different types of people from different communities and allow them to help you make it grow.
- Get out of the mindset of doing this all yourselves, people are ready and waiting to help you make the most progressive and creative pieces of work.
In-depth focus - Best two and worst two
83% of respondents agreed this was an authentic portrayal of the black community
85% thought it would be responded to positively by the black community
Overall: 84% DSC Community Certification
There were two specific themes that came through as strongly resonating with the respondents. The representative portrayal of youth and young black people and the authentic use of artists and sports stars
Youth and young black people
- “This ad Represents the young London black community. The father is a Caribbean man, nice to hear the accent, the clothes, hairstyles and celebrities would be recognised and familiar amongst Black people in the UK, the slang would especially be recognised in London with young people.”
- “Yes!! This is exactly something me and my cousins do when we get together during the holidays. Arcade games together. Board games, fun competition.”
- “Yes I think the people chosen to appear in the advert were spot on in appearing to my community and age range of young adults, every new person I thought 'oh it's x wow'”
- “Yes it shows what life is like for many young Black people.”
Black culture - artists and sports
- JD always goes all out by getting as many black people as possible
- some of the best entertainment and cultural leaders in the community are in this advert and I love to see it
- many famous and sports people who are black so seems like a very relevant advert
- Because it highlights famous and successful people in the black community that are doing well
- Yes because ksi is in it and he’s a very popular Black YouTuber and there is other Black influencers like the Chunkz and ms banks
83% of respondents agreed this was an authentic portrayal of the Black community
81% thought it would be responded to positively by the Black community
Overall: 82% DSC Community Certification
Key themes to appear from this ad was that the respondents thought it did a great job in portraying and representing mixed race families in the UK and also stirring authentic memories of their own Christmasses.
There were also very positive references to one character’s afro which was seen as being very realistic.
The portrayal of mixed-race family
- There aren't many adverts that portray a black woman with a natural afro in PJ's which is more real than having a full hairstyle
- Yes, as someone who is biracial I always appreciate seeing interracial families represented in media and advertisements and I think this representation is especially important given that the number of interracial families and biracial children continue to increase.
- Family looks realistic and the energy between seems realistic. Pretty authentic.
- It shows love and family. A mixed family which is extremely common in Black communities.
- Accurate representation of a mixed family and mixed race relationships.
- Yes all black colours represented that isn't from poor backgrounds
Memories of my own Christmas
- Looks like a scene out of my own family Christmas, and many of my Black friends and extended family.
- Yes because it shows a Black family celebrating and spreading love at Christmas rather than the status quo white family that we are used to see on these types of adverts
- It definitely brings back memories of sitting around the Christmas tree and opening presents, and I think they definitely catch the joy correctly and the big groups of people coming together
- We like big families as Black people and there is always a lot of happiness and fun when Black families gather together and the advert portrays that.
The afro hairstyle
- Awww is really positive and I love that the woman has an Afro. It’s a lovely fusion of cultures also
- There aren't many adverts that portray a Black woman with a natural afro in PJ's which is more real than having a full hairstyle
50% of respondents agreed this was an authentic portrayal of the black community
78% thought it would be responded to positively by the black community
- The overall issue with this ad is that there was no real culture shown and no link to the Black community
- “I don't look like that nor does my family. My Christmases have never been like that”
- I don’t think it's an authentic portrait of any community. It could have been a carryon family. It was just multicultural casting for sake of representation. The script was the focus. It was fab.
- It’s as if we need saving
- I think it is similar to other adverts that feature mixed Black heritage people and families. It could be more diverse to capture the community as a whole.
- I personally don’t think it has anything to do with my community. They use racially ambiguous children to virtue signal
- there may be Black people in it but no culture so no authenticity
- It doesn't feel like an authentic portrayal because there is nothing in the advert that makes it distinctively portraying the Black community. If the black actors were replaced with white actors, it would not have made a difference.
- It is a racially ambiguous town with no real signifiers of culture. The ad feels as though it is trying hard to touch on every ethnic group or at least Black and white but has no real cultural significant pointers. This is especially obvious through the Christmas setup and the family shown at the end. There are also little to no old people until the end of the AD and they play into the same tropes from before. Overwhelmingly nuclear.
- Not Relatable to people like me
How this ad could have been made more authentic and representative
Miles, said: “The community noted ‘There may be Black people in it but no culture, so no authenticity’. When we hear comments such as this, it's important we start to look at everything around the characters; location, set design, clothing, music, décor, even food on the table. The DSC has been carrying out a lot of research into the different types of Christmases and potentially, culture could have been added by placing foods such as Macaroni Cheese and Rice on the table, items the community keep telling us they also have for Christmas lunch.
65% of respondents agreed this was an authentic portrayal of the black community
50% thought it would be responded to positively by the black community
The big issue with this ad was that it didn't just display a total lack of authentic culture or community, but because of that it was called out for negatively stereotyping the black people.
Themes and quotes
Negatively stereotyping the Black community
- It’s not an authentic representation because it has some stereotypical concepts which is an inaccurate depiction of my community as a whole.
- It feels like it’s playing into the stereotype of Black people being poor or less than others. Whilst I appreciate this is a reality for many people. It affects people from all races. But it’s always the black boys shown.
- I believe that the ad reinforces some of the stereotypes about the Black community. Because, why is the black kid getting a 5/15 in his test? I think the advert could make the same point about shelter without reinforcing stereotypes about black kids not doing well in school.
- I’m really tired of the single Black mom stereotype. Single black dads do actually exist and struggle too, along with single white/Asian moms.
- not all Black people are homeless or poor!
No authentic community/culture shown
- nice to see a lead black role in an advert but then the community itself hasn’t been shown, again no culture explored
- I’ve said no because this is not my recent experience but it is a difficult one. It is not authentic to any mass experience or inauthentic to any. However, I do believe the use of Black people does make it easier for the British public to comprehend.
- Shows a limited portrayal of the Black community.
- Because it suggests black families are poor. The mother was black at the end and the mixed race boy was smiling to put a brave face on when he was hurting. Not all mixed race school boys are sad. Not all black women spend Christmas in run down accommodation
- Unfortunately, this is the harsh reality for some of the community, however, I would’ve been nice to see them receiving some support. The community is sometimes known to support each other.
How this ad could have been made more authentic and representative
Miles said: “Although a true experience, perhaps in this instance the Black community weren’t the correct community to cast for this, because of the jarring stereotype of the community always being from lower class backgrounds. One Respondent said: ‘Unfortunately a lot of people from my community will face this at Christmas, but as do other Caucasian people, it's unfair for it to be Black mother.”
More often than not, though, we also have to look at everything else in the advert to help change the overall representation. For example, one respondent noted: ‘Some other stereotypes are being made; why did he have to get 5/15 on his test?’
If the boy had gotten a much higher mark on his test, it would have shown a more positive representation of young Black school boys being able to achieve high marks and potentially change the responses from our collective.
To get these results, the DSC asked 54 members of the Black community from across the UK via its online Community Certification ad testing tool. Two key questions around authenticity and their community’s response were asked because this builds a more robust response for clients. The DSC then finds the mean score which equals the ad’s overall score to receive either a pass or fail certification. All content must hit 75% positivity or above for it to be certified by that community. When the tool goes live it will always survey 100 people.
- Do you feel this is an authentic portrayal of your community?
- Do you think this content will be responded to positively by your community?
For each question, The DSC counted up the percentage of “yes” answers and the percentage of “no” answers and worked out a mean average.
To gain context and qualitative feedback, and ensure the DSC can provide solutions on why and how agencies can amend content for the better, the survey also asked respondents to explain why they had given their answer and then asked a final question:
- Do you have any other comments on this piece of content that relate to the representation of your community, whether positive or negative?