Diverse Content Starts at the Beginning of the Production Pipeline

Four tips for representing diversity authentically

For the past several years, the cultural conversation about diversity and how we celebrate it has significantly expanded. Yet in 2020, emojis are arguably more diverse and reflective of their audience than most other types of visual and creative content that consumers interact with daily. Many brands still miss the mark on reflecting diversity accurately in their marketing or fail to even consider it when mapping out their branded content. At its worst, this sends a message that certain people are not being seen, heard or considered. It can not only damage a brand's reputation but can have real effects on our shared culture. The good news is, we're seeing measurable signs of change. 

As a stock media provider, we at Storyblocks have a unique insight into where content creators are headed. At the close of 2019, we analyzed over 105 million searches and scoured new visual creative to compile our 2020 Trends Guide. It was no surprise to see mental health awareness as one of the biggest trending topics and raw, unfiltered visual aesthetics coming out on top.    

While there are signals that we are moving in the right direction, the creators behind marketing, advertising and entertainment need to take real action in 2020 to ensure greater and more accurate content diversity—and that more people are being included in brand stories. While most of the "diversity in content" conversation has centered around race and gender, mental health is another critical area where marketers and advertisers need to give more focused attention.

The demand for content that authentically portrays mental health is real. We alone witnessed a 40 percent increase in demand for content related to mental health topics in 2019. Public figures and celebrities also have been opening up more about their personal relationships with mental health, inspiring others (particularly the younger generations) to do the same. Recently, SoulPancake and Funny or Die partnered to produce "Laughing Matters" a documentary short detailing the struggle with mental health that many comedians experience. The doc features high-profile comedians and actors like Rainn Wilson, Sarah Silverman and Wayne Brady, to name a few. 

As society makes progress toward destigmatizing mental health illnesses on the public stage, brands are in a position to mirror that by representing real human experiences and creating marketing content that normalizes varying states of mental health. It's time to drop the illusion that we want shiny, happy people all the time. 

Photographers, directors, content creators and stock media providers alike have the opportunity to shape the direction of content and drive best practices. Here are some ways we can listen to the demand and put in the work to represent diversity authentically:

• Think early in the production timeline about the faces and people who will be represented. Make it a pillar in the brand style guide, so the decision is made before the talent is hired or stock content is selected.

• Hire real people to act rather than trained models. Today's consumers are incredibly perceptive to authenticity in content—it's a lot easier to create that authenticity with real people.

• Appoint internal thought leaders who can advocate for authenticity and inclusion in brands and campaigns. Often, those people are available and willing to step up—all it takes is a more senior leader to invite them to that seat at the table. If not, assess what's missing and create space for new people to come in.

• Finally, to take this a step further, creators and brands should be living and breathing diversity and inclusion practices within their agencies and organizations.

Speaking to the last point, this starts from the ground up. The creative industry shouldn't expect change to happen overnight, but once brands begin to make commitments, we will make progress toward diverse and inclusive content.

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TJ Leonard
TJ Leonard is CEO of Storyblocks.

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