Australian media not adapting fast enough

Brands and creative agencies need to think outside their inner-city bubbles and embrace Australia's increasing diversity if they want to remain relevant, argues SBS' Andrew Cook.

Back in 2012, SBS Media launched the trade tag line “Diversity Works”. We’ve been telling clients that Australia is changing and that the Australian media isn’t adapting fast enough to this change. We’ve been asking clients and agencies to think with diversity and include multicultural media in their media plans because we believe that thinking with diversity works.


Nearly one in five Australians speak a language other than English at home with 47% having one or both parents born overseas. 28% were born overseas themselves and 11% identify as LGBTQI*.  Australian culture is as wide-ranging as the country’s landscape, so why does the media landscape have a certain sameness about it? Why is there such a disconnect between who we are and what we see on screen?

It’s not news to anyone that the lack of diversity in advertising reflects a lack of diversity in the industry. A PwC report released in June indicated that nearly 83% of the Australian media workforce is monolingual, speaking only English at home. Our industry tends to live in inner-city bubbles, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all think with diversity. The real risk is to ignore multicultural Australia, because I don’t think we can anymore.

There’s a convenience in advertising with mainstream media alone. It’s quick, easy and safe not to challenge the status quo. It’s harder and more time-consuming to contemplate talking to different people, in different languages, but there are real opportunities around growth that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Migration will continue to account for more than half of our population growth each year with one new migrant arriving in Australia every two minutes and 12 seconds. Languages Other Than English (LOTE) households control almost 20% of all household spending in Australia – totalling almost $96 billion. Research shows LOTE audiences are 25% more likely than the population average to have a diploma or degree, 18% more likely to use credit to buy the things they want, 20% more likely to say they enjoy grocery shopping and 23% more likely to go out of their way in search of a bargain**.

Clients should be spending five to 10 per cent of their total spend on diversity to reach new audiences and build their customer base. It should be done with authenticity and without shortcuts. If you’re going to do it, don’t use Google Translate. Get it done the right way.

We are starting to see some advertisers use diversity in their advertising campaigns. What’s interesting is that there is almost a cause for celebration whenever a client uses diversity. Why should this use of diversity be highlighted by the trade? When the fact is that reflecting the nation we all live in should just be an acceptable, normal part of how advertisers talk to Australians.

Some brands do it really well. The Dove campaign for Real Beauty is an example of a campaign that integrates diversity into the fabric of the campaign. It celebrates the natural physical variation embodied by women and encourages women to feel comfortable in the skin they are in.

Channel 4 in the UK launched the Superhumans Wanted challenge for the 2016 Paralympic Games, which encouraged brands and agencies to prominently feature disability and disabled talent in their advertising campaigns. 

As a network, SBS exists to promote understanding and appreciation of diversity. We don’t only do this through the stories we explore across TV, radio and online – because of our unique Charter, it’s ingrained in all that we do. Ultimately, we want to prove that thinking with diversity works.

*Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011 Census of Population & Housing

** Source: Roy Morgan Asteroid, October 2015-September 2016,Total Speak a Language Other than English at Home

  • Andrew Cook is the director of media sales at SBS



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