Opinion

Unconscious bias has plagued family segmentation for too long

Up to 68.7% of Australian families are non-traditional. But looking at adland's marketing strategies, you would think every house contained a mum, dad, and two point four children, argues International Creative Services founder Anne Miles.

How many of us still think that the family model is mum, dad and two point four children? By the look of the marketing creative we produce, I can tell you that it is a lot of us.

When spending time client side, I realised that it was uncommon for the creative agency, media agency, strategy team, sales team, marketing team, shopper data and researchers to all understand the target audience was one profile. Many are engrained in past systems and personas because ‘that’s how we always do it’. So, what’s going on?

If we look at past sales data and online metrics to define our audience, we will buy into the unconscious biases of the past. We will validate the impact of media channel choices and creative from the past in a self-perpetuating cycle. None of this is the potential market, where market growth is and isn’t necessarily reflecting the actual market right now either.

Dig deeper into the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ definition of family and you’ll see how far off the Australian marketing and advertising industry is when defining family.

The traditional family of two point four children is now the minority. Within that, we don’t know if there are families who are not defining themselves as transgender or other makeup, because they haven’t yet had a place to do so, and safely. This traditional family model is declining too, and pretty fast. Why would marketers be putting their money against a declining market? Beats me.

The traditional family makeup Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

Like Einstein said, measuring something changes the outcome. In our case, we measure the same things over and over based on past unconscious bias and we keep perpetuating the discrimination, and worse still for brands we perpetuate the missed strategic opportunity.

With data suggesting that a focus on diversity can improve business performance by 7% to the bottom line (according to McKinsey), imagine what it can do to marketing and sales performance to a business. That’s more powerful impact than any ad campaign could produce, and many in the industry would fall over themselves to achieve that.

Diversity is a blind spot in our industry. It’s time we took it seriously beyond being a HR or internal problem (which it is), to discover it is more than just female power too.

56% of families have non-dependent children over 25, but may actually be an elderly person being cared for by an older child. 0.7% are same sex families, but that’s only because many haven’t had the right to legally make this claim and measurement hasn’t been accurate for some time. 1% of families are grandparents taking care of children under 15 and single parents make up between 10.4% and 11% of families.

This leaves up to 68.7% non-traditional families in Australia. How many brands are marketing to that major segment right now?

There’s one that I think has hit the nail on the head lately. Check out Volvo’s new campaign to redefine family. The UK measures 65% of families as non-traditional – less than us. Volvo is breaking ground here, despite it seeming obvious when you actually dig back into who our market really is. Kudos to Volvo and their agency.

Australian brands: it is time to be asking deeper questions of your agency, your media agency, your researchers, your sales team, your shopper data and see what unconscious bias is driving your brand decisions in every touchpoint.

Most of the ad agency teams are kept at a distance to the marketing team and many marketers would probably be horrified if they actually knew how few had diversity of thinking represented across the business.

Let’s all challenge our unconscious bias and get to the real audience. Don’t just do unconscious bias testing that tells you that you have a bias, but look for how it presents in your work, and how to overcome it day to day in the creative process.

Aligning to a more diverse customer is not only more respectful, but it is a business performance issue. A big one.

Anne Miles is managing director of International Creative Services, and offers training and consulting to agencies and brands. More here.

Statistics from Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016 (most current data available).

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