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Measuring diversity in advertising: A challenge of scale

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Measuring diversity in advertising: A challenge of scale


“The vast majority of people, when they look at ad content, say they don’t see themselves in it, they don’t see themselves represented. We spend all this time and money telling stories and yet most of the people who look at them don’t see themselves in it. Not only is this clearly inefficient, it’s also quite alienating.” Comments from Anastasia Leng, founder and CEO of CreativeX.

CreativeX’s software provides AI-powered analysis of visual content — images and video — at scale, enabling brands to make data-driven creative decisions, supporting quality, brand consistency and compliance. Recently, it has turned its attention to driving insights into representation in partnership with Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media. The Institute’s mission is to create gender balance, foster inclusion and reduce negative stereotyping in family entertainment and media. Creative X isn’t just looking at gender, however. “We’re looking at gender, skin tone and age range,” said Leng.

The state of representation

Using its proprietary Representation technology, CreativeX last week released results from an analysis of some 3,500 ads containing images or video (from 2021 and U.S. only). Among the findings:

  • Although 55% of ads featured women, men were 1.5X more likely to be shown in professional environments;
  • Individuals with light to medium skin tones featured twice as often in professional environments; and
  • Individuals in the over-60 age range featured hardly at all (around 1% of the ads) despite their formidable disposable income.

Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of the Geena Davis Institute explained: “What we have found is that, since 2016, there has been a very serious intent by some of the leading global brands – like P&G, Google, Facebook, Mars – to invest in people, to invest in resources and invest in process in order to come up with ways for them to not only absorb the information, but for them to figure out what’s going to work so that we can have improvements.”

Leng confirmed this from her experience with her own clients. “The intentions are there. The other big trigger is that consumers are pushing them in the right direction. Consumers care more than ever.”

So what’s the problem?

The problem is scale

One of the major obstacles to meaningful change is the scale and complexity of ad creative when it comes to global brands like the ones Di Nonno referenced — brands with significant influence on the culture. “It’s been very challenging, especially when you’re dealing with global organizations and you have different regions, different entities around the world. These infrastructures are so big. How many brands, how many ads per brand per year? You’re talking about thousands and thousands, and the pace is so fast.”

That’s where CreativeX comes in, with its use of AI to automate the analysis of vast quantities of creative. “We connect all the different places where they’re running advertising to our system. This then allows us, via APIs, to pull in all of their content. What we then do is look through all their images and videos and basically append a bunch of metadata that helps us determine everything from who is in the creative – what kinds of people – all the way down to what settings they’re in, percentage of men versus women, under 21, over 60, and differences around stories you are telling about men versus women.”

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It’s easy for brands to find excuses, Leng said. “You do a bit of research on a small sample size and people say, ‘But you didn’t look at all my content.’ In this case, we’ve taken those excuses off the table. We can look at all your content.” For some large brands CreativeX has so far looked at U.S. content only, Leng said.

She added: “We had an instance of one brand which said ‘We are the most diverse financial brand on the high street.’ We looked at all of their content – tens of thousands of pieces of content – and there was not a single person of color in a single one of their ads.” An extreme example, she admits. “The reason I talk about it is not because they were lying to us, not because they didn’t care, but when you have a large brand with thousands of marketers distributed across multiple locations, and a bunch of agencies, unless you have the systemic infrastructure to track this – everyone thought they were being diverse but no-one was actually doing it.”

Read next: When it comes to women, marketing is behind the times

The goal is systemic change

CreativeX and the Geena Davis Institute happen to share some clients, but the way the partnership is intended to work is that Geena Davis can introduce major global media and entertainment brands to the potential of CreativeX’s technology, while CreativeX can point its clients toward the Institute for advice and counseling on their representation policies.

Ultimately, the goal is to drive systemic change, said Di Nonno. “We’ve been doing what we define as narrative culture-change work since 2004, we’ve had the privilege of being able to expand across many global verticals. We started doing global work in advertising in 2015, a result of me having the privilege of being the second jury president for the Glass Lions.” (The Glass Lion “recognises work that implicitly or explicitly addresses issues of gender inequality or prejudice, through the conscious representation of gender in advertising.”)

“However, as a research institute that is data-driven,” she continued, “when you think about the massiveness and volume of global advertising, to really come up with a turnkey, systemic auditing solution, there’s no way we could ever scale to be able to embrace that. So, with Creative X having created their representation project and having the opportunity to join forces, it really allows us to continue to do what we’re doing but also to have that scalability.”


About The Author

Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space. He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020. Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.



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Content Marketers Share Salaries, Career Paths, and More in 2023 [New Research]

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Content Marketers Share Salaries, Career Paths, and More in 2023 [New Research]

What’s it like to work in content marketing? Is it a rewarding career? Does it pay well? What’s the career trajectory?

You certainly know your answers to these questions. But, until now, little industry research has dived into content marketing careers.

We set out to find answers. Our goal is to help content marketers understand their opportunities and positions – and help companies develop meaningful roles and the resources and opportunities to retain them.

So, earlier this year, we asked content marketers about their work satisfaction, career development, and salary expectations.

More than 1,100 content professionals had their say. You can read the full story – including salary breakdowns by role, gender, and generation – in the Content Marketing Career & Salary 2023 Outlook (gated).

New @CMIContent survey of #content pros gives a 2023 outlook on careers and salaries, says @EditorStahl. #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

Let’s take a sneak peek at some of the intriguing findings.

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You (mostly) like your content marketing jobs

More than half of the content pros (56%) tell us they’re very or extremely satisfied with their current position.

One content marketer explains: “I can be creative while being tied to business impact. Content marketing offers the fulfillment and growth of a creative career with the stability and compensation of a corporate career. It’s the best of both worlds, and it’s sometimes hard to believe it’s possible.”

Another offers this explanation: “I love seeing all the pieces come together; how great words and innovative designs can affect and influence consumers and audiences. And I love working behind the scenes, getting to turn the cogs of the content machine.”

Satisfaction rates stay roughly the same from millennials to Gen Xers to baby boomers. (We had too few Gen Z respondents to report on their segment with confidence.)

Of course, that’s not to say the job is easy. When asked about stress levels, 24% of content marketers say they are “very” or “extremely” stressed.

24% of #content marketers say they are very or extremely stressed, according to @CMIContent #research via @EditorStahl. #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

One survey taker explains, “The pace of work can be relentless. Just when you’ve completed one big project, another is right behind it.”

And some kudos go to employers. A significant majority (74%) said they feel their employers care about their stress levels and mental health.

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HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

You’re well educated – and eager to learn more

Among the surveyed group, one in three has a master’s, doctorate, or another advanced degree. As you probably know from your and your colleagues’ career pathways, people come into content marketing from many backgrounds (some come from multiple fields), including:

And content marketers are eager to expand their knowledge base:

  • Over 45% want to advance their skills in SEO, data analytics, audience development/segmentation, and integrating new technologies.
  • 40% show interest in honing their writing and editing skills.
  • One in three wants to hone their audio and video skills (filming, editing, and production).

Content Marketers Interested in Learning These Skills

Content marketers clearly rank high on the “digital dexterity” scale – the ability to learn new skills and adapt to new environments. That’s a sign of an adaptable, resilient workforce ready to meet whatever the future brings.

As Jean-Marc Laouchez, president of the Korn Ferry Institute, says in a Computerworld article: “Constant learning – driven by both workers and organizations – will be central to the future of work, extending far beyond the traditional definition of learning and development.”

And yet, many content marketers are looking for new positions

Content marketers like their jobs and are ready to learn. And yet, most (57%) say they plan to find another position within the next year or are unsure about their next steps.

Looking at it from another angle: Only 43% say they won’t be looking for a new job in the next year.

Only 43% of #content marketers say they won’t be looking for a new job in 2023, according to @CMIContent #research via @EditorStahl. #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

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Will Content Marketing Turnover Remain High in 2023?

What’s driving this restlessness? Is it a persistent echo of the Great Resignation? Or a wave of “quiet quitting” in content marketing?

I don’t think so. Instead, the research points to something at the heart of content marketing careers.

Content marketing lacks a clear career path

The data highlights a troubling phenomenon: Only 23% of content marketers say they have a clear path for advancement inside their current company.

Nearly all the rest (69%) say they must leave their companies to advance or simply can’t visualize the path forward. (A small share – 8% – say they’ve reached the pinnacle of their careers and aren’t looking for advancement.)

Many Content Marketers See No Clear Career Path

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Robert Rose, our chief strategy advisor, has written about this problem: “Content marketing is growing exponentially. But the advancement ladder for content practitioners is missing most of its rungs.”

Companies that don’t address the content marketing career ladder will struggle to keep these highly educated, adaptable employees.

Where to?

Content marketers want better-defined career paths and are eager to advance their skills. So, where to begin nurturing their ambitions? With dialogue.

If you’re an individual contributor on a content team, speak up about your needs and wants.

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If you’re a team leader, involve your creative, results-driven professionals in open, honest conversations. Invite them to help shape their career paths based on their aspirations. Then partner with HR and executive leadership to provide what they need to achieve their goals.

After all, investing in their future also pays off for the brand.

Content Marketing Career & Salary 2023 Outlook offers more insights into:

  • Content marketers’ income
  • Unique career priorities by age and gender
  • Advice on how companies can recruit and retain the best content marketing talent

I hope you’ll download the e-book to learn more. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. How do these findings align with your experience? What would you tell the next generation about content marketing as a career? Let me know in the comments.

Get the latest Content Marketing Institute research reports while they’re hot – subscribe to the newsletter. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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