Diverse Advertising – The New Norm?


Since founding Cultural Perspectives in 1994 I have been able to run an unbroken narrative about the failure of both our large companies and our advertisers to take heed of the diversity in the community.

This critique was based on two imperatives.

The first was advertising that perpetuated an Australian stereotype which bore little resemblance to the reality of the Australian population. This was certainly the case 22 years ago and is even more the reality now. This cultural fabrication let us believe in advertising what Ramsey Street for example was allowing in Australian drama, that Australia was white, middle class and urban.

The second imperative was the failure of both companies and advertising to appreciate the value of the multicultural market.

Not only did this market represent a significant segment of the mainstream market, it also carried particular value around products and services most relevant to immigrant groups in areas such as education, insurance, travel and other cross border communication just to mention a few.

Who could doubt the size of the Chinese community and their interest in anything that serves to improve the social mobility and the academic success of their children and the opportunity that this represents to relevant brands?

Over the years I have both written and been quoted in sporadic marketing features in trade magazines such as AdNews and B&T. This was a simple task each time involving taking what I had written and said and just changing the date because nothing had changed.

Then a strange thing happened on the way to the tennis.

A few weeks ago I took to watching the Tennis on a commercial TV channel. Normally I would be annoyed and frustrated at the repetitive nature of the ads, and the constant network cross promotion of what would come ‘after the tennis’. This time I was intrigued at what I was witnessing.

With each advertisement I saw different manifestations of diversity that were so far beyond tokenism that is was almost unbelievable; advertisements that cast diversity as a normal part of the Australian social and consumer landscape. The volume and diversity of these ads so took my attention that I started a diary to record them all.

The following is an example of these advertisements, their products and treatments. It is not exhaustive but meant to represent this new found representation of Australian diversity of product. This was over a one week period on one commercial channel:

  • The Officeworks advertisements are noteworthy. They were around the theme “Let your amazing out”. I selected two ads to demonstrate both diversity and inclusion.
  • In the first ad kids from Asian and Caucasian backgrounds are playing in a park and designing kites with their fathers.
  • The second is two sisters working together for a school project. Their appearance is hard to define in ethnicity terms but they are discernibly from a non-English speaking background, and to be honest it doesn’t really matter, they are just kids.
  • Target and Big W also ran a series of ads focusing on kids going back to school. They were similar in the range of representations of children. Their beauty was in the excitement children demonstrated about going back to school and more important their aspirations for the year.
  • Within these I took particular note of the Target advertisement that included a child with an intellectual disability playing with another child. This was not a focus but rather a part of the social fabric. The impact of this treatment was to represent disability as normal. To recall a disability sector slogan, “Don’t dis my ability“. This ad does everything but.
  • Australian Super developed an intriguing treatment in which the voices of the characters do not correspond to the images which include two young children with a voice track of older people talking about their expectations about retirement income, or a man with a voice track of a woman talking about gender based wage disparity.  While the link above shows the extended advertisement, the 30 seconds that made it to TV during the tennis included the treatments at the end, all of which manifested cultural diversity.
  • St George Home Loans developed an ad which speaks to the future. It involves a couple from diverse cultural backgrounds assessing properties for their ability to accommodate not one but two drum sets. The child has diverse cultural heritage but remains intrinsically Australian.

And the winner is…

My personal favourite was a Toyota Camry ad in which a middle aged man is teaching his daughter to drive. The situation and parental recognition is universal as is the inherent humour of the potential damage to the Camry. I would like to reference this to our collective past in which the Camry has replaced the Kingswood and Ted Bullpit would be turning in his theatrical grave.

The Take Out

So what are we witnessing and why?

It does appear incongruous and counter intuitive because the recent past has seen the renewed rise of both anti multicultural and anti-Muslim movements. These include organisations such as Reclaim Australia, the United Patriots Front, Rise up Australia and the Q Society.

Yet these are at best fringe movements and the reality is that the mainstream of Australia is moving on and accepting that diversity is indeed the new Australian cultural cannon.

Governments, especially the Federal Government have consistently required advertising campaigns to include ethnic media channels as well as requiring that the advertisements are inclusive of cultural diversity and able to be adapted for use in non-English formats.

The significant new focus by the private sector is very positive. I am left applauding them, their marketers and advertisers. After 22 years I am more than happy to acknowledge and welcome this change and look forward to those responsible for manufacturing our reflective images to be true to our diversity.

Cultural inclusion delivers social and economic dividends

Pino Migliorino
Managing Director
Cultural Perspectives