Diversity in Advertising – EW Group @ Campaign Underground

Diversity in Advertising – EW Group @ Campaign Underground


Challenging unconscious bias in advertising at Campaign Underground


This week we had the opportunity to do something a bit different: bringing unconscious bias to life in a London nightclub.

We joined Campaign Underground, an anti-conference for the advertising industry focusing on the psychology and impact of the lack of diversity in the sector. The aim of the event was to delve deep into why brands keep hitting the wrong note when it comes to reflecting the diversity of the customers they serve. The fascinating line-up of speakers, ranging from neuroscientists to digital sociologists, provided an insight into how unconscious bias in advertising is tainting the campaigns the industry produces.

A key element of the event was a set of experiential exercises to help people really feel the impact of unconscious bias at work. Which is where EW Group was asked to help!

We’re well known for our innovative and immersive training sessions, often using actor-based scenarios (live or filmed). So we decided to use our undercover actors to get people engaged in the topic as soon as they arrived at the venue.


Unconscious bias and undercover actors – experiencing advantage and disadvantage in real-time

Using our team of role-playing actors, we set up a separate ‘Advantaged’ registration queue, where some people were fast-tracked and given VIP treatment – quicker check-in, queue-jump for the cloakroom, even a welcome chocolate – based on carefully-selected characteristics or answers to certain questions about their identity and background.


Unconscious Bias Training Actors Undercover 2018

Credit: Campaign


As an observer, it was fascinating to watch this play out. You could actively see and often hear people’s visceral reactions to this experience. This was especially true of groups who had arrived together from the same company. Their reactions ranged from confused glances to borderline outrage.

It was particularly revealing to see people who, having been through the ‘Advantaged’ or standard queue at registration, then completely unconsciously chose to walk through their respective line when returning to the venue after a break. It demonstrated perfectly how our brains register advantage in a completely unconscious way. And therein often lies the issue.

We had a great time being part of this practical, creative and engaging event. It’s clear that the advertising industry is trying to tackle the issue of its lack of diversity head-on, but that there’s a long and complicated journey ahead.

One of the key questions of the day was, ‘Do answers lie deep within our industry’s culture?’. So I leave you with this thought:

“Culture interacts with all business processes, impacts decision-making, affects how change programmes work, and impacts the trust, engagement, well-being and productivity of employees.”
(A duty to care? Evidence of the importance of organisational culture to effective governance and leadership, CIPD, 2016)

As a full-service diversity and inclusion consultancy, EW Group partners with clients to address unconscious bias and build inclusive cultures.


Unconscious Bias Training with Actors EW Group 2018

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