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Posted 7 months ago

International Women’s Day: #BreakTheBias in 90 Seconds 

Rachel Teo
Head of Marketing

At 90 Seconds, we want to see a world where difference is valued and celebrated, a world that’s diverse, equitable and inclusive, but to get there, we believe we need to speak important truths. International Women’s Day is a day to do just that – not for everyone to give themselves a pat on the back about how great we are. We must assess the world in which we live frankly and truthfully; we must assess our own biases and hold one another to account. 

International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on 8 March, it’s a day to celebrate women’s achievements, increasing visibility of female contributions whilst calling out inequality. And in the past 365 days, there’s been a great deal of cause for celebration – in the last year alone, we have seen:

We’ve also got cause for celebration at 90 Seconds. Founded by three Kiwis, Tim Norton, Mischa Malane and Nick Erskine-Shaw, thankfully as a business we’re built on the progressive and inclusive principles that New Zealand is renowned for. The first country in the world to give women the vote, by the early 21st century, women had held each of New Zealand’s key constitutional positions, from Prime Minister to the Attorney-General – providing an equitable and inclusive backdrop which has influenced our leaders’ own approach to how they founded and continue to run the business: with diversity, equity and inclusion built into its very DNA. 

CEO and Co-Founder Tim Norton says: “While I appreciate I have grown up with the privilege that being male affords me and am well aware that much of bias is unconscious, when it comes to 90 Seconds, I’m proud to know that we’ve created an inclusive, creative and vibrant organisation that embraces diversity and leads by example.” 

But while the wider world has undoubtedly made progress, sadly, there is still no place on the earth where women are treated equally to men. In the Boardrooms of America, there are still more CEOs named John than there are female CEOs overall for example.  At every turn, women are subjected to bias, discrimination, stereotyping, or far worse – depending on where in the world you are reading this from.

In 2022, the network behind International Women’s Day has set a theme titled #BreakTheBias and are focusing on celebrating the work of female creatives and elevating visibility for commercial projects and commissions. As a global video content creation platform, we’re thrilled to see the gender inequity – often seen in the creative and media industries – addressed at such an international and high-profile level. We work with thousands of female creators, producers, directors and artists to help power the content we create for the world’s leading brands… Women like Vanessa Ng, our Production Services Manager: “I feel that everyone has a voice here at 90 Seconds; we are held to equal accountability, and there is equal opportunity to grow.”

However, despite 90 Seconds’ demographic make up, it is still a largely male-dominated industry. By calling the creative industry out specifically on such a globally recognised day, it directly challenges contributing organisations and regulatory bodies to put active measures in place to drive change, holding us all to account.  

Women are the most powerful consumers on the planet, making 85% of all purchasing decisions according to Adweek¹; however, despite this, the advertising industry doesn’t reflect this weighting and there are very few women producing the very commercials designed to appeal to… wait for it… women. Sensing a disconnect?

Just 11% of the world’s Creative Directors are female, so it is therefore unsurprising that 91% of female consumers feel advertisers don’t understand them. Seven in 10 women go further to say they feel “alienated” by advertising².

Looking more broadly at the creative and media industries, gender bias and inequity has long been a theme here too. One only has to cast their mind back to the 2018 Cannes Film Festival to recall the 82-woman silent protest, representing the paltry number of female directors that – at that point in time – had had their work compete throughout the 71 years of the festival’s existence. The lack of diversity in the industry is all the more evident when compared with the 1,866 male directors whose movies have been shown in Cannes. Reinforcing this disparity of male to female directors in Hollywood, the 2018 Hollywood Diversity Report states that less than one out of 10 film directors are female. 

In the broader video production industry, it’s a similar story with only 30% of senior roles filled by women according to Campaign’s feature on gender in advertising. We are extremely proud to report this is not the case at 90 Seconds, with 100% of our leadership roles in Marketplace Services and Production being filled by women, and 60% of all employees identifying as female overall.  We believe that in order to meet the demands of diverse demographics and create content that connects with the multi-faceted and diverse world in which we live, it’s essential that the creatives working in the field can genuinely reflect these experiences. In short, representation needs to happen behind the lens as well as in front of it.  

But representation isn’t just about gender and while IWD is a day to celebrate female achievements, its essential that companies and brands acknowledge that these issues are complex, and intersectionality has a huge role to play in terms of an individual’s experience. In the recent 2020 McKinsey and Company: Shattering the Glass Screen study³, it was revealed that while there is clear inequality when it comes to women in the media and entertainment industry, sadly, the inequity grows much deeper when considered with the intersection of ethnicity and race. According to the survey’s data, women of colour are poorly represented across all levels of leadership in media and entertainment; while white women represent 22% of C-suite roles in media and entertainment, women of colour hold just 4% percent of those positions. Taking this more generally, based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, a black man and a white woman make $0.74 and $0.78 to a white man’s dollar. But an African-American woman will make just 64% of that and for every dollar a white man makes, a Latina woman earns a meagre 56 cents.

At 90 Seconds, we take our responsibility seriously. This isn’t a puff piece about how great we are – part of growth means acknowledging that we all hold unconscious bias and have our role to play in creating a more equitable and inclusive world. To keep us on track, we have embraced Tripartite Standards in our hiring practices and to help guide the way we run our global business. Tripartite Standards is an external framework to ensure a fair and progressive workplace and in turn, help us to practise our vision of being an inclusive and equitable workplace, with diversity at the heart of our culture. This is something that filters through all that we do – how we run our organisation, but also how we guide and advise our clients in the creation of award-winning content. 

Pearlyn Ho, Marketplace Services Lead at 90 Seconds says: “90 Seconds empowers us all as individuals – regardless of gender, age, or nationality. It’s amazing to be part of a global company like this – one that breaks boundaries and creates great stories around the world.”

But like Marian Wright Edelman, activist for children’s rights and advocate for the disadvantaged, once famously said: “you can’t be what you can’t see.” And that’s exactly why we stress the paramount importance of inclusion to our clients in their content creation. 

Inclusion increases purchase intent, drives revenue and directly impacts the bottom line. The most inclusive advertisements rated 23 points higher than other advertisements in a recent Microsoft Advertising research survey, with 64% of people stating they were more trusting of brands that represent diversity, and 63% saying those brands were more authentic⁴. The authors of the report stated that the survey found that “not only does inclusion in advertising drive purchase intent if someone like you is represented, but it drives it with people who might not be personally represented in the ad.” There you have it – inclusive content is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do; it’s good marketing and good marketing is good business.

This doesn’t mean that as a business you need to drop what you’re doing and produce a showreel making a major social justice statement or aligning yourself with the latest charity. In fact, please don’t – today’s consumer is smart and can sniff out disingenuous alignments a mile off. It does however require you to think differently in the creation of your content – choose language more purposefully and pay careful consideration to the global, complex, and fragmented world in which we live.

But what does that mean? Microsoft Advertising’s Marketing With Purpose Playbook shares three categories of the diversity spectrum as detailed by Harvard Business Review: demographics, experiential and cognitive⁵.

These filters should help guide thinking, as well as the end result. Creating genuine, inclusive and diverse content takes work – and the crew behind the scenes is just as important as the end product. There are no ‘quick wins’ – diversity is not a tick box exercise – however, we have pulled together what we consider to be five guiding factors creators need to consider to ensure their content is as representative as the customer base they want to reach. These should apply irrespective of your desired product – an Animation, Company Story or Customer Story for social media. 

Diversity behind the lens

Diverse production teams are essential in terms of negating unconscious bias, producing compelling content that resonates globally, as well as avoiding harmful stereotypes and common pitfalls. It also helps create a far stronger, more original and cohesive piece of content avoiding ‘groupthink’ in that heterogeneous teams will naturally provide a broader range of ideas and solutions to any given problem.

As cited above, despite holding the purse strings, so few women make up the creative teams that produce the very advertisements that are designed to appeal to them. To produce content that resonates with an audience, that specific audience needs to be a core part of the creative journey. If not, you risk, at best, content that misses the mark or at worse, is just plain offensive.

Captions

It might seem a little ‘101’ but captions are perhaps the single most important thing one can action when it comes to accessibility – it’s also one of the easiest. With 69% of consumers now watching videos with the sound off⁶ and 80% of people being more likely to watch a video for its duration if captions are available, it’s also an essential in terms of driving results. If businesses fail to caption their videos, they risk their consumers missing the message entirely.

When it comes to inclusion, captions are vital – and not just for those who have hearing challenges or are neuro-diverse.  They benefit those who may be watching in an open plan office, on a train, or next to a sleeping baby for example – captioned content benefits us all. They also make translating content far easier – all of which can be done intuitively through the 90 Seconds work stream, like this example from HP France by way of example.

To be truly inclusive, consider more than simple subtitling which displays just dialogue. If there are other audio elements that contribute to the video, closed captions are a better option as they explain more of the scene allowing the viewer to take in the wider context. For example, if the video features a loud noise or music that connotes a certain tone, indicating as such through closed captions will give someone who may be watching the video without sound the full story.

Don’t forget to consider how the captions are displayed. In the editing phase, captions are all too often displayed in a small text with designers fearing to make it bigger and risk the overall aesthetic; however, having larger text will make the video more inclusive for those viewing on their phone as well as the visually impaired. This example from Holiday Inn shows that a video can still include sizeable captions without taking over the entirety of the frame.

Transcripts

For longer format videos, providing a transcript beneath the hosted content will help viewers to recap messaging afterwards – which is especially helpful for those viewing a video which isn’t iin their mother tongue. Including a transcript people can follow along to can help retain memory, as well as reference back on later which can be especially helpful for those who identify as neuro-diverse.

Don’t make assumptions

Unless its an important piece of context or adds an essential element to the story, don’t overtly identify the race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other demographic factor of an individual. To ‘signpost’ diversity appears cliched and consumers see through this as disingenuous virtue signalling.

For example, if telling a story of a family, recognise that family structures are diverse – i.e. not every two-parent family features a mother and father; not every single parent family is the result of divorce; not every single mother is struggling to make ends meet; not every single-parent family features a wayward absent father.

Design

People want to see themselves represented in the media they consume, so diversifying design is a crucial step towards inclusivity.

Whether that’s through ensuring measures like captions, text size, casting a diverse range of talent, or selecting stock that reflects the world in which we live, inclusion must be a guiding factor at every step of the design process.  Use simple language, avoid heavy jargon and buzzwords – doing so will make your content accessible to a wider audience.One could also consider an entirely animated video, which by its very nature, is inclusive and accessible to all. Animations don’t depict one race, region, or age over another, and are a great tool for businesses who want to create a global piece of content that doesn’t alienate or exclude viewers.

Most importantly though – at the very crux of it – businesses, brands and the content they create need to be coming from a place of genuine intent and openness. It can’t be tickboxed, tokenistic or used as a measure to appear a certain way. Today’s consumer is smarter than that and can sniff out insincerity a mile off.

At 90 Seconds, we want to see a world where difference is valued and celebrated, a world that’s diverse, equitable and inclusive, but to get there, we believe we need to speak important truths. International Women’s Day is a day to do just that – not for everyone to give themselves a pat on the back about how great we are. We must assess the world in which we live frankly and truthfully; we must assess our own biases and hold one another to account. 

Yes, as an organisation, we do feel proud about what we’ve done and what we stand for, but there is still progress to be made. Diversity is never finished. On that note, it feels fitting to end with a video we’ve pulled together celebrating the women of 90 Seconds and in acknowledgement of International Women’s Day 2022 – a truly important day globally to celebrate women’s achievements… And in doing so let us remind ourselves to not limit acknowledgement to the 8th of March, but to celebrate the rich contributions females bring to the creative industries – and every other industry for that matter – each and every day of the year. No matter your gender, together we can #BreakTheBias. 


¹ STUDY: Advertisers Don’t Understand Women (adweek.com)
² About — Creative Equals
³ https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/technology-media-and-telecommunications/our-insights/shattering-the-glass-screen
Microsoft Advertising – The Psychology of Inclusion and the Effects in Advertising, Gen Z (azureedge.net)

Marketing With Purpose Playbook
Verizon & Publicis: Verizon Media Says 69 Percent Of Consumers Watching Video With Sound Off

Rachel Teo
Head of Marketing