A key aspect that marketers miss is that children define things differently to adults.
This can be a problem because adults prefer to simplify an issue, using the logical, reasoning mind. But children do not function in this way. Especially for young children, up until they are about 10 years old, the reasoning mind is undeveloped. They live in the heart.
Children see diversity as not just visible disabilities or differences in colour of skin, accents, height or weights. But they see other things that we don’t necessarily as adults.
Indeed, young children also revere certain things that adults probably have forgotten, such as expertise and experience of older people, and may not see that in their marketing or media because those who have this experience are defined as old and therefore dismissed, to a greater or lesser degree.
There remain issues in marketing and media beyond the obvious such as things like stereotyping. This might be German accents used for scientists or Russian accents used for bad guys.
Also objectification, such as using eyelashes, lipstick and high heels to represent beauty. The use of voice is another common one, such as a posh accent for intelligence, whereas a regional accent to demonstrate lesser intelligence.
Even the notion of intelligence can become a problem in children’s media, equating to being superior or a better person, irrespective of an individual’s feelings or how conscientious they are.
This highlights the societal and classist problems with symbolism in our marketing or media, such as lower quality housing representing poverty and success represented by people being in big houses, opulence and effectively a larger carbon footprint.
One area we can learn from to improve our marketing is understanding the animation conundrum.
Animation is so significant and ubiquitous in children’s lives. Yet, for the producers of these shows, the question remains
‘how are you going to effectively show diversity and representation for younger children, especially, for example, on a show with puppies as the main characters?’
We know that the vast majority of parents want their children to watch shows that demonstrates diversity and inclusion. However, a problem arises because we also know that parents don’t want animation, media or marketing covering more difficult issues or complex subjects such as Black Lives Matter, issues of covid or free speech as highlighted recently in Canada. The parents want to do that themselves. So we need to understand what are parent’s reservations.
Interestingly, it is to the world of children’s picture books that parent’s often look to open the conversation with children on these difficult issues.
This is because it is easier for a parent to pace the shared reading experience with their child in a calmer atmosphere than animation on tv presents.
With picture books, parents can take a break from the page-turn and engage the child one-to-one with discussion, which is near impossible to do with a tv show.
Marketers and creatives alike need to understand the difference between just representing diversity and doing it authentically and in ways that don’t reinforce sets of stereotypes.
Despite restrictions imposed by parents, children are being exposed to the more complex diversity issues in their media. However, it is not through scripted tv shows but via influencers on a YouTube video that they’re watching.
So these topics are dissipated far beyond what is programmed on television sets and is much more accessible to children than ever before.
It is important that children are exposed to complex diversity issues in their media, but perhaps a way of appeasing parent’s concerns is to avoid a heavy handed approach.
But it is proper for marketers and tv companies to include these difficult topics. It doesn’t have to be heavy handed but they do need to be addressed because they are very present in the lives of children and families.
There are moves by some of the bigger companies at getting more diversity and bigger topics into their shows.
For the 2 – 10 age range it’s done more from a social-emotional learning perspective.
Children start to develop social-emotional skills from a very young age and are essential for connecting with others. These skills help us manage our emotions, build healthy relationships, and feel empathy.
Some examples of social-emotional skills in use are:
- Recognising if someone is sad, and asking if they’re ok
- Expressing yourself with your friends in a different way than with your parents
- Understanding your thoughts and feelings, and being able to relate to others
Upwards of 10 years old, these topics can be addressed in a more direct, explicit and intellectual way.
The beauty of these changes to accessibility is that we now have a global audience.
Because of platforms such as YouTube and streaming sites, everything is being distributed in a much more ubiquitous way than ever before. This creates an opportunity for marketers and creatives to tell stories in a more niche way instead of relentlessly relying over and over again on the stereotypes mentioned earlier.
Great stories of diversity and complex issues are indeed being developed and posted on Youtube, which is excellent for both children and adults.
We are interested in the deeper issues of diversity and there is some great content out there. We love to tell our friends about it and they’ll ask where we saw it. So the conversations are being had in the playground and at the office water cooler.
However, the other side of this is how we discover them. The technology part is significant because of how algorithms are in charge of serving up content to our children. We try and help children manage the volume of content but are also faced with questions about how to get away from only seeing one type of content as dictated by the algorithm.
It is interesting to observe that they way YouTube’s algorithm is set up actually limits diversity of exposure.
The danger of this is that if you end up only speaking to people that you are broadly in agreement with, or listening to people in the media you broadly agree with, then you end up in an an echo chamber. This profoundly stunts societal progress, growth and diversity, and is the enemy of creativity, which of course is essential in both marketing and illustration.
The media is very much like this. If you’re right or left leaning or liberal then you will read certain newspapers that support your views.
The algorithms of the internet tend to lead us down wormholes which are only full of their own existing views. The days when you would read a newspaper and accidentally come across a story that was about something you didn’t already know about are on the way out.
There is a hope that the tech industry really makes more efforts to serve up more diversity in the content recommendation engines that they’ve built to really allow children get at all that great stuff that’s out there, instead of only re-serving the kind of content that children might be gravitating towards.
For further learning I found this article useful: What Is Diversity Marketing? (+How Marketers Can Embrace It)
We all need newness in life – new hope, new inspiration, new love and new promise. Embracing diversity does not mean to sacrifice who or what we are or to feel that we could become overwhelmed.
Embracing diversity means allowing the opportunity for newness and growth.