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You Can’t Be What You Can’t See

Elmwood’s Provocation Director Georgina Denny explains why #BeBoldForChange should be a mantra to all of us. 

Georgina Denny HEADSHOT B&W

It feels like change is the only constant in today’s society. 2016 was full of truly shocking political events, that have shaken the collective consciousness, whatever side of the fence you sit on.

In a time defined by change it seems apt that the International Women’s Day 2017 theme is #BeBoldForChange; reminding us that change can - of course - be a powerful force for good.

Our industry doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to representing women and acknowledging the existence of difference. This isn’t just a gender story - the LGBT community, ethnic minorities, differently abled and transgendered people - are all hugely underrepresented groups in mainstream media.

Play a little Google Image game; search ‘CEO’ and see how far you have to scroll to find a woman. Try ‘family’ and you’ll discover a sea of hetro-normative, traditional family units – most of whom are white.

Herein lies the problem. Most of the influential story-tellers in our world are middle class, white men, as are the clients they are servicing, and this lack of diversity certainly shows in the work they produce.

At its best, design, advertising and branding can capture the zeitgeist, offer an alternative point of view, hold a mirror up to the world, and inspire us to think, feel and act differently. Nothing is more captivating than a great story, and the best stories ignite a fire inside us and impact the way we look at the world.

But why does it matter? Doesn’t everyone ignore billboards and block ads anyway? It does matter. A lot. In the wise words of...a few people, (the quote has many alleged authors!) ‘You can’t be, what you can’t see’. This means that the under or misrepresentation of certain groups is dangerous.

When people can’t see themselves represented in the world around them they feel ostracised. Particularly if you are part of an already side-lined minority, struggling to come to terms with something as challenging as disability or non-confirmative gender. No one likes being left out.

To make a brand inclusive, designers needs to step out of their collective world view and gather insight from the people they’re designing experiences for. It’s all very well reading consumer trend publications, but true, rich insight comes from talking to people one-on-one.

We get up close and personal with consumers regularly, and the outcome is always surprising, insightful and helps to guide our creative thinking.

Take our recent work as an example; customer insight was crucial to the success of a project we did for Mexican beer brand, Tecate. By spending time with consumers exploring the true meaning of masculinity for young men in Mexico, we found our preconceptions were challenged and as a result the direction of our work completely changed.

Work that’s based on human truths has the potential to be game-changing – let’s look at some of the game changers of the last year. These brands all take an inclusive approach and address issues such as gender, disability and representation of women.

Lego: This brand has made massive steps forward by creating a range of female mini-figure sets that celebrate female achievement in traditionally male dominated arenas. There are scientists, women in Nasa and more. This shows young girls what they can be.

Milk makeup: Introducing a gender-neutral range of make-up that pushes individuality, versatility and a low maintenance approach to beauty, rather than perfection. As the brand says: “At Milk Makeup, there are no rules.”

Maltesers Paralympic campaign: This campaign takes a refreshing approach by looking at the ‘lighter side’ of serious disability. But demonstrating how disability lives in everyday, ordinary situations, it becomes relatable, but most importantly, disability becomes part of the story, not the whole story itself.

& Other Stories: Celebrating the love affair between fashion and the transgender community, the high-street brand featured transgender models in their latest campaign photography, and the results are stunning.

BrewDog’s ‘No Label’ Beer: The world’s first ‘non-binary, post gender beer’ – demonstrating how product development can be a powerful way to overcome stereotyping. Designed to reflect the diversity of London's Soho area and champion inclusivity, No Label, is brewed using hops that have changed sex from female to male flowers before being harvested. This is BrewDog’s way of saying: our beer can be whatever the hell it wants to be, and so can everyone else.

Our industry has a responsibility to represent and talk to everyone. With some starting to make the right changes, #BeBoldForChange should be a mantra for us all this year.

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