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Creative research

In this article, we'll look at some historical examples of creative research gone wrong due to a lack of diversity.
A forehead, nose and eyes in close up: electric blue eyes and a face covered in red, yellow, green, blue, purple and pink paint stares down the lens.
© Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

Marketing Week’s 2020 Career and Salary Survey reveals that of the 3,883 respondents:

  • 88% identify as white
  • 4% identify as mixed-race
  • 5% identify as Asian
  • 2% identify as black

Gender bias is apparent too.

While 60.9% of all respondents are female, female representation among marketing directors on boards is 48.2%.

Furthermore, 82% of all marketers define themselves as coming from a middle-class background. [1]

These figures go a long way towards explaining the plethora of poorly devised, sexist, racist or simply tone-deaf advertising we’ve seen, not just in the past but up to the present day.

Here’s a quickfire list of some of the industry’s finest disasters.

UK Government: Stay Home. Save Lives.

In mid-2021, the UK government released an advert on social media showing women, but not men, doing domestic chores, such as cleaning, child-rearing and homeschooling.

Out of four vignettes, a man is present in only one, seen lounging on a couch, just, you know, chilling. [2]

The prime minister’s spokesman said:

‘We have provided information for the public throughout the pandemic … [the ad] does not reflect our view on women, and we have removed it.’

Dove: Racist ad

In 2017, Dove posted an ad on their Facebook page that has to go down as one of the most tone-deaf examples of racism in modern advertising.
In a four-second video, a black woman sitting next to a dove bottle takes off her brown shirt, revealing a white woman underneath.
Dove responded to public outcry on Twitter:
‘An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully. We deeply regret the offense it caused.’ [3]

Snapchat: Would you rather?

Snapchat’s share price dropped by almost 5% – or $1 billion – in one night after Rihanna criticised them on social media for hosting an advertisement for a new game called ‘Would you rather?’
Snapchat users were asked to choose whether they would rather ‘Slap Rihanna’ or ‘Punch Chris Brown’.
A Snapchat spokesperson said in an email:
‘This advertisement is disgusting and never should have appeared on our service. We are so sorry we made the terrible mistake of allowing it through our review process. We are investigating how that happened so that we can make sure it never happens again.’ [4]

Dolce & Gabbana: Chopsticks

In November 2018, Dolce and Gabbana released three videos on Weibo, promoting its upcoming Shanghai show, ‘The Great Show’.

In the series of videos, a Chinese model in a D&G dress attempts to eat Italian food with chopsticks, but to no avail.

A narrator, in Mandarin, provides mocking comments like, ‘Let’s use these small stick-like things to eat our great pizza margherita.’

Another comment, referencing a giant cannoli, goes, ‘Is it too big for you?’

Of course, Weibo exploded with criticism for the commercial, with many calling it out for mockery and racism.

It didn’t help matters for D&G when a fashion blogger shared a screenshot of an alleged chat between Stefan Gabbana and an Instagram user.

In the leaked chat, Gabbana appeared to call China a ‘country of [five poo emojis]’ and ‘ignorant dirty smelling mafia’.

Gabbana later said that his account had been hacked, but many viewed this excuse with scepticism. [5]

Soon after, Chinese customers started returning their D&G products to stores, and many outlets stopped selling D&G products altogether. Reuters estimated the company may have lost as much as half a billion in revenue. [6]

Would more diversity in marketing research and the teams that conduct that research lead to greater connection with markets?

When we consider the homogeneity of the marketing industry and the scale and frequency of blunders, the answer seems clear.


  1. Reporters, M., 2021. Revealed: Marketing’s diversity problem. [online] Marketing Week. Available at: Marketing Week [Accessed 9 September 2021].
  2. Topping, A., 2021. No 10 pulls ‘sexist’ Covid ad showing all chores done by women. [online] the Guardian. Available at: The Guardian [Accessed 9 September 2021].
  3. Slawson, N., 2021. Dove apologises for ad showing black woman turning into white one. [online] the Guardian. Available at: The Guardian [Accessed 9 September 2021].
  4. Levin, S. and Snapes, L., 2021. Rihanna wipes $1bn off Snapchat after criticising app for making a ‘joke’ of domestic violence. [online] the Guardian. Available at: The Guardian [Accessed 12 September 2021].
  5. Xu, Y., 2018. Dolce & Gabbana Ad (With Chopsticks) Provokes Public Outrage in China. [online] Available at: NPR [Accessed 9 September 2021].
  6. Ferreira-Marques, C., 2018. Breakingviews – Dolce & Gabbana’s Chinese outfit proves reversible. [online] Available at: Reuters [Accessed 9 September 2021].
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