New Columbia University Study Reveals Diversity’s Vital Role in Advertising in 2021

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In many ways, most of us would like to forget 2020 ever happened. The pandemic, of course, comes to mind, but just as important were the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movements that shook society across the world.

We were given the opportunity to learn a lot in 2020 – about ourselves, our neighbors, and our world. As individuals, family members, members of the community, and as professionals, it was an opportunity to grow and improve, and we will continue to do the work in 2021.

Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion in the New Normal

Causes surrounding diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) are more visible than ever before. Movements, such as BLM, have been able to marry pain and tragedy with awareness and the first steps toward large-scale change, even among the traditionally stodgy corporate world.

Here at Taboola, we’re determined to take our learnings from 2020 and use them to create a brighter tomorrow.

Recently published research by Columbia University in partnership with Taboola regarding diversity in advertising is a prime example of how that commitment impacts our business.

A University Study of DEI in Advertising

In the summer of 2020, professor Oded Netzer of Columbia University in New York City and Jochen Hartmann of the University of Hamburg carried out a controlled lab study investigating the impact of racial diversity on the efficacy of display advertisements.

Taboola supplied a wealth of field data from 2019 to provide a baseline from which to extrapolate how attitudes may have changed with the pivotal events of 2020.

Methodology

The researchers created 24 different sample ads using several combinations of products (wine and perfume) and two models of various races (Black, White, and Asian), with one male and one female in each ad.

The ads were then presented to a hundred respondents from the United States with the following characteristics:

  • 34% White, 33% Asian, 33% Black
  • 48% female, 51% male, 1% non-binary
  • 35% 24 or younger, 37% 25-34, 18% 35-44, 10% 45 or older

They asked respondents to rate each ad in terms of their likelihood to click, likelihood to purchase, and overall ad appeal.

Characteristic factors were also considered, such as the model’s perceived attractiveness, trustworthiness, and competence.

Initial Results

The results demonstrated that diverse ads outperformed ads featuring only White models, with those featuring two Black models receiving the highest levels of engagement.

Perhaps most interestingly, these results were overwhelming among White respondents. The researchers theorized that the widespread impact of DEI movements, such as BLM, may account for these results during the study period.

I tend to agree with that conclusion. After all, we’ve seen numerous brands step up in their support of DEI lately, offering plenty of anecdotal evidence supporting the study’s results.

Goals for Ongoing Research

I’m excited to see what further data we can glean as this study continues. For instance, we’d like to dig back in our records to pull similar data from before the BLM movement came to national attention and compare that to data from 2020 and beyond.

While we’ve already seen a change, BLM was well-established in 2019, even if its impact was not as widely felt.

We’ll also be working with Professor Oded Netzer and Jochen Hartmann to observe more downstream outcomes, such as purchases and lead generation.

And, we’d like to see more granularity in data segmentation, so we can see how location, outlet, and other important factors impact results.

The most effective way for us to assist with this ongoing research is to set up campaigns in Taboola using brands that vary their ads for testing purposes.

Working with partners within the Taboola community, we’re looking forward to implementing these studies over a longer period of time and sharing the results with you down the road.

In Conclusion

While more data is always welcome, you can use these preliminary results right now to start experimenting with your own native ads.

Why not develop creatives using various models and set up an A/B test campaign within Taboola? There’s never any harm in testing and optimizing your ads.

More importantly, if you take nothing else away from this study, accept the fact that diversity is a vital element in successful marketing and advertising strategies.

With the sometimes harrowing events of 2020 behind us and potentially more to come in 2021, learning the necessary lessons we’re being taught is the greatest opportunity we have.

Remember, it’s not just good business. It’s the right thing to do.

To explore more about DEI and advertising creative, watch our panel discussion, Black Lives Matter and the Creative Industries.

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