UNICEF just released, "Promoting diversity and inclusion in advertising: a UNICEF playbook," which provides guidance about how to avoid stereotyping in advertising that can have a harmful impact on a child's well-being and development.  Noting that "Advertising and marketing have the power to influence individual and community beliefs, ways of thinking and behaviors," UNICEF said that, "stereotyping in advertising and marketing -- in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, culture, disability, family structure and many other other facets of identity -- remains widespread and can be harmful, affecting children's confidence, aspirations and health, including mental health." 

The playbook focuses on four main areas -- (1) gender, (2) race, ethnicity, and culture (including language and religion), (3) disability, and (4) family and caregivers (including sexual orientation).  UNICEF explained that, "Stereotypes around these areas have a profound impact on the lives of children everywhere and limit the possibilities of children to achieve their full potential."  

UNICEF recommends that, in order to eliminate harmful stereotypes, companies need to start at the beginning of the creative process.  UNICEF wrote, "Ensuring that bias is tackled at every step is the best way to create end products that are free of stereotypes."

UNICEF encourages companies to follow its "transformative model" to identify products and marketing that discriminate, demonstrate awareness of the issues, and are truly transformative in dismantling stereotypes and driving diversity, equity, and inclusion.  

Some of the practices that UNICEF highlighted as discriminatory include:

  • Favors either boys/men or girls/women depending on gender inequalities, ignores gender issues, perpetuating the status quo or worsening inequalities; 
  • Products presenting only majority children in advertisements, marketing, and communications;
  • People with disabilities not present or not represented in a dignified way; and
  • Showing only nuclear, heterosexual families. 

UNICEF says that advertising is "transformative" when it "identifies and addresses different needs promoting equal outcomes for all, or explicitly seeks to redress inequalities, remove barriers, and empower all."  Some of the practices that UNICEF identifies as transformative include: 

  • Identifies and addresses the different needs of girls and boys to promote equal outcomes or explicitly seeks to redress gender inequality and empower the disadvantaged population;
  • Children from different racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds are represented as capable, intelligent and independent in all advertisements, marketing and communications; 
  • Showing people with different disabilities with agency, having access to all services just as those without disabilities, meaningful engagement in every aspect of life, and recognizing the non-homogeneous nature of disability; and 
  • Consistently varied portrayal of family types, including extended and blended as well as racially and economically diverse families and LGBTIQ+ families.

Some of the steps that UNICEF recommends that companies take to address these issues -- and to help move toward transformative advertising -- include: 

  • Clear and specific commitments are made by senior management to work against stereotyping in content and product design; 
  • Steps are put in place to ensure diversity in product testing; 
  • Checks are implemented in procurement processes to ensure diversity and inclusion in hiring when commissioning creative work; 
  • Regular analysis is carried out on the impact of hiring practices and workplace culture on creative teams; 
  • Long-term strategic plans and commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion are developed specifically for creative teams; 
  • Internal strategy/checklists are created to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in content and and product development and marketing; 
  • Existing content and products are reviewed to ensure they do not portray harmful stereotypes; 
  • Internal training is conducted on a regular basis to raise awareness about unconscious bias and how the issue of diversity, equity, and inclusion can impact content and product development and marketing; 
  • Steps are put into place to constantly assess whether creative processes take into account cultural shifts, trends, and expectations; 
  • All partners are committed to working against stereotyping and its impacts in marketing; and 
  • Children from diverse backgrounds and a child-focused lens are systematically and meaningfully included in creative development and as part of ongoing research and insight programs. 

UNICEF explained that, "Engaging business to promote positive representation through the marketing and advertising of products and content designed for children is a vital part of achieving equality and inclusion."