Significant reduction in people’s likelihood to stereotype others reported in an unprecedented experiment by Unilever and University College London

Significant reduction in people's likelihood to stereotype others reported in an unprecedented experiment by Unilever and University College London

Significant reduction in people’s likelihood to stereotype others reported in an unprecedented experiment by Unilever and University College London

The unique experiment conducted by Unilever and University College London went on to look into how to unlearn stereotyping

LONDON & NEW YORK, 18-Jun-2019 — /EuropaWire/ — Advertising and marketing professionals across Unilever and its lead agency partners, who work across 12 of Unilever’s brands, participated in an unique experiment on how to unlearn stereotypical thought patterns to increase creative and inclusive thinking. University College London (UCL) academics have attempted in an unprecedented experiment, part of  Unilever’s Unstereotype initiative, to disrupt the way leaders in advertising think about their consumer audiences. The experiment gave them a fresh view of how to commission creative ideas that advance progressive, inclusive and unstereotypical portrayals of people.

Researchers went on to explore whether DNA analysis, aimed at giving participants a greater insight into their origins, coupled with a workshop on behavioural change, could help to broaden the way people see themselves and the world around them.

The hypothesis of the University College London (UCL) was that participants would be more open to questioning how they might inadvertently stereotype people in advertising.

The experiment evidenced that this approach can reduce stereotypical responses after a single day of concentrated intervention. It delivered a 35% reduction in unconscious stereotyping among those who took part and a meaningful shift in original thinking (>27%).

The 35% reduction was measured by the UCL researchers based on pre and post assessments of participants versus control group on the extent to which consumer profiles where labelled with stereotypes determined by cultural norms. The >27% shift in original thinking has been measured by the academics at UCL based on pre and post assessments of participants versus control group on quality of idea generation.

The study by UCL has been conducted as a clinical trial with a control sample and strict adherence to University College London and global academic protocols. The number of participants in the unique experiment was 60. All of them were advertising and marketing professionals across Unilever and its lead agency partners – who work across 12 of Unilever’s brands from New York, London and Rotterdam. DNA sample was given by all participants and each of them took part in pre-assessment to measure the extent of their stereotypical thinking prior to receiving their DNA results. The DNA testing was presumed that would prime and challenge the marketers to explore their own sense of identity and broaden the way they see themselves prior to an immersive workshop. The UCL professors’ workshop focused on a deeper understanding of how and when stereotypes are learnt; the brain mechanisms that govern those stereotypes ; and how we can unlearn stereotypical thought patterns to increase creative and inclusive thinking.

At the end, the scientists retested the participants (and the control sample) post-workshop and significant reductions were reported in their likelihood to stereotype people.

Global conglomerate Unilever, owner of well over 400 leading brands around the world, has decided to challenge Dr. Lasana Harris, Associate Professor in Experimental Psychology and Dr. Gorkan Ahmetoglu, Assistant Professor in Business Psychology at UCL in order to help them go even deeper in producing even more progressive, inclusive and unstereotypical creative work. Despite the fact that only 6% of the Unilever’s global advertising is deemed outdated by consumers when the ads are pre-tested before being broadcasted, 45% of the company’s pre-tested ads globally are seen as strongly progressive, which is why Aline Santos, Unilever’s EVP of Global Marketing and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer is spearheading efforts that go even further.

Commenting on the unique experiment, Aline Santos, said:

“We are constantly innovating to find new ways to accelerate Unstereotype across our workforce and in our advertising. Becoming conscious of our blind spots and the biases that are holding us back is fundamental, but unconscious bias training has its limitations. We’ve piloted this experimental approach and measured its impact because disruptive techniques and scientific methods will help us all to drive the action needed to be more progressive in our creative work.”

Dr. Lasana Harris, commented on the DNA testing:

“While there are huge genetic similarities common to human beings, what is undeniable is that every single one of us has our own genetic profile. Taking people on a journey through their own DNA profile created a moment of reappraisal and, in many cases, that realisation of their ancestry proved to be a great surprise to them. Coupled with training on how the brains forms stereotypes, we challenged their perceptions of themselves and, in turn, that of others.”

The idea behind this more human approach is not only to create more diverse and inclusive advertising, but also crucially more creative and engaging content. Originally done as studies which suggest that the part of the brain associated with the cognitive process of stereotyping influences cognitive processes necessary for creativity, the project has later on evolved further. Independent data by Kantar for Unilever shows that Unilever progressive advertising is more effective, creating 37% more branded impact.

Aline Santos added: “In today’s marketing we are blessed with a wealth of data and technology that can drive efficiency. But that efficiency should never be at the cost of empathy. If we aren’t in the business of understanding humans, we aren’t in business at all. The business case for Unstereotype is only getting stronger, proving the need for us all to come to work as people first and marketers second.”

In a recent survey (Mar 2019) conducted by Accenture diversity and equal workplace culture was found as powerful drivers of an innovation mindset.

Media contacts:

Tom Hubbard
+44 (0)7966 568312
tom.hubbard@edelman.com

Tahlie Cooper
+44 (0)7976 351831
tahlie.cooper@edelman.com

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