The Problem Is Not Seeing the Problem: MullenLowe London & The Unstereotype Alliance

As advertisers we do not set out to create these stereotypes on purpose: instead, our actions and choices are influenced by unconscious biases we carry around with us.


Tell us about your role in the creation of this work.

MullenLowe created the advertising. We were the lead creative agency and we worked closely with IPG, UN Women and other members of the UN Alliance through the course of the project.


Give us an overview of the campaign, what did the creative brief ask and what is the work about?

The main objective of the campaign was to create a manifesto type film to support the Unstereotype Alliance, and to help drive behavioural change rather than to create monetary value.

The film aimed to inspire the marketing and advertising community with the mission of the Alliance, “demanding a new, unprecedented agenda for the industry that breaks down those outdated and harmful stereotypes and creates a world with unlimited possibilities, and to recruit new members at national and global level to sign up, and lend their names, their support, and their commitment to the Unstereotyping principles and agenda of the Alliance”.


Which insight led to the creation of this piece of work?

Lack of diversity in advertising has already been highly publicized, and many marketers are consciously attempting to feature more diverse talent in their communication.

However, where diverse talent IS featured, it is often in stereotypical roles which, far from breaking down barriers to progress in society can actually exacerbate them.

Research supports the theory that gender, racial, and sexual stereotyping can cause significant harm to groups and individuals, and stereotyping can lead to discrimination against those who don‘t conform.

So by continuing to typecast actors we limit not only their potential, but the potential of many other people like them.

Our insight was that few in the creative community set out deliberately to perpetuate stereotypes. We end up doing so because we carry our own unconscious biases around with us.

The first step towards change is to recognise our own biases and become conscious of the instant, automatic assumptions we make every time we see another person.

“The Problem is Not Seeing the Problem” is designed as a thought-provoking piece that gently confronts us with our own patterns of thought and invites us to think again.


Can you share with us alternative ideas (if any) for this campaign? Why was this idea chosen?  

This campaign was done with such tight timings that we focused our energy on cracking a single big idea.


How did the client initially react to this idea?

Everyone involved loved the idea.


Talk about the greatest challenge that you and your team faced during development.

Our challenge was to make advertisers and creatives stop and think about their unconscious biases - without being patronising. Our response was the film: “The problem is not seeing the problem.”

The idea was to film a casting session in which a variety of actors were asked to perform roles for which they fit the stereotype (e.g. an Indian guy as shopkeeper; a blonde girl as a hair model). As the production was put together in such tight timings the team had the difficult task of finding a very diverse cast that would engage with the project without knowing what it was about. On top of that the team had to find a cast that was open to talk about the biases and obstacles that they’ve encountered in their careers so that the reactions when they learned the film’s real purpose would be of genuine surprise and their frank comments highlight the dispiriting reality of the roles they are asked to play.


What did you enjoy most about seeing this campaign through? Did you learn anything new from the experience?

All members of the team are passionate about the subject matter - it was a rewarding project.


Where do you see this campaign going in the future?

The greatest impact this film can have is to remove the need for further communication carrying this message. However, we are on a journey, and we hope it serves to inspire and influence the teams creating advertising on a daily basis as well as inspire future work for the alliance.


Did the work receive negative/positive feedback? What was it?

The work had a lot of positive feedback since it was launched at Cannes Lion Festival 2018. It was shown at IPG’s and Unstereotype Alliance’s events to an audience of successful people in the communication business.

Since then the film has gained traction and was picked up by several publications as well as featured in a CNBC piece titled ‘’Diversity in Marketing: How far has the industry come?”. It has also been shown at a panel at AdWeek in NYC and at the Diversity Summit held at the BBC in London in July and the film used to in discussions over expanding diversity in advertising.