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Landing Channel 4’s annual Diversity Fund  requires full commitment to a “brave” idea and the ability to embrace tighter timescales in pitch and production, according to past winners Maltesers and Lloyds.

Channel 4 today (23 May) announced the brief for the 2018 Diversity Fund – a prize of £1m free airtime for a TVC that explicitly addresses diversity – would ask advertisers to focus on how women are portrayed.

Maltesers and AMV BBDO won the first competition in 2016 with an irreverent, comic slant on disability, while Lloyds and Adam&Eve/DDB’s exploration of the different types of mental health issues took the prize last year.

Make sure the client is on board

The first piece of advice to potential entrants this year came from the broadcaster itself.

Volvo and Grey were initially granted the fund in 2016, however the brand pulled out just weeks before it was due to air.  At the time a spokesperson said the winning creative “had not previously been shared with us, nor approved for production”; as such, Matt Salmon, head of agency and client sales and commercial marketing at Channel 4 advised agencies to guarantee “that your client is fully endorsing the ad that you’re putting forward”.

Embrace the time pressure

The switch in winning client meant Lloyds and Adam&Eve/DDB found themselves under pressure to produce an ad in time for the scheduled broadcast (they were handed the prize in November 2017 and released the slot in the first week of February 2018).

Debut winners AMV BBDO and Maltesers also found themselves under the tight production schedule of three months in order to release ‘Boyfriend’ in time for the 2016 Paralympics.

Channel 4 has extended lead times for the 2018 iteration of the competition, however all past winners stated they found the broadcaster-set deadlines to be somewhat of a gift.

“We actually found [the time limit] really useful when it came to driving momentum and meant there wasn’t time to get nervous,” said Abigail Brown, account manager for Maltesers at AMV BBDO. “When you’re working in this space you do have to be a bit bold and a bit brave, and if you sit on an idea too long it can be very easy to start watering it down.”

Agencies are also under the clock at pitch, with Channel 4 giving just 10 minutes to present ideas.

However, Ben Worden, planning director at Adam&Eve/DDB said the agency failed to grasp the constraints this time limit put on the presentation when it first pitched with both Lloyds and H&M in 2016.

“We found 10 minutes was an incredibly good exercise in focusing on what really needs to be said and it’s a great discipline for any kind of pitch," he said. "But we found in year one that we’d probably been a little bit too recessive when it came to pitching.

"In year two, however, the creative idea gave us an absolute gift ... everything we presented was on Post-It notes so the was idea burned into the presentation, which was a neat way to show in a short space of time.”

For Maltesers, Brown said that featuring video testimonials of people supporting the idea was a simple and quick way to convey authenticity and efficacy at the pitch stage.

Prove its authenticity

Both winning brands were able to sidestep any cynicism when their campaigns were released due to strength of their existing brand platforms. The bank had already addressed diversity in its marketing comms, particularly through the 2016 campaign ‘For Your Next Step’, which featured a man proposing to his male partner.

It meant the marketing department was confident support would come from the top when it came to release its Channel 4 winner.  

“It’s really important that the [wider] organisation is brought in,” said Jean Reddan, head of marketing and communications at Lloyds. “That way if you do get criticism you’re standing tall and proud over what you’ve done, and the organisation is backing you, and not going: ‘Oh some marketing department over here did something a bit random, and we’re sorry’.”

Maltesers, on the other hand, had not overtly addressed diversity in its adverts before (although arguably, its past representations of female friendships and use of female comedians did so in a more nuanced way.)

Rebecca Shepheard-Walwyn, the chocolate’s brand director, admitted she was slightly apprehensive when first approaching her general manager “and saying we want to make an advert with a disabled person in it, about sex, and – by the way – it’s for our oldest brand".

However as conversations had already taken place on how to build diversity into its external communications, the fund was pitched as an “accelerator” for ideas already in the pipeline.

Find the right partners

Both brands advised officially or loosely partnering with an external organisations.  Lloyds already had a relationship with Mental Health UK while Maltesers initially opted to partner with disability charity Scope – a charity where “irreverence and humour” aligned with the confectioner’s own.

For its subsequent campaigns, which have continued to follow the theme of diversity, Maltesers has worked with Age UK and Stonewall on ads starring older and gay women respectively.

Maltesers has been frank about the commercial success derived from focusing on diversity in advertising, stating that sales grew by 8.1% and brand affinity by 20%. It went so far as to say the first campaign iteration was its ‘most effective advertising campaign’ in a decade.

Lloyds is still waiting on bottom-line results from its first campaign, however has noted a positive effect on social media. Online response to the campaign was 92% positive – a phenomenal figure given that the bank’s usual response to ads stands at a paltry 13% positive. 

As for key advice for those entering the 2018 competition?

“Hold hands with your agency,” surmised Shepheard-Walwyn. “You’re in it together ... and you both need to be partnering on this all the way through the organisation. It needs to come from the top all the way down.”