NEWS13 March 2018

Fuelling social progress – by tackling lazy stereotypes

Automotive Finance Healthcare Impact 2018 News Public Sector Technology Telecoms UK

UK – Research into taboo subjects is not only helping tackle profoundly challenging issues, it’s also highlighting the importance of overcoming lazy stereotypes in achieving valuable social change.


Three cases presented at Impact 2018 – dealing with child pornography, age discrimination and racism – showed that businesses and authorities stood to make significant gains by rethinking their approach to different groups of individuals.

In the first case, researchers tackling widespread viewing of indecent online images of children were looking for insights that could underpin a campaign to prevent criminal activity. Small focus groups targeting 18 to 24-year-old men found the audience to have “empathy gaps” that meant traditional campaigns about the harm done to minors from being involved in indecent images had little impact.

Essential to getting young men to open up about sex and pornography was to build trust with researchers and create groups that didn’t make people feel targeted as potential offenders.

“They could see from the outset we were talking to lots of men just like them. This allowed those men to feel comfortable opening up about their views, without feeling defensive,” said Julia Ridpath, research lead with Britain Thinks.

The project, by the Home Office and Britain Thinks, found that clarification of the law – and of the personal consequences of viewing illegal images – had far more impact. Online video ads created with this understanding had changed views and led to a higher likelihood of reporting illegal images.

The second case involved a six-month research project linking 2,000 respondents to a quant survey, with 12 week-long video diaries of people aged 18 to 99. What emerged was widespread agreement across age groups about there being too much age stereotyping in ads, and a shared sense of life moving too fast. The age groups had more in common than distinguishing them.

The research, by Flamingo Research and Age of No Retirement, determined a range of principles of “age-neutral design” that didn’t just help people feel more included, but that also offered commercial opportunities.

“If your brand is based on crude age stereotypes, you’re probably out of date yourself,” said Flamingo strategist Josh Dickins.

The worst-offending business sectors, they found, were banking and insurance, transport, housing and health. Brands that bucked the trend and that created products that worked across age groups included Ford (for the Focus hatchback), Apple, and OXO kitchen storage items.

“If they view it as a positive, then it’s great for innovation,” said Georgina Lee, founder of Age of No Retirement.

The third case was presented by Versiti director Dr Marie-Claude Gervais, a study of black and Asian people in England and Wales into perceptions and expectations of racial discrimination. 

Using in-home interviews and by presenting a series of deliberately ambiguous vignettes of situations, researchers were able to explore people’s views, how fixed their views were, and how their sense of self and community influenced perceptions.

What they found, Dr Gervais said, was that ethnic minorities were more likely to under-report rather than over-report racism. This finding had helped motivate civil servants to do more to tackle discrimination, in the knowledge that “people don’t just perceive racism when none exists”.

Panel chair Sinead Jefferies, director, Chime Insight and Engagement, said the overriding message to researchers was to “be a little bit more thoughtful when we consider how we look at our audiences, because people are much more than the lazy definitions we give them”.