9 ways Google is changing habits, so they can make more inclusive marketing

Lorraine Twohill is the Chief Marketing Officer of Google. Here she shares insight into her team’s continued work on making the brand’s ads more representative and inclusive.

A version of this perspective previously appeared in Adweek.

The great educator and champion of inclusion, Reggie Butler, once told me, “Habits won’t change with the head alone, you have to engage the heart as well.”

Today I work in two industries, tech and advertising, that I believe care deeply about diversity but where old habits have held back progress. As Google’s CMO, I know it’s my job to help change this.

Last year I shared some of our learnings. Since then, we have made progress but, like many in the industry, our journey is ongoing.

Take our creative work as an example. Sitting in creative reviews over the last year, I felt I was seeing more diversity in our casting.

There was some truth to this. We have been auditing our work using machine learning and manual reviews for some time. Screen time for women in our work is up to 48% this year. The age of people we feature in our ads is becoming more reflective of the general population. And 23% of the consumers in our U.S. ads are Black.

But I wasn’t seeing the full picture. It turns out we were mostly casting people with lighter complexions and a disproportionate number of interracial couples. And even when we were bringing in more complexions, we often did so in stereotypical roles. One in three portrayals of Black people were limited to dancing, music, or sports.

There’s more to a face. Identity is nuanced. Diversity exists within diversity.
I realized that we had been looking at diversity through only the broadest of categories — women, LGBTQ, Black, Latino. But there’s more to a face. Identity is nuanced. Diversity exists within diversity.

To fix this, we have to change habits. But how do we do this at scale? How do we change the habits of our teams and agencies? We still have a lot to learn. But here are nine very practical things we have found useful:

1. Ensure everyone feels responsible

All too often, we have relied on women and people of color to point out diversity problems in our work. It can’t just be on them. Now our diversity core team is made up of senior leaders, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. And we’ve made it everyone’s responsibility to fix their personal biases.

2. Partner with agencies who care

The majority of our creative is done by our agency partners. So it’s important that we work with agencies who care deeply about inclusion. We have compiled a roster of agencies who excel in this. We recently reached out to our top 70 agency partners and asked them to share their representation numbers. My team and I are sitting down with their CEOs to talk about their diversity plans and learn from each other.

3. Use real people in our work

One of the best ways to avoid stereotypes is to use found footage and real stories. This is something we’ve been increasingly doing. Black Girl Magic — a campaign we did in celebration of International Women’s Day featuring real Black women who have made their mark on history — is one of my favorite examples.

4. Think about all aspects of casting

Empathy and relatability in creative comes with attention to detail — like who is speaking and who is holding or using the product. So we’re hiring more diverse editors, producers, directors, and collaborators behind the camera. For example, the multicultural agency Cashmere was phenomenal in producing the Childish Gambino Playmoji creative for Pixel 3.

5. Approach creative and media holistically

This past year, we ran a Chromebook campaign with a TV media plan and specific creative tailored to Latino audiences. We saw 1.5X stronger consideration lift among Latino audiences compared to the general population. So we are now building a team to ensure there is a multicultural media plan for every campaign.

6. Partner with others to measure progress

We’re building on previous work with Geena Davis and her research institute to measure gender representation in ads on YouTube using machine learning. We’re also working with the U.S.-based Association of National Advertisers’ #SeeHer initiative to scale our technology to help brands measure representation and unconscious bias in their ads.

7. Look beyond our bubble

As a tech company looking to hire diverse talent, there’s only so much we can do in the Bay Area. So one of our starting points has been to expand our hiring footprint. We are now building an active pipeline in cities like New York and Los Angeles.

8. Make inclusion a daily habit for the team

External experts, like GLAAD and ADCOLOR, have helped us develop trainings for our team. And we have recently launched internal campaigns, including posters, which can be seen hanging in many of our offices. Transparency and accountability help too. So we share biweekly reports on our team representation numbers with leaders.

A series of revised scripts that flip stereotypes: Open on a mom packing for a business trip. Open on a Latino man watching his daughter’s recital. Open on a girl playing video games. Open on a Black student painting. Open on a solo parent.
Think with Google
An internal campaign to remind Google marketers that creating inclusive work requires breaking down stereotypes
9. And don’t forget the heart

We have learned that it all begins and ends with managers. So, with Reggie Butler’s help, we engaged the heart with a new training that helps managers change their behaviors, demonstrating their commitment to inclusion — beyond the business reasons. It’s called Examined Human.

Google builds products for everyone. And we believe everyone deserves to see themselves in our work. Achieving this starts with good habits. We have a lot to learn from leaders in this space. And we are excited and committed to doing the work to get us there.

Lorraine Twohill
Chief Marketing Officer, Google