How to Better Use Advertising as a Diversity Medium

Diversity and inclusion were slow concepts to come around, and about 30 years ago were not even properly conceptualized. As attitudes started shifting, more and more major companies realized the benefits of being more supportive of women and minorities. Advertising in particular has the ability to both tell about our world and reflect ongoing trends, and even change them.

Lisa Cochrane, The Allstate Corp.’s senior vice president of marketing, started her career at Ogilvy & Mather. Upon joining Allstate in 2000, she dedicated her efforts to better, inclusionary management of women at work. She’s responsible for the #OutHoldingHands campaign during June’s Pride Month and the popular Mayhem commercials. She was also recently named "Woman of the Year" by Advertising Women of New York.

Diversity Executiverecently spoke with Cochrane. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

With you having started in advertising and marketing 30 years ago, how has the workplace shifted for you, especially regarding diversity and atmosphere?

lcochraneI’ve definitely seen a shift since I first started in advertising. One of the changes I’ve personally noticed and experienced is the workplace is more inclusive and supportive of working parents. When I began my career, there were not nearly as many employee benefits for mothers; benefits such as paid maternity leave, designated mother’s rooms for nursing mothers and flexible work schedules. I lead a department that includes more than 75 women, and I’ve experienced firsthand the importance of providing the appropriate support to help women — and men — balance work and home life.

I’m fortunate to work for a company where an inclusive environment is part of our culture — we’ve always been about keeping people in good hands, and that goes for employees as well as customers. Allstate has nine diverse employee resource groups made up of around 4,500 employees who have shared life experiences, backgrounds or career paths.

Rising the ranks in your workplaces, such as Ogilvy & Mather, and later Allstate, did you ever encounter any friction? Do you think the same frictions (if any) occur today in workplaces?

It really was a different world when I started in the business. On my second day as a management trainee at a global ad agency fresh out of college, the female head of HR called a meeting that turned out to be with other new women in the office. She started by telling everyone about administrative roles and responsibilities. I looked around and noticed my fellow attendees were all receptionists and administrative assistants. I realized I shouldn’t be there and tried to scoot out. She stopped me and said, “Sit right down. It’s no mistake you’re here.” So I sat through the meeting, went to the bathroom, cried, dried my tears and went to the head of the agency concerned that I’d misunderstood what I was hired for. He assured me it was a mistake and advised me to believe in myself and my ambitions regardless of the assumptions others make about me. I learned on that day to speak up for what I feel is right, and equally as important, surround myself with people who are supportive of me.

I tell this story because it’s an indication of how far we’ve come. There are frictions and stereotyping that still occur, but I’m grateful to work for a company which has nurtured inclusive diversity before it even had a name.

How has your personal ethic, integrity and diversity impacted your work at Allstate? What sort of values did you try to instill?

I love people. I am dedicated to creating an environment where all differences are embraced, celebrated and heard. Everyone deserves equal treatment and protection. And I happen to work for a company that shares these same values. Everyone deserves to feel safe, secure and protected. At Allstate it doesn’t matter your gender, race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation; our good hands are here to take care of you, and that applies no matter who you are, where you’re from or what language you speak.

I do believe marketing can make a difference in people’s lives. A great example of this is Allstate’s “Out Holding Hands” campaign. We launched a programthis June during Pride Month to encouragemembers of the LGBT community to share special and everyday moments while holding hands with their loved ones using the hashtag #OutHoldingHands. Since launching this campaign, Allstate has received extensive positive press, with many consumers engaging and joining the conversation.

Tell us a little more about the Mayhem commercials, the ideas behind them and how they came about.

For the past 10 years, Allstate has had a very successful ad campaign featuring our spokesman Dennis Haysbert. But in a post-recession insurance marketplace, saturated with competing companies talking often and loudly about cheap rates, at Allstate we knew we had to be disruptive and innovative to be heard.

Everybody was talking about low price, turning insurance into a commodity. But, nobody was pointing out the truth — if you don’t have the right insurance protection, you can lose big money fast. People didn’t recognize that the “someday” of having to use your insurance could actually be any day. And there is mayhem in life.

This simple insight is how Mayhem was born. Now, Allstate’s two campaigns together — Mayhem disrupting the conversation and Dennis Haysbert delivering important information — have changed the conversation from how much you can save to how much you can lose if you don’t have the right protection.

In what ways can advertising have a positive effect on diversity?

Advertising can not only do good for business, it can do good for our world. Advertising delivers news, promotes competition and stimulates business. Of course we influence purchase, and that’s what makes the cash register ring. But we also have the ability to influence in so many other ways: culture, language, style, human understanding.

Media portrayals are powerful. And with this power comes great opportunity. One of advertising’s opportunities — responsibilities, really — is to recognize what the world looks like and reflect that reality for consumers. As big brands with big advertising budgets, we have an opportunity to show the world how it is, and through that depiction help people accept, understand and sometimes change.

Allstate’s Give It Up For Good campaign, for example, celebrates the good in the African-American community that so often goes unnoticed, changing the conversation from bad news, which can create apathy, to good news that empowers and inspires people.

Based on the insight (drawn from our research) that bad news gets enough coverage in AfricanAmerican communities, this campaign shifts the conversation from negativity to empowerment and positivity. We want to inspire people to find good, do good, share good and feel good.