Racial Diversity in Ad Campaigns Continues to Improve

But size, age and gender inclusivity are still lagging behind.

Photo: Swarovski

Racial diversity in ad campaigns has been slowly but steadily improving over the last five seasons, according to a just-released report from the The Fashion Spot. As a result, Spring 2018's campaigns were the most racially diverse ever: they featured 34 percent non-white models, up from the prior season's 32.8 percent. This also marks the second season in a row that ad campaigns have outpaced the runway in terms of racially diverse representation, after years of the reverse being true. 

While increased racial representation in fashion imagery is undoubtedly good news, it's complicated by the fact that race is itself, well, complicated. Take, for example, the fact that The Fashion Spot reported four of the top nine most in-demand models as being non-white. It's a heartening number, but it counts Gigi and Bella Hadid as non-white models because of their partially Palestinian heritage — a decision that is likely to be questioned by those who note that both Gigi and Bella pass primarily as white.

Moving beyond the sometimes-murky race numbers, the other diversity numbers for Spring 2018 ad campaigns were straightforwardly less optimistic. The numbers of plus-size models stayed mostly static for the third season in a row and lagged behind the more positive runway stats for the same category, and the overall percentage of plus-size models used in campaigns this season actually fell to 1.9 percent from 2.2 percent in Fall 2017.

Similarly, trans and non-binary models were better represented on the runways than in campaigns this season, and were actually the least-represented group in ads for Spring 2018 with only 0.7 percent of castings. The Fashion Spot report also points out that the only trans or non-binary models in major ad campaigns were young, white, thin, and "cis-presenting," perhaps displaying an industry preference for trans models only when they don't push too many other boundaries in the realm of traditional beauty norms.

Women over the age of 50 also saw a decrease in campaign representation this season compared to last, falling from 3.1 percent of castings in Fall 2017 to 1.9 percent in Spring 2018. 

In short — there is a bit of progress happening in the realm of racial representation, but there's still a long way to go, especially when it comes to size, sexuality and age. In the meantime, we'll be holding onto bright spots like the Swarovski and Nordstrom spring campaigns, which both featured better across-the-board diversity than most.

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