How to ensure your advertising meets Equality, Diversity and Inclusion standards

Tools & Resources

How to ensure your advertising meets Equality, Diversity and Inclusion standards

Inclusivity is an important aspect of all business activity, and advertising is no exception. The language used in ads can have a huge impact on the audience and when used incorrectly it can cause harm and offence. To help, we’ve pulled together some tips and resources that will make your advertising applicable to everyone. 

Promoting Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) in advertising is essential for creating a more inclusive society. 

There is a lawful and ethical obligation for marketers to consider their language when creating marketing content. 

It can be easy for businesses to feel overwhelmed by the idea of adhering to everyone’s needs, and there can be lots to consider when trying to avoid causing harm and offence. 

Hopefully this overview will dispel any of those feelings. Whether you’re just starting out, or a seasoned pro, it’s worth considering if your advertising is inclusive to all. 

Click each heading for details:


What is the law?

The first step to understanding inclusive language in advertising is knowing what is required by law. This can act as a useful foundation for approaching all marketing content – a minimum standard that must be met.  

There are two main governing bodies that monitor and regulate EDI in advertising: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP). 

The law states: 

‘Marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of: age; disability; gender; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation. Compliance will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product, and prevailing standards.’ 

You can see the code and its subsections here. 

But what does this actually mean? Below is a breakdown of each category and some specific considerations for them. 


Categories for consideration

In today's diverse and interconnected world, marketers play a vital role in shaping public perceptions. With the power to influence thoughts and beliefs, it's crucial to be considerate when referring to topics like race, culture, religion, gender and sexual orientation, age, disability, and mental health.  

It’s important to strike a balance between creativity and sensitivity. By considering the potential interpretations of your messaging and avoiding offensive stereotypes, you can contribute to a more inclusive and understanding society through your marketing efforts. 

Here's how marketers can navigate these seemingly complex codes and ensure their messages resonate positively. 


Marketers must be considerate when referencing races, cultures, nationalities, or ethnic groups. It's essential to avoid inadvertently causing offence. Consider the context of your ads and how they may be interpreted by diverse audiences. 

For instance, in 2022 a job advert for the Ministry of Justice was banned for reinforcing negative stereotypes of black men. The ad featured an image of a white prison officer talking to a black inmate, with accompanying text reading ‘Become a prison officer. One career, many roles’ as well as ‘key workers’ and ‘life changers.’ 

It was considered that the ad showed an imbalanced power dynamic due to the focus on the positive qualities of the white prison officer and negative casting of the black prisoner. 


Cultural stereotypes in ads can perpetuate negative beliefs and alienate audiences. Be mindful of offensive portrayals that reinforce stereotypes.  

For example, an ad for the Channel 4 documentary ‘Big Fat Gypsy Weddings’ that used provocative images of young women and phrases like "BIGGER. FATTER. GYPSIER" were deemed offensive for perpetuating cultural stereotypes. 

Religion and Belief:  

While referencing and challenging beliefs is acceptable, it should be done without ridiculing or demeaning any religion or belief.  

An ad exploiting the sacred nature of Easter to promote a sex toy was met with strong criticism, highlighting the need to approach religious references with sensitivity. 

Gender and Sexual Orientation: 

Avoid ads that perpetuate gender stereotypes. Ads that mock or ridicule characters based on sexual orientation or gender identity are harmful and offensive. 

Research from a report by Kantar (Ad:Reaction Getting Gender Right) has shown that 99% of UK ads for laundry products are aimed at women, and similarly 70% of ads for toiletries and food products also target women. This is despite the same research showing that both genders are equally involved in decision-making in most UK households. This clearly contributes to encouraging gender stereotypes. 

This idea is particularly relevant with social media advertising. Platforms tend to use algorithms to target certain groups. When ads are aimed incorrectly it reinforces the gender inequalities in the machine learning process, leading to a constant state of gender bias. 


Ads that mock, degrade, or stereotype older people are problematic. Offensive generalisations about older individuals being incapable or senile are to be avoided. 

An advert portraying an unusual relationship between an elderly woman and a younger man with the phrase "NO TOBACCO. NO TABOO" was found offensive for suggesting an unacceptable social dynamic based on age. 

Care should also be taken for children- defined as someone under aged 16. Although there is no section of the code that specifically references ‘young adults’ above age 16, it’s always best to be considerate of everyone and avoid generational stereotyping. 


Depictions of disability should be respectful and avoid causing offence. Ads that trivialise or make light of disabilities can be hurtful. Likewise, certain language can isolate certain groups. For example, phrases such as “put your best foot forward” can exclude wheelchair users. 

Mental Health: 

When mentioning mental health, marketers must tread carefully. Some terms may be perceived as insensitive, reinforcing harmful stereotypes.  

An ad using the term "Skitzo" in reference to a Halloween costume was criticised for perpetuating negative attitudes about mental health. 

Charitable Messaging: 

In charity marketing, it's possible to use material that may be considered offensive in commercial marketing, but only if it serves an important charitable message. 

An ad by a mental health charity featured distressing content to raise awareness about suicide, and though it caused discomfort, its impactful message justified the approach. 


Best practice for promoting EDI

Embracing EDI isn't just a trend—it's a responsibility. As advertisers, you have the power to shape perceptions, challenge norms, and foster a more inclusive society. 

Here's your guide to creating advertising copy that reflects these values and resonates with a diverse audience. 

Authentic representation: 

When crafting your advertising content, aim for representation that accurately mirrors communities. Showcase a range of ethnicities, genders, ages, abilities, and body types. This isn't just about aesthetics—it's about making people of all types feel valued and acknowledged. 

Avoid stereotypes:  

Avoid perpetuating harmful biases or reinforcing discriminatory beliefs. Shift your focus towards portraying people as individuals, each with their own unique qualities, talents, and perspectives. It's about celebrating diversity, not conforming to norms. 

Cultural sensitivity:  

Think cultural appreciation, not appropriation. When delving into different cultures, be respectful and accurate. Avoid misrepresentations and misunderstandings by collaborating with cultural experts or diverse teams. This way, you can create content that resonates authentically and avoids cultural missteps. 

Inclusive language:  

Make sure your words are inclusive and respectful of all identities. Avoid gender-specific terms that might isolate certain groups and opt for gender-neutral language, such as "they/them" pronouns. 


Make sure your content is accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities. Add alternative text to images, provide closed captions for videos, and design content that's easily digestible for those with visual impairments. 

Storytelling with purpose: 

Stories connect us. Craft narratives that authentically reflect the lived experiences of diverse individuals. Share stories that showcase various backgrounds, struggles, achievements, and triumphs. 

Shared values: 

Centre your messaging around universal values that speak to a broad audience. Highlight how your product or service benefits diverse people. For example, focus on values like fairness, equality, and social progress that resonate with everyone. 

Empower and amplify voices: 

Diversity isn't just about visuals, it's about voices too. Collaborate with influencers, experts, and individuals who can genuinely share the experiences of underrepresented groups. Amplify these voices to add depth and authenticity to your campaigns. 

An educational approach: 

Use your advertising as a chance to educate the public about the importance of diversity and inclusion. Spread awareness about understanding, respecting, and embracing differences – ultimately contributing to positive change. 


Measuring and accountability

Put metrics in place to gauge the impact of your EDI efforts in advertising. Regularly assess how well your campaigns resonate with diverse audiences and contribute to positive shifts in social norms. 

This can typically be done by looking at three key areas: input, output, and outcome. 

Input - Look at the representation present in the staff creating the content. This also extends to any agencies and suppliers you might work with. Having a diverse range of voices and ideas during the creation process is likely to lead to greater representation in the final advertisement. 

Output - Assess the representation in all finished content. Check if there is a good spread of represented groups across adverts and overall campaigns. 

Outcome - Measure engagement, impact, and sales against representative audiences. This will tell you if your ads are on track or if they may be excluding certain groups. 

Remember EDI is a journey, and you won’t always get it right every time. Welcome feedback from a range of voices, including customers and employees. Be open to learning and evolving your strategies to align with EDI goals. Growth happens when we actively seek improvement. 

Next steps...

  • Assess your current advertising content to determine how inclusive they are and identify areas to improve – make sure you ask for feedback from a diverse range of people. 
  • Put metrics in place to measure the impact of your EDI efforts.