See how diversity and inclusion can welcome a larger audience and unlock business growth with the help of inclusive advertising. | Clear Channel

How diversity and inclusion can unlock audience growth

05 Jul 2024 / Insights, News
By Clear Channel UK View Author on Twitter

It’s estimated that there are currently 16 million disabled people living in the UK*. This number may not even include everyone who could benefit from acts of inclusion – neurodivergence (e.g. ADHD, autism, dyslexia) can also be classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, therefore helping to protect neurodivergent people from ‘discrimination in the workplace and wider society.’ 

Either way, the number is a substantial one. So why is it that in 2024, in a country of nearly 67 million people, a demographic that makes up nearly a quarter (24%) of our population still struggles with finding representation? 

Thankfully, changes are being made. Inclusive advertising, showcasing underrepresented groups of people from all walks of life, is taking important strides forward. Similarly, stores themselves are making changes to make sure shoppers with sensory needs feel welcomed. It’s a win-win-win; for advertisers, stores, and customers. In this report, we’ll share our research on diversity and inclusion in media and advertising and the variety of in-store accommodations that brands and businesses are using to embrace diversity. 

The state of diversity and inclusion in advertising 

We interact with hundreds of adverts daily – depending on the media you consume and where you choose to view it, this number could even easily be in the thousands. But when we look at these adverts, how often do we truly take stock of the individuals and lifestyles they choose to represent? More often than we might think. 

Over half of UK adults (51%*) have noticed an increase in inclusive advertising in the past year. Despite this, 40% of people feel that they rarely, if ever, see themselves represented in advertising. The majority of people aged 18-34 (68%**) think that brands need to do more when it comes to inclusive advertising, and our survey shows some ideas of what people want to see.

In terms of the less-represented individuals and lifestyles that people want to see more of in advertising, older age groups and people with disabilities garnered the most attention. With television and films so often focus on the young, air-brushed elite, it’s not surprising that there’s a growing desire for more variation in the people we see in our advertising. Showing relatable figures in everyday situations means more people can feel at home and catered for by the businesses they frequent. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that people in these categories may want to see themselves in advertising to help determine how they can relate to a product or brand.  

One in five Brits (20%) would like to see more neurodiversity represented in advertising. Neurodivergent people often experience things differently compared to neurotypical people, in ways both good and bad. Showing more neurodiversity in advertising is acknowledging that people interact with the world in a variety of ways, and that everyone’s needs have been considered in the promotion of those products or brands. 

Just under a quarter of people (24%) want to see more races and ethnicities represented in advertising. This can be of huge developmental importance to young people, who benefit mentally and emotionally from seeing people who look like them in the media. 

Towards the lower end of the list, only 16% of people want to see more LGBTQI+ representation in advertising. One possible explanation for this is that without an obvious demonstration of a relationship or attraction – something that isn’t possible or relevant in every advertising campaign - there is no real way of knowing someone’s sexual orientation from looks alone.  

The data seems to suggest, that the younger you are, the more likely you are to care about diversity in advertising. Gen Z wants to see more people with disabilities, body variation, diverse races and ethnicities, neurodiversity and LGBTQI+ representation than any other age group. Women also seem to be more in favour of diversity than men; on average, roughly 10% more women than men expressed interest in seeing older ages, disabilities and plus-sized models in advertising. Half of non-binary respondents (50%) would like to see older ages, plus-sized models, more variations in race and ethnicity, and more neurodiversity being represented. Only 0.5% of the population don’t identify with the sex they were registered as at birth, making trans and non-binary people a tiny minority – but one that seems vocal about supporting inclusivity across a wide range of demographics. 

More than just box-ticking, impactful inclusivity isn’t without its pitfalls; and unfortunately, any mistakes, faux pas or backlash is often most keenly felt by the demographics it’s designed to support. For example, 39% of neurodivergent people believe the biggest issue with inclusive advertising is the lack of normalisation. In contrast, only 22% of neurotypical people think there is a lack of normalisation in inclusive advertising. 

Speaking of box-ticking, lack of authenticity is another major concern, with more than a quarter of respondents (26%) saying that tokenism is one of their biggest issues with inclusive advertising. This is a fair response - no one likes feeling that they’ve only been invited to the party for the sake of it. 

25% of people think offensive stereotypes are a common mistake made in inclusive advertising – and this is a major issue, as something that can decisively turn people away from a store or brand, and have harmful consequences for the community being stereotyped. Representing a culture poorly, while not as intentionally disrespectful as outright offensive stereotypes, can still have negative repercussions for both the advertisers and the demographic being shown – which is why 22% of people consider this a serious problem, too. 

Dramatic (19%) or overtly vulnerable (15%) representations of disability are also a concern. This kind of infantilisation of disabled people is a common microaggression and can not only be hurtful or insulting but also threaten their independence. This is a great example of why it’s important to consult the people you’re looking to represent when creating inclusive advertising; they will be able to provide the perspective needed to avoid these common mistakes. 

So what can retailers do to make sure that their efforts towards inclusivity don’t cause offence or feel inauthentic? They can take it beyond advertising and into the shopping experience itself. 


What affects the consumer shopping experience and how retailers can make it more inclusive 

Sensory processing difficulties are common among neurodivergent people – those with ADHD, dyslexia, and autism, to name a few. Recent NHS studies suggest that as many as 69-90% of people with autism experience sensory sensitivities. This can make shopping a difficult experience and means a significant portion of the population might avoid grocery stores due to features they find overwhelming. 

An overcrowded shopping situation can be a headache – in fact, 61% of survey respondents agreed that it was enough to make them leave a store more quickly than planned. Loud music (46%) and bright fluorescent lighting (22%) were another two big offenders. Only 21% of survey respondents said that none of the sensory stimuli listed would be able to drive them out of a store, showing that most people would benefit from some kind of sensory accommodation. 


Overcrowding is the biggest source of shopping discomfort, with 59-68% of respondents across all age groups agreeing it’s overstimulating. Those aged 45-54 are the most likely to leave a store because of overcrowding (68%), followed by 25-34-year-olds (64%). This could be a sign of lingering COVID anxiety, with people still looking to avoid overcrowded areas a few years on from the height of the pandemic. 

While the assumption may be that the younger you are the more likely you are to enjoy loud music, loud music in stores garnered an even spread of dislike across all age groups – though those age 65 and over are more likely to leave a store because of it than any other age group. Interestingly, when it comes to lighting, young people are more likely to be put off by bright lights than the older generations, with 31% of 18-24-year-olds and 30% of 25-34-year-olds finding it the most uncomfortable. 

Even bright colours can be a source of distress to someone experiencing sensory overload. Gen Z and Millennials are more likely to be irritated by bright colours than anyone else, with 17% of 18-34-year-olds and 16% of 35-44-year-olds saying they would be reason enough to leave a store. 

Looking at the breakdown by condition of which sensory stimuli will make people leave stores faster, overcrowding is still the main issue, with the majority of autistic people (62%) and people with ADHD (64%) citing it as reason enough to leave a store quickly. This might be because overcrowding can overstimulate the senses in multiple ways – it makes places noisier, can cause the temperature to rise, and can cause problems for people who struggle with spatial awareness.  

By having sensory-friendly hours in stores, retailers could improve the shopping experience for all customers. Dimming lights, limiting unnecessary noise, and temporarily reducing store capacity are all sensory-friendly steps that can allow those with sensory processing difficulties to shop more comfortably. Half of Brits think stores should prioritise turning down in-store music – showing how a simple adjustment can impact many shoppers. 

Just under a third (31%) of Brits think shops would benefit from limiting foot traffic. This relates to the dislike for overcrowding and the number of sensory issues it can cause. From a practical standpoint, an overcrowded shop is more difficult to navigate, making it harder for shoppers to find the products they want, access help if they need it, and reach the checkout promptly. Priority queuing, something 25% of Brits think should be an option, would also help to streamline the flow for shoppers of all demographics. 

In terms of visual and auditory stimuli, dimming lights is almost as popular an adjustment as priority queuing (24%), and quieting unnecessary sounds from tills and checkouts would be appreciated by nearly one in five (18%) Brits.  

For those aged 55 and over, turning down loud music is the preferred sensory adjustment. This is also true for most of the age groups surveyed. The only age group that didn’t prioritise this most highly was the 18-24s, the largest percentage of which want to limit foot traffic in stores (39%). Regarding checkout noise, 22% of 18-24-year-olds would prioritise adjustments, whereas only half of those 65 and over feel the same way (11%). It could be argued that 18-24-year-olds are the most in favour of change overall, as only 9% didn’t think that stores should make any adjustments at all – the smallest percentage of any group. 

Some people are more likely to see the benefit from certain sensory adjustments than others. For example, neurotypical and non-disabled people are far more inclined to not see the need for any adjustments at all (22%) than neurodivergent people (6%).  

The need for inclusive shopping environments, such as those being championed by supermarkets Asda and Sainburys, is directly linked to the growing demand for inclusive advertising and helps to ensure that any inclusion isn’t simply tokenistic. 

When surveyed, 48% of respondents said they were aware of sensory-friendly hours, compared to 46% who were not. Of those that were already aware, it seems that age is a factor in a person’s likeliness to know about these shopping accommodations – younger generations are more aware of sensory-friendly shopping hours than older generations. Of those aged 65 and over, 41% knew about sensory-friendly hours, compared to 59% of those aged 18-24. 

Looking at awareness of sensory-friendly hours by gender, the divide between men and women is minimal – 51% vs 53%. However, outside the binary, a huge 83% of non-binary respondents knew about the existence of sensory-friendly shopping hours; suggesting that they may make more use of those times than men or women. 

Interestingly, more neurotypical people (47%) are aware of sensory-friendly shopping hours than neurodivergent people (38%). There could be lots of reasons for this – such as neurotypical people in caregiving roles being aware of the needs of the people they look after e.g. parents of neurodivergent children. Most importantly, it shows that inclusive measures won’t necessarily be noticed by the people who need them without appropriately inclusive advertising. 

 Why brands need to embrace diversity in OOH advertising 

Big messages, like those encouraging inclusivity, deserve a big platform. OOH (Out of Home) advertising reaches 90% of the population a week and can be a powerful tool in spreading your message to a larger, more diverse audience. Spreading an inclusive message will undoubtedly benefit from being done in a way where people from as many walks of life as possible can see it. 

It is clear that inclusive advertising and inclusive measures need to work in tandem; the advertising must show people that their needs will be met, and the measures must be put in place to meet those needs.  This can have hugely positive repercussions for a business, by expanding its audience and ultimately increasing profitability. 

Studies have shown there’s an increase in purchase intent when inclusive ad messages are used – in particular, there is a +22%** uplift in purchase intent among 18-34-year-olds after they’ve been exposed to an inclusive OOH ad vs a non-inclusive one. Brands that embrace diversity are seen as more trustworthy, and 61%* of 18-34-year-olds would switch to a brand that embraces diversity more than the one they are currently using.  

This is just one example of how diversity and inclusion can benefit everyone – and changes don’t need to be extreme to have a big impact. For nearly a third of shoppers (29%), simply opting for easily-read fonts would make advertisements more sensory-friendly. Simple, concise messaging (38%) and clearer layouts (36%) were the most popular adjustments, closely followed by sensory optimisations for brightness and lighting (34%).  

Taking these factors into consideration with your advertising will undoubtedly result in your message reaching more people.  

Embracing everyone 

We understand the importance of using our Platform for Good; embracing diversity and inclusion through advertising is one of the many things we can do to support all of the communities we serve, support and exist in every day.  



**Touchpoints superhub 2022

***Toluna survey. Inclusivity...your opinion matters May 23, N=750 UK adults

****Real World Research 2021