You muppets! Brands shun regions for Estuary English

BBC Eastenders 2Brand owners risk alienating huge swathes of the UK population by shunning regional accents in their radio and podcast advertising, with the vast majority (62%) opting for Southern tones, triggering calls to “be brave” and improve the balance.

So says a new study by The Unstereotype Alliance – convened by UN Women and backed by Tesco, Kantar and Acast – into the diversity of audio advertising in the UK.

The results reveal that accent bias is a prominent issue, dominated by “Estuary English” – associated with the area along the River Thames and typified by celebrities from Danny Dyer to Jamie Oliver – or the King’s English.

According to the study, which analysed ads covering both podcast and national radio across finance, retail, food and entertainment industries, accents from the North of England featured in just 19% of ads. This is despite the fact the North is home to more than 15 million people, and an economy worth around £343bn.

Welsh and Scottish accents are even rarer, appearing in just 2% of ads, while voices from the Midlands feature in 1% of ads. When broken down by sector, a mere 13% of finance and entertainment audio ads feature Northern voices, with retail and food ads faring better at 27% and 23% respectively.

And, while women make up 51% of the UK population, only 36% of audio ads feature female voices as the lead. Male voices dominate, particularly in finance (53%), entertainment (48%) and food (47%) sectors. Women represent 53% of voices heard in retail ads compared to 23% male voices.

The research also tested bespoke created audio ads, with respondents asking a range of reflective (type two thinking) questions, as well as Intuitive Association Testing (type one) to understand the intuitive reactions people have when listening to audio advertising.

Worryingly, the findings reveal that Britons hold bias and stereotypical assumptions when it comes to gender and regional accents. When listening to grocery and finance ads with a male voiceover, for instance, respondents intuitively found the ad more informative and authoritative while the female voiced ads were deemed more trustworthy and relatable.

Regional bias came into play once more with far fewer positive associations for the Northern voiced ads. The Southern voiced ads were seen as more trustworthy, confident and helpful, while Northern voiced ads were associated with quality and taste.

Yet while the findings reveal positive associations for both male and female voices and for Northern and Southern accents, there is a clear opportunity to overturn stereotypes by featuring more female voices in authoritative and informed roles across sectors such as finance. Likewise, there is an opportunity to flip the narrative on male voices by depicting men as more relatable and caring.

When it comes to enjoyment of audio ads, male and Southern voiced ads had higher scores. However, the female voiced finance ads were more memorable (74% female voiced ad vs 67% male voiced ad) presenting brands in this sector with an opportunity to break with conventions and feature more female voices.

Kantar Creative senior client director Sarah Morrell said: “The research clearly shows that there is inherent bias in UK audio and podcast advertising. However, the evidence also provides brands with an opportunity to be brave and make small changes that can have a big difference.

“If female voices in the finance sector create more ad memorability why not strive to improve gender balance in your audio advertising? This is not only the right thing to do and what people expect and want from brands but can also have a positive impact on creative effectiveness and as a result the ROI from audio campaigns.”

Unstereotype Alliance UK chapter lead Melda Simon added: “To truly succeed in our mission to eradicate stereotypes from all advertising and media content, it is absolutely vital that brands reflect the public they serve across all touchpoints.

“We hope these results encourage audio advertisers to diversify their casting practices and strive for a 50:50 gender balance in audio advertising with greater regional, working-class and minority ethnic accents.”

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