UN Women and Publicis Groupe's Marcel Classes: Removing Stereotypes, Advancing Inclusion

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UN Women's Unstereotype Alliance -- a global coalition of brands, media companies and tech platforms created to eradicate harmful gender stereotypes in worldwide media and advertising -- has called on Publicis Groupe's Marcel Classes team to develop an "Unstereotype Masterclass" through e-learning to help advance its mission.

Where once the developers of a class would present at UN Women conferences before dozens of people, now anyone plugged into e-learning formats can access the information -- including Publicis Groupe's 80,000+ employees worldwide.

While we've made progress dismantling stereotypes in recent years, there is still work to do -- and there are lingering aspects of bias that are what the original Unstereotype course called the Three Ps: Presence, Perspective and Personality.

"'Presence' is just showing up -- having characters in advertising that are LGBTQ+, that are disabled, that don't fit the standard format of what we traditionally see in advertising," says Alina Villasenor, Vice President of Content at Marcel Classes, who oversaw the development of the e-learning Masterclass modules, along with Associate Director of e-Learning Isabel Moreno. "'Perspective' is getting an authentic lens from those archetypes," she adds. "And 'Personality' is making it relatable."

Carol Sinko, Senior Vice President and Global Lead at Marcel Classes -- the home of all curated learning across Publicis Groupe -- notes that the examples can be subtle. "There has always been a character in a particular video, or always a certain person that's the clerk in the store," she says. "It's always the mom doing the laundry and not the dad. Or if it is the dad, he messes the laundry up."

The idea, she adds, is to make people think, "Why is the person that's at the front desk always that race? Or why do I never see somebody in a wheelchair at a sporting event?"

It's something that could only help advertisers think about their audiences, which "ideally, if you're doing your job well, could be anyone," Sinko continues. "How do you represent those different people in an inclusive way in your marketing? It's easy not to make those changes. But it's not hard to make those changes once they're pointed out to you."

Villasenor says she enjoyed working with her team to convert the material into an e-learning format to "make it interactive and make it fun and democratize it for everybody. We apply a gamification model to keep learners engaged. We want to make sure that people stay engaged, so almost every 30 seconds we're asking you to do something within the course."

Participants vote on how well sample commercials lived up to the three Ps -- or did not. Then experts come on to share their views.

It's not a shaming exercise of what's right and what's wrong. "It's an evolution of trying to get more representation of different and differently abled people," Sinko explains.

While the single session takes 35 minutes to complete, "we've included optional sections that you can explore if you want to keep looking at ads," Villasenor says. As one example, she describes an alcohol and spirits brand ad with the tagline, Labels are for Bottles, Not People. "It's phenomenal and it's witty and it's charming," she says. "Everybody is having a good time and it's like, Why weren't we doing this before?"

So far, getting folks to engage with the learning series hasn't been a hard sell. "There is enough amazing talent out there that sees this as a problem," Villasenor says. "That's what I found the most inspiring."

They are inspired, too, by the potential reach of the class and are working on translating the Masterclass into other languages including Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish.

Shifting the teaching to e-learning was in discussion even before the COVID shutdowns last year, Sinko notes. "Then, when the pandemic happened, there was a huge uptick in e-learning, obviously, in all kinds of environments. That's when we really thought that this is the opportunity to take this into a much broader scale.

"Normally our audience is our internal employees," she concludes. "So, to know that this is going outside of the Groupe and could have a further-reaching impact is very motivating. It's very meaningful to know that this is putting good into the world."

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