What advertising is still getting wrong about casting

We speak to Mother ad agency and Road Casting about the dos and don’ts of casting ads – from opening up the process to more diverse talent to recognising the need for nuanced storytelling

Casting can often be the thing that makes or breaks a campaign. Get it right, and a character’s story will resonate strongly with consumers, while tone-deaf casting is more likely to result in an ad falling flat on its face. The ‘right’ approach to casting has become somewhat of a battleground in recent years, however, with many agencies and brands grappling with how to be more representative of the communities they are selling to without it feeling tokenistic.

“There’s a lot of layers to the casting process and it’s been approached in the same way for a really long time,” Anna Murray, head of production at Mother advertising agency in London, tells CR. “The advent of movements like BLM and #MeToo swung a spotlight on certain areas of that process, making everyone look more at how they brief, the talent they see, have access to, and the feedback and approvals they give.”

On the flip side, brands are also having to deal with a small but extremely vocal minority of critics who disagree with the need for more diverse stories in advertising. In 2020, in light of the racist online backlash that followed Sainsbury’s Christmas ad featuring a Black family, the rest of the UK supermarkets opted to run their own Christmas ads back-to-back on primetime Channel 4 with the hashtag #StandAgainstRacism in solidarity with the retailer.