Diverse representation in advertising: Q&A with Creative Shop Researcher Fernanda de Lima Alcantara

International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. To highlight the impactful work that women researchers are doing at Facebook, we reached out to Fernanda de Lima Alcantara, Marketing Science Researcher at Facebook’s Creative Shop.

The Creative Shop is an internal team of creative strategists, designers, writers, producers, and data experts who collaborate with advertisers to help them run effective campaigns on Facebook’s apps and services. Within this team, De Lima focuses on helping businesses succeed by providing them with marketing and advertising insights, with a current focus in representation in online ads.

In this Q&A, we ask De Lima about her journey at Facebook, her background, and her current research projects. She shares insights from her recent white paper, “Diverse and inclusive representation in online advertising: An exploration of the current landscape and people’s expectations,” and explains what marketers should take away from this research.

Q: Tell us about your experience in academia before joining Facebook.

Fernanda de Lima Alcantara: I first started my career in Brazil as a telecommunications technician, but soon I found my passion for data analysis and earned an undergraduate degree in computer science. For almost six years, I worked with data mining and decision science in the finance sector. I also obtained many certifications in analytical and statistical tools. To continue growing my skills in quantitative and qualitative analysis, I moved to Europe to pursue a master’s in machine learning at University College London.

What excited me about machine learning is that it can be applied to multiple domains (like neuroscience, bioinformatics, machine vision, and so on) to solve real-world problems using a data-driven approach. I learned to design, develop, and evaluate appropriate algorithms and methods for new applications, as well as some new techniques to analyze data. I felt the machine learning master’s program was strongly aligned with my business experience and my field of interest.

Q: What has your journey with Facebook been like so far?

FDLA: I joined Facebook in 2012 in the São Paulo office. In Brazil, I helped many businesses grow by transforming current marketing practices and developing new strategies, always grounded in our foundational measurement practices. Over the years, I worked on projects using simple aggregation, descriptive analysis, or more advanced analyses using data models and causal inference.

I officially joined the research team five years ago, when I moved to the United States to work from the Facebook Menlo Park office in California. In the first two years, I was dedicated to consumer insights and spent time studying the intersection of advertiser value and consumer behavior within ads products. I worked on a range of projects, some focused on the consumer journey and others focused on understanding how people feel about our products. It was very exciting to work with a breadth of methodologies like behavioral lab and consumer neuroscience, passive measurement in sales touchpoints, surveys, focus groups, and in-depth interviews.

For the last three years, I’ve been working in New York as a Marketing Science Researcher in Creative Shop. Every day, I’m provided with the unique opportunity to explore the creative potential of Facebook platforms and help businesses connect with people in meaningful ways and succeed. In my day-to-day, I use experimental design, online surveys, and Facebook data to build tools for statistical, qualitative, and quantitative analysis. My goal is to learn, share, and inspire business with new possibilities through data, creativity, and storytelling. And I love working at the intersection of art and science.

Q: What are you currently working on?

FDLA: Every half we are presented with exciting challenges to advance the industry. Currently, I have two projects that are top of mind: The first one promotes diverse and inclusive representation in online advertising, and the second explores the creative opportunities in emerging platforms.

The first project is very close to my heart because it promotes social justice and business equality. The objective is to identify opportunities to better represent people in online ads, inspire more inclusive and authentic advertising content, and uncover the positive impact of inclusive portrayal — for people and businesses.

The second project investigates the new ways people are connecting online and the new creative potential for people and businesses. In this project, I explore creative ideas to help businesses succeed in AR, VR, and other immersive experiences.

Both projects bring me a sense of community and meaningfulness because they aim to create a positive social impact by improving people’s representation in ads and their experience with Facebook, and they support business growth.

Q: Social impact, diversity, and inclusion continue to play a big role in the advertising industry. What should marketers take away from this research?

FDLA: Our research in diverse and inclusive representation in online advertising showed that stereotypes and bias still exist within advertising, with some groups practically absent or portrayed in stereotypical ways. In contrast, people expect the advertising industry to ensure diverse voices and experiences are represented authentically, and they want to see ads that reflect their lived experiences and communities more accurately.

While there’s no single path to progress, part of this process involves getting more comfortable having conversations around inclusivity and ensuring diversity of people both building and leading creative development. It is also part of the challenge to support creative development with mechanisms to spot bias and track progress with data.

Fundamentally, people expect brands to get involved and promote better representation and portrayal of people in advertising. In doing so, they might see a range of positive effects on business outcomes.

Advertising aims to tell stories, evoke emotions, and compel actions. But to improve the representation and portrayal of people in advertising, we must close the gap between what people want to see in advertising and what the ad creative — that is, characters and storyline — is actually showing them. This is how we can better reflect the full breadth of people we serve and make progress.

More details can be found in the white paper.

Q: Where can people learn more about your research?

FDLA: You can find an article about this research at fb.me/representationinads.

To learn more about how Facebook is celebrating the achievements of women during Women’s History Month, visit Newsroom.

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