Level Up / Game Over?

Why the advertising community should step-up and shout-out on opportunity poverty

As part of the 2022 IPA Excellence Diploma in Brands, delegates were asked to write an opinion piece outlining what brands could do to address a particular cultural or societal challenge and affect change. Here, Emily Rich explores opportunity poverty and what the advertising community can do to combat it.

Last week my six old turned into a vampire. Thankfully it was only temporary as, donning a cape and fangs, she took part in her drama club’s modern take on Romeo and Juliet. It’s been a joy seeing her confidence skyrocket, going from shyly skulking at the back to taking centre stage solo. I’m not telling you this because I think she’s the next star of stage and screen, but because, as I sat there clapping with the other parents, something struck me…a large proportion of kids in the UK just don’t get the chance to partake in these types of extra-curriculars. And, closer to home in the marketing world, whilst child food poverty is (rightfully) very much on our radar the less recognised but no less persistent phenomenon of opportunity poverty is not being discussed.

It should be.

Children’s charity Buttle state that almost 70% of frontline workers describe children being unable to access after-school clubs due to cost. In fact, a 2019 report from the Social Mobility Commission revealed that children from the poorest backgrounds are three times more likely to not take part in any extra-curricular activity compared to those from the most affluent families. Only 11% get the opportunity to learn an instrument, and whilst nearly 64% of children from the highest income households take part in sports outside school, only 45% from lowest income families do. And these figures are pre-Covid, pre-cost of living crisis. They’re only going to get worse.

Perhaps there’s less interest from the marketing world because of the belief that these extra-curricular activities are simply nice-to-haves for children?  If so, this is fundamentally wrong. The softer skills developed by these sorts of activities have been demonstrated to contribute to almost every aspect of social mobility, from achieving positive school outcomes to, less quantifiable but no less essential, skills such as confidence and ability to social network. Children without access to building these skills begin with a disadvantage as they enter the adult world that is sadly perpetuating.

So, what are the ways brands can start to tackle opportunity poverty?

There’s sponsorship, for example, Barclays sponsor grassroots girls’ football but cold-hard cash feels like one of the less inspired ways of engaging and we should look towards more innovative solutions. For instance, alongside, financial constraints, those in disadvantaged communities often don’t have the physical spaces to be able to engage in these types of activities. Whilst boosting community sports was supposed to be a 2012 Olympics legacy, cuts to budgets have led to less opportunity for community spaces, not more.  Therefore, helping create and enhance community spaces is a practical and tangible entry point for brands. A great example of this in action comes from a small Adidas/ Footlocker collaboration which saw the Cambridge Estate, Brixton getting their communal basketball court space revamped along with the addition of a community crowd-sourced mural, creating a pleasant, more attractive, and safer space for youth engagement with sport.

As well as providing physical spaces brands could also consider providing online spaces. Paradoxically, Covid lockdowns were a bit of a golden time for access with activities such as ballet and yoga no longer out of reach due to the abundance of free online classes. Now these have largely drifted away there is space for brands. And although, perhaps not as beneficial as in-person clubs there are still ways to provide social learning experiences virtually, as Outschool have demonstrated with their sociable online classes on everything from Encanto dance to YouTube production.

One other positive aspect of the pandemic, within the marketing world, was revealing the sheer power of brand voice in addressing social causes. And, whilst brand purpose may be a contentious word, there’s tangible evidence that leadership on solving social problems that people care about helps build brands.

There’s rarely been a better demonstration of this than when Co-op partnered with Marcus Rashford to demand the country’s poorest children continued to be fed during school shutdowns.  Together they achieved one of the swiftest and most significant government policy u-turns of all time, reversing the decision to scrap school meals. Intervening and helping solve the problem saw positive feeling for Co-Op rise to 15% higher than pre-pandemic levels which, whilst not the primary motivation, is still an important result.

I’ve outlined several ways brands can step in to start to address opportunity poverty but perhaps one of the easiest things we can all do is simply start the conversation. Because only by recognising the problem can we solve it. And within the advertising community we have the power to make it level up and not game over for disadvantaged children.

Emily Rich is Strategy Lead at Wavemaker. This piece was submitted as part of the IPA Excellence Diploma in Brands.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 07 December 2023