Raise Your Voice: Why Representation Matters

Have you seen the new Netflix sensation, Inventing Anna? You should. Not only is it a gripping and highly entertaining mini-series by the wonderful Shonda Rhimes, but it’s also an excellent case of the impact of representation and how perception can create reality. Hate her or love her, Ana Delvey (or is it Sorokin?) proved that perception is power.

Representation is and has always been a critical issue, and it can be a powerful tool for the media to wield. It’s not for nothing that winners (re)write history: it’s because representation shapes perception, which then moulds reality.

So, let’s have a refresher on what representation is and what that means for us today.


The representation layered cake

Lay a base of representation

Put simply, representation is the way individuals and communities are portrayed and described in the media. Said like this, it sounds very innocent and on its own, it can be.

Add in associations

The issue comes from the fact that our brains are lazy and love associations. After all, “we’re busy people. We can’t have fully-formed impressions of all of the people in the world!” (As said by Dara O’Brian in Craic Dealer). And because of this little tendency, we tend to assume that what is true of a person also corresponds to their community unless we specifically have information to the contrary.

So, if I were to tell you that Farzin from far-away and poorly-known land Tajikistan is a bad driver, you’ll likely think (consciously or not) that Tajikistanis also tend to be bad drivers. Actually, I wouldn’t even have to go so far. All that’s needed is putting an image of a person from Tajikistan next to a car accident and our lizard brains would do the rest.

Don’t believe me? Watch Russell Peters’ explanation of associations creating representation at 1 minute 53 seconds. I promise that as factual as it is, it’s also a good laugh. 

Fold in the illusory truth effect

The problem then compounds with the illusory truth effect. The more often something (in our case, a certain portrayal of a community) is repeated, the more people will perceive it to be accurate. This is especially powerful when people have little contact with or context about the subject matter. With Britons consuming on average 5 hours and 35 minutes of digital media a day, that’s plenty of time to repeat representation.

To give you an example, this means that if the media repeatedly portrayed Highlanders as having a fear of pineapples, after some time, most people would truly believe that people in the Highlands are terrified of those fruits. Ridiculous on the face of it. But insidious, isn’t it?

Sprinkle some confirmation bias

And I’m not done yet. Now that you have this belief that Highlanders are afraid of pineapples, your confirmation bias will kick in. This means that you will start interpreting the world according to this belief. You will notice and remember more facts and events that confirm your belief of ananaphobic Highlanders and will even go so far as to think that evidence supporting your belief is more credible and trustworthy than evidence that goes against it. Have I scared you yet?

Bake until you reach the self-fulfilling prophecy point

And finally, the fourth horseman of the pineapple apocalypse enters: the self-fulfilling prophecy. Imagine you are the said Highlander and that everyone you meet is convinced that you are afraid of pineapples. They tell you as such and behave accordingly. It may take a day, it may take a year, but there’s a good chance that constantly and consistently being bombarded with this alleged morbid fear of tropical fruits, you will genuinely become afraid of them.

And there you have it. A nasty vicious circle that is extremely difficult to break.


Why does it matter?

Now you may be thinking, that’s all well and good Maya, but I have other, more pressing things to worry about than whether people actually think Highlanders have ananaphobia. Why should I actively care about representation?

Well my friend, representation has incredible power. It influences your thoughts and the lives of millions of people. Seeing someone who looks or behaves like you on film or in a book can have incredible power on our individual and group psyche. Authentic and accurate representation has the following benefits.

It helps individuals feel seen and accepted

Seeing a version of ourselves represented on a billboard, on the news or in a film sends the message that our community and by extension, ourselves, are acknowledged as being a part of our national story. As such, authentic representation sends the message that the portrayed groups belong, which is especially important for minorities and marginalised groups. It’s a powerful tool that can help them feel like an integral part of their wider community.

Conversely, never or rarely seeing a version of ourselves portrayed in common narratives can make us feel invisible, overlooked or even “a guest in (our) own country”. A stereotypical or negative representation can also have a similar effect, making members of the represented community feel as if they are misunderstood, disrespected or simply not considered to be part of their national community.

It boosts self-esteem

We unconsciously perceive representation as a reflection of our own value. Our brain loves association, remember? As such, seeing someone who behaves, looks like us or comes from a similar background portrayed in a positive light will help us feel better about ourselves and feel valued through reverse correlation. This is particularly powerful for minority groups as they are typically less represented and less accurately.

This phenomenon is also significant for children, as they are particularly vulnerable to media-perpetuated beliefs and tend to internalise them. This is exactly why kids’ shows and films with diverse and positive representation can actively help build the way they think about themselves. And positive, self-assured children grow up to be strong and confident adults.

It decreases fear of minorities and promotes inclusion

We tend to fear the unknown, so actively engaging in a diverse representation of minorities enables the wider public to understand them, feel more comfortable around them and to start including them in their own narrative. Case in point: since Crazy Rich Asians came out in 2018, Asian men have steadily started to crop up as leads in romantic comedies such as LoveHard, Secret Obsession and Last Christmas. Somehow, the blockbuster helped people realise that Asians could also be love interests. Who knew?

It unravels stereotypes and helps people step out of the neat little boxes the world has stuck them into

Now that you’ve been introduced to our four horsemen of the representation apocalypse, you have a deeper understanding of why stereotypes are so resilient and hard to break. You can’t go at them with a hammer. Instead, you’ll need to slowly chip at them until they shatter. Your chisel will be a frequent, diverse and authentic representation.

It helps you realise it’s not all about you

As surprising as this may sound, boys watching films with a female main character, or Asian girls reading a book with a brown non-binary hero, is a great way to realise and remember that not everything revolves around you. People who don’t look or behave like you can be the hero, too. 

While we are all the main characters in our own story, it’s good to remember that we can also be the supporting characters in someone else’s adventure. This gives us some perspective and pops any inflated egos before they become hot-air balloons.


This is one of the less apparent but still important benefits of authentic representation. Good representation allows us to learn about different viewpoints, ways of life and practices that we have not grown up with. As such, it represents an incredible opportunity for education and self-development.


Case in point: Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) representation

Now that we’ve gone over the basics, let’s put them into action and take a look at how Arabs and Middle Easterners are represented. What comes to mind when I say the word Arab? I bet at least a small obscure corner of your brain thought of either of the words ‘Muslim’ or ‘terrorist’.

Statistically speaking, yes, a lot of MENA individuals are Muslim and a few are terrorists. There are also artists, scientists, atheists, Christians and much more. But that’s not the aspect of the collective Arab experience that the media has portrayed and relentlessly repeated from TV shows to films or political statements. And sadly, it is not just the Trump’s and subpar series of the world that carry this message; it’s also the otherwise excellent shows such as The Bodyguard, Homeland, James Bond and even Aladdin.

The portrayal of MENA individuals across entertainment, news and politics tends to focus on the following axes:

  • Arabs and Middle Easterners as Muslims
  • Arabs and Middle Easterners as terrorists
  • Arabs and Middle Easterners as violent and barbaric
  • Arabs and Middle Easterners as antisemitic
  • Arabs and Middle Easterners as misogynistic
  • Arabs and Middle Easterners as poor
  • Arabs and Middle Easterners as ignorant, close-minded or uneducated

Now that these have been pointed out, I bet you’ll spot those regularly peppered through your shows. These traits have become so ingrained with how the world thinks of Arabs that when a scene involves explosives, there’s a high chance Arabic music will be playing subtly in the background (I’m looking at you, Chuck). When characters travel to North Africa or the Middle East, the country is likely portrayed as traditional houses and lots of desert, forgetting the modern bustling hubs (as shown most recently in Spectre or Knight and Day).

Salt is then applied to the wound when positive MENA figures are portrayed by white actors. Remember the Prince of Persia being played by whiter-than-slow Jake Gyllenhaal, Alec Guinness playing Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia or my favourite one, the all-white cast of Gods of Egypt. Whitewashing is another subtle way in which positive Arab influence has been diluted and appropriated.

The next time you see a Muslim person in a news report, a film or a series, here’s a little test to help you figure out if this character is a stereotype or, instead, a more accurate representation of reality. It’s called the Riz test, after British actor and rapper Riz Ahmed, and it works like the Bechdel test. All you have to do is answer the questions below:

  • Is the Muslim character talking about, the victim of, or the perpetrator of terrorism?
  • Is the Muslim character presented as irrationally angry?
  • Are they presented as superstitious, culturally backwards or anti-modern?
  • Are they presented as a threat to a Western way of life?
  • If the character is male, is he presented as misogynistic? If female, is she presented as oppressed by her male counterparts?

If you’ve answered yes to any of the above questions, you are likely watching a stereotype-enforcing item.

Now, it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s recently been an influx of more authentic and diverse Arab representation, pushed by Arab and Middle Eastern actors in Hollywood such as Riz Ahmed, Rami Malek and Shohreh Aghdashloo.

Not all MENA individuals should be portrayed as shining beacons of human goodness. There are some wonderful ones, some abysmal ones and many in the middle. What’s needed is variety, so that representation can be authentic and informative rather than blatantly ingraining stereotypes.


If you’re reading this, congratulations, you’ve made it to the finish line and survived this long but informative blog on representation! If you’re interested in the subject matter or would like to chat about MENA representation and how to be an active ally to the community, give me a shout at [email protected]!

Tips And Tricks To Win Your Email Marketing Game

Email marketing is one of the well-known tactics that can yield high returns, but it does take a little work to make it sing and distinguish it from competitors. With our tips and tricks, you can turn your newsletter into an anticipated high-conversion email for your audience!


Craft a strategy

It’s all well and good to send emails when you have something to say, but without a plan to tie all these newsletters together, your communication will look a little disjointed and inconsistent. The right strategy will complement your other sales and marketing activities, elevate the perception of your brand and deepen the relationship with your audience.

To create your email marketing strategy, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I want to achieve with this tactic?
  • How do I want to be perceived?
  • What main message(s) do I want to convey?
  • What impact do I want my emails to have?
  • What is my audience looking for?
  • What does my audience need?

Out of the answers to the above, create three main themes that you will follow in your email communications.


Segment your email list

This will come as no surprise: the most well-received and sales-effective content is tailored to its intended audience. The more personalised the message, the more your audience will find it valuable and take the time to read it and convert.

The key to good personalisation in email marketing is cutting your overall email list into smaller groups with one common feature. Here are some ways to help you segment your mailing list, but remember to pick your segmenting factor based on what makes the most sense for your brand.

  • Age group
  • Status (i.e. prospective customer, current customer, former customer)
  • Purchase volume
  • Time since last purchase
  • Interest
  • Industry


A/B test

A/B testing, also called split testing, consists of sending out two versions of the same message to your audience. Half of your audience segment will receive one version and the other half will get the other version of your email.

This technique allows you to experiment with copy, design, tone of voice and more to figure out what is more effective on your audience and each of your segments. It’s an easy but powerful tool to refine your communications by learning more about your audience.


Think experience

Copy and assets must complement each other and your message to create a distinctive experience that supports your brand. First impressions are key here. You need compelling headers and eye-catching visuals that will draw your readers into the core of your email where the copy can keep them there… and push them towards sales.


Make it mobile-friendly

46% of emails are opened on a mobile device. This means that roughly half of your potential readers will check – and hopefully open – your email on their phone, so make sure your newsletter is readable and appealing on a phone or iPad. 

Think of your fonts, their size and the type of visual assets you use, along with where you use them… Any email marketing platform worth its salt will have a feature for you to preview the email as opened on a phone or desktop.


Timing is key

You don’t want your email to pop up when your audience is unavailable or doesn’t have the time or inclination to read it. If this happens, they’ll either delete the email altogether or leave it for later to read.

Later, however, is also known as this mystical land where your gym membership, learning how to skydive and eating healthier live. In other words, there’s a good chance the email will sit unread in their inbox until it’s deleted. This isn’t the impact you want your snazzy email marketing to have.

Most people check their emails in the morning, on their commute or when they get to their desk, but don’t stop there. The best time for you to send your email will depend on a few things, namely:

  • If your target audience is leisure or business
  • The nature of your message (sales communication first thing in the morning is not terribly exciting)
  • Your industry’s key dates
  • Public holidays
  • Where audience members are at on their customer journey
  • Day of the week

It’s well worth your time to do a little research into your target audience’s habits and trial your top days and times before settling on one.


Go beyond promotions

We all love a good promotion, but email marketing is also a great way to nurture and deepen your relationship with your audience. You want them to get to know you, identify with you and consider you as more than just a supplier. You want the marketing dream of creating an emotional connection with your audience.

To do so, you need to go beyond products and promotions in your communication. Use your email marketing as an opportunity to share what your brand is truly about, its purpose and values, without forgetting all the good things you do beyond selling products.


Want an audit of your email marketing game? Give us a shout at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you!

Festive Social Media Ads Guide

With BFCM planning out of the way, it’s now time to focus on your Christmas social strategy. Facebook ads are a strong asset to your multi-channel marketing strategy during the holiday season and we are here to guide you to creating a successful holiday campaign. Gifting season means holiday marketing campaigns everywhere you look. It is important to create a campaign that cuts through the noise and delights your customers. Our festive social media ads guide outlines 4 key steps to help you stand out from the crowd.


1 – Identify your Goals

In identifying your key goals for your holiday campaign, you can address these and work to overcome any challenges you may face. Your goals might be along the lines of:

  • Creating a sense of community around your holiday campaign. 
  • Driving new customers to your offering.
  • Increasing sales by 40%.

Once you have laid out your expectations, you will be able to more easily manage your campaign and measure its success.


2 – Define your offering

Before you start building anything, it is key to define what you will be offering to your customers. For example, will you be bundling any of your products into the perfect gifting set, offering free shipping on all orders or pushing gift wrapping as an add on at checkout? You can then communicate these in the creative of your ads at the appropriate stages of the funnel.

It is important to note that you don’t always need to include a discount or add-on, you can also look at strategies including partnering with a charitable organisation whereby a percentage of the purchase goes to the selected charity. Work towards an offering that most aligns with your goals.


3 – Develop strong ad creative

In their 2021 Holiday Marketing Guide, Facebook identified four key needs of holiday shoppers:

  • Community and Connection;
  • Engagement and Entertainment;
  • Anticipation and Occasion;
  • Inspiration and Spontaneity.

Develop your ads with these key needs in mind. You want to create something that makes your audience feel something, communicates your brand values and captures your brand voice and identity. Check out a few of our favourite holiday marketing campaigns, which harness these needs and might inspire your approach.


Apple’s ‘Make someones Holiday’ campaign gives us all the feels.

Disney: From our family to yours.


4 – Launch as early as possible and remember to test, test, test. 

When creating and launching your ads make sure to test different copy variations and creatives at different stages of the funnel to define what your audience reacts best to. Alongside your copy variations, test different ad formats including videos, carousels and still images. This approach will allow you to optimise upon what works best among your customers and maximise results.

If you are an eCommerce brand, make sure to update your product catalogue and test collection ads and dynamic ads to help you maximise results. Make sure you work hard to define and understand your buyer persona and what they are looking for this holiday season to deliver them a winning social ads campaign!

Remember: Don’t just rely on Facebook ads this holiday season

We know that social ads are a strong approach to driving web visits and conversions. However, don’t sell yourself short and miss potential sales through other channels. It is best practice to pursue an omni-channel marketing strategy which nurtures new and existing customers. 


Looking for some help in developing your social ads strategy this holiday season and into the new year? Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected], to find out how we can help you!

In Other News: CSR Grows Larger, Holiday Shopping Goes Hybrid and Tik Tok Unveils Community Tok

It’s this time of the week again: let PFM give you the lowdown on what’s been happening in the digital marketing world this week. Get ready for the latest social media news and digital marketing insights!



Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) gets bigger and bolder

While consumers’ interest in CSR is not new, the pandemic has shown us all how much of an impact businesses can have on the wider society beyond just selling their products. In our home city of Edinburgh, for instance, who could forget when, at the very start of Lockdown, Leith Spirits started manufacturing hand santisers for free when it was virtually impossible to find any!

Now more than ever, consumers expect more from brands. Not only do they value companies with sustainable (environment- or social-oriented) activities, an increasingly large proportion of consumers purposefully choose the brands they purchase from and work for based on their sustainable agenda and stay away from companies without one.

“More than ever before, brands will need to have an opinion on issues that affect our world. From racial issues to environmental topics, consumers want to see what brands will say and act and hold them accountable.” Chris Asahara, Global Head of Content and Social Media at Les Mills

What does it mean?

In short, it means that integrating CSR to your business strategy will be critical in 2022. But in more details:

  • Brands need to contribute to society at large to be noticed and valued;
  • To communicate this effectively, brands’ social media need to become value-oriented;
  • To show that they walk the talk, brands need to consistently weave their CSR agenda and efforts through their multiple channels and touch points.


Holiday shopping experience becomes increasingly hybrid

Here are some key metrics to get started

  • 48% of worldwide consumers plan to do 75% or more of their holiday shopping online
  • In that group, 47% shop on their mobile phones
  • 64% of US consumers use retail apps

In 2020, consumers got used to shopping online as physical options were limited or undesirable. This year, while most UK consumers are in a position to visit a store physically, they have had a taste of the ease and convenience of online shopping. As such, consumers will want to combine the best of both worlds this holiday season.

What does it mean?

The hybridisation of the consumer’s shopping experience has a few consequences, the first one being the need for an eCommerce platform. Beyond this, however, are the following:

  • For conversions, digital shopping experiences will need to be pleasant, fast, and seamless;
  • Investments in server capacity may need to be explored to make sure your website can cope with the increased traffic;
  • Successful digital shopping will require flexibility in delivery options (ie. home delivery, pick-up from store…) and returns;
  • Consumer service both online and offline will be paramount.


Tik Tok introduces ‘CommunityToks’

In its latest promotional campaign, Tik Tok introduced CommunityToks, which consist of subnetworks within the app linked by a single shared topic or interest, and are marketed at advertisers. CommunityToks focus on driving engagement, fostering rich subcultures and allowing for more personalisation.

What does it mean?

CommunityToks make advertising more effective via more precise targeting and more personalised content:

  • Businesses can reach and leverage segments interested in the same key topic;
  • It’s easier for brands to become part of relevant conversations;
  • Brands can share their content with smaller audiences that are more in line with their strand of content, which increases their resonance with the content;
  • It’s an opportunity for branded content to be seen as peer-to-peer communication, leading to deeper connection with the audience.


Wondering how to successfully meld physical and digital shopping this holiday season? Book a complimentary consultation with us at [email protected], we’d love to chat!



Hubspot 2022 Social Media Trends Report