What Diversity in Advertising Means

February 25, 2020 | blog | By Guest
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Thoughts of Black American marketers at The LOOMIS Agency.

In the growing era of diversity and inclusion, the advertising industry is still playing catch-up when it comes to joining the conversation, and Black Americans still seemed to be over-shadowed. The Black Americans influence in pop culture, mainstream media, and sports can be seen across the globe. However, here in America, advertisers still struggle with connecting to Black Americans in advertisements. As of 2019 Black Americans make up less than 1% of agency leadership/management and less than 5% of agency talent. In this week’s blog, we wrap up our celebration of #BlackHistoryMonth with commentary from four marketers who are part of the pack here at The LOOMIS Agency. It’s their hope to bring greater perspective to the conversation while challenging the ad industry to do better.

How have Black Americans & Black Culture impacted the advertising industry?

“From the music used, the word choice, to the slang. Black consumers have money and represented an untapped market for brands during the early 1960s – it was only natural that ads featuring black people doing black things began to arise. It’s awesome to see people that look like yourself in commercials and media.” — Danny

“There’s no short way to answer this question as Black Americans have impacted every aspect of the advertising industry. I think the biggest impact Black Americans have had on the industry is helping mainstream advertisers and big businesses understand (and appreciate) the various nuances in reaching the black audience. Important figures like Clarence Holt and Tom Burrell believed the Black American community couldn’t be reached with the same messages made for the mainstream media because there were very few representations of black culture for the demographic to identify with. Holte, Burrell, and many others explained that Black Americans needed to see advertisements which represented black culture in a fair and authentic way, something that hadn’t been accomplished with the ads they were currently being served. This idea eventually led to large-scale campaigns that incorporated many elements from black culture and spoke directly to the Black American community. Today, black culture’s influence can be found in many forms. From iconic campaigns like Sprite’s long-running Obey Your Thirst campaign, which has always been centered around hip-hop, to the agency the community now has to call out advertisers for incorrect, harmful, or non-inclusive representations.” — Briana

“‘Black Culture’ is layered and complex, yet parts of it have been ever-present in advertising throughout history. Whether it’s music like the California Raisins ad featuring I Heard it Through the Grapevine by Marvin Gaye or Lizzo’s Water Me for Walmart’s Black Friday commercial to the iconic Pepsi ad with Michael Jackson or the Nike “Dream Crazy” ad featuring the controversial Colin Kaepernick.

Black Americans like Carol H. Williams, Tom Burrell, Steve Stoute, and the Brown & Browner Agency of Columbia South Carolina, just to name a few, have been deliberate and mindful in impact on the advertising community. Tom Burrell was the first to connect/introduce hip hop with a national advertisement while Brown & Browner agency founder Derek Walker has used social media to spotlight talent of color in the advertising industry. Walker’s hope is that this will spark conversation and industry-wide change.” — Rachel

“The power of our culture is really something special. The versatility that we bring to industries makes us so unique. From music to beauty, style, and our perspective, we are forcing brands to stand for something and be more inclusive. Let’s take the beauty industry for example: because of black consumers, brands are now looked down upon when products/lines are launched that have limited shade range and or colors not made for a wide variety of skin tones. Our demands and expectations are higher for brands and, when those demands are not met, there is potential to lose the black consumer.

Black Twitter is a perfect example of black influence. This social media group has helped impact brand sales and messaging for advertisers like Popeyes, Taco Bell, IHOP, and Jimmy John’s. University of Virginia assistant media studies professor Meredith Clark defines Black Twitter as “a network of culturally connected communicators using the platform to draw attention to issues of concern to black communities. It’s the culture we grew up with. It’s the culture we experienced in our lives and school, in the workplace, with entertainment – and you see conversations coalesce around specific cultural moments.” The name Black Twitter took shape around 2010: Farhad Manjoo, who was writing for Slate at the time, wrote an article called, “How Black People Use Twitter,” and the response to it on Twitter was fierce. People truncated the headline to “Black Twitter.” (University of Virginia newsletter November 28, 2018)

We have the power to make things extremely popular or even tarnish a brand or product. Our culture is very influential. Pretty much every person, brand, and industry is inspired by black culture.” — Jazmine

‘Black Culture’ is layered and complex, yet parts of it have been ever-present in advertising throughout history.

What is one of the best examples of representation in an ad campaign?

“I recently came across the newest Google campaign, “The Most Searched: A Celebration of Black History Makers.” I absolutely love how they highlighted so many greats in Black history who are leaders and dominate their fields, or have significantly made an impact in the world. From the past to the present, the commercial shows Beyoncé, Lebron James, Gabby Douglas, Oprah, Whitney Houston … the list goes on. In such a short video, it gives the perfect snapshot of Black excellence. It shows that we really make an impact in the world – influencing not only Black people but people worldwide.” — Jazmine

“One of the better examples in recent memory has to be Nike’s Kaepernick commercial. I think the choice to include him in the commercial sometimes overshadows the message Nike was trying to deliver – that anyone can do anything. The TV spot sparked a lot of conversation and some controversy, but it was a bold move and I applaud brands for taking stances on social issues.” — Danny

“One of the best examples of representation I’ve recently seen is Ford’s “Built Phenomenally” spot. In this commercial, Ford highlights their commitment to hiring women of color and features the many Black American women who make their advertisements possible. I really like this ad because (beyond the shout out to Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman), it’s evident that Ford has invested a lot of work into this initiative instead of hopping onto the #Blackgirlmagic bandwagon to capitalize on the movement. Additionally, I loved how the women are shown simply thriving in their work environment instead of exchanging sassy phrases or displaying behavior typically associated with black women.” — Briana

“There are a few ads that come to mind. Dove and Nike have done a great job of lifting up women of all backgrounds. Google’s Black History Video was epic and will ring in the hearts and minds of people for a while. These ads are good, but we still have room to see the BEST. I believe that the challenge — as one of my colleagues once expressed — is that agencies don’t want to get “it” wrong. My response to that is you can’t get “it” wrong if you at least start the conversation. For so long, Black Americans have been overlooked and overshadowed in advert messaging, yet we are the biggest contributors to the advertisers’ bottom line.” — Rachel

Ford highlights their commitment to hiring women of color and features the many Black American women who make their advertisements possible.

Do you think there is a disconnect between brands and black consumers?

“Although it isn’t nearly what it used to be, I do believe there is still some disconnect between larger brands and black consumers. Currently, many brands understand the general guidelines of reaching the black audience but not the various nuances that come with them. Brands target the Black American community as if all members share the same values and beliefs instead of understanding the different segments within the group itself. This umbrella approach often causes advertisers to miss out on black consumers who don’t identify with a particular message or just feel generalized. To go further, brands must learn about the different facets of the black consumer and understand that each member may not identify with their idea of “blackness.” The best way to accomplish this is to make black consumers a part of the process when creating advertisements targeted to the Black American community, whether it’s through employment or various focus groups and studies. Having these members present will ensure the brand is taking the necessary steps to understand the many complexities of black consumers and how to authentically speak to them.” — Briana

“I believe that there is still room for brands to better relate to the black consumer. At times, it just seems that black people are not even considered when making commercials, launching products, etc. This is why its so important to have a diverse staff because then it’s less likely that offensive content would be produced for the world to see. Some of the mistakes that brands have made seem so ridiculous to black people because it makes you think, wow, someone really thought this was okay. However, when everyone is coming from similar backgrounds or have the same life experiences, it’s hard to consider how it may affect others. I think it’s important to have a diverse staff to have an inclusive outlook on campaigns in order to best capture not only the black audience but other minorities who also may feel forgotten about or misrepresented.” — Jazmine

“Unfortunately, yes there is a disconnect between brands and black consumers and this can be corrected with a few steps. First, recognize that your brand has been forever supported by black consumers. Your business is in our community, yet you will not speak directly to us. We support the business that supports the community. Second, start the conversation and employ people of color to collaborate on all your brands/products. Lastly, give back and create programs that will directly impact the black community. Take a cue from Target. The national chain has done a great job of highlighting black brands and business owners. This year, Target launched its Black Beyond Measure campaign for Black History Month featuring black-owned apparel, health and beauty products, children’s literature and more. Black Beyond Measure shows that Black Americans were included as a voice in the conversation from start to finish.” — Rachel

This year, Target launched its Black Beyond Measure campaign for Black History Month featuring black-owned apparel, health and beauty products, children’s literature and more. Black Beyond Measure shows that Black Americans were included as a voice in the conversation from start to finish.

What do you think is the biggest obstacle to black recruitment in advertising?

“I think it’s the fact that most black students are just unaware of advertising as a possible career choice. I certainly wasn’t until graduate school, but now I’m certain it’s where I’d like to spend the rest of my career.” — Danny

“The biggest obstacle is exposure and opportunity. How can I know that this amazing world of creativity and expression exists if I never see people who look like me or even know that it exists? A group of black advertising professionals recognized the lack of diversity within the industry and saw fit to the be agents of change and created The Marcus Graham Project (based in Dallas, TX). Born in the mind of co-founder Lincoln Stephens in 2007, The Marcus Graham Project is dedicated to identifying, exposing, mentoring, and training ethnically diverse men and women in all aspects of the media industry, including advertising, entertainment, and marketing. Their mission: “Our theory is that by investing in the exposure, training, and mentorship of the next generation of talent, we will see a return in the development of a vast talent pool of marketplace leaders in the media and marketing industry. The vision of the Marcus Graham Project (MGP) is to connect and collaborate with the talent development ecosystem, to create a long-term solution to widening the pipeline of diverse talent and leadership within the industry. Since 2008, 96% of MGP alumni receive job offers within the first six months of completing the program. 86% of all MGP Boot Camp alumni are working full-time in the industry at leading companies like Wieden+Kennedy, Apple, 72andSunny, and Fossil.” — Rachel

Where do you see Black Americans in advertising in the next 5 years?

One of the most enduring and captivating traits of being Black in America is our voice. From politics, pop culture, entrepreneurship, media, and current events, there has been a resurgence over the last ten years showing the influence of the black voice. Our influence will motivate agencies and advertisers to have the conversation of diversity and inclusion, we will see more Black Americans in leadership roles, and recruitment of Black Americans will also increase.

Thoughts, become ideas, ideas inspire change, and change becomes actions. Start the conversation and be the change you want to see. Oh, and don’t forget to include us.

Briana Jones – Digital Account Coordinator
Danny Abraha – Digital Media Manager
Jazmine Williams – Brand Coordinator
Rachel Brittenham – Senior Media Buyer

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