We have been quite vocal about the need for diversity in AdLand over the past few years. In fact, one of our very first articles for Beyond Madison Avenue years ago dealt with the reality that there are (and continue to be) very few black people in advertising and marketing.
The same goes for other ethnicities. We've even covered The 3% Conference, an event that highlights the startling fact that around 3% of all creative director positions go to women. How interesting that the "moms" and "women shoppers" are two of the hottest consumer markets, yet less than 10% of the creative direction is actually led by women.
It makes one think. Is AdLand backwards? It is having trouble keeping up with changes? Or is there something deeper that many of us are missing?
Can every side of the diversity spectrum make a solid argument? It's worth a shot. We are going to entertain several sides of the diversity debate and see if there is a clear winner.
Gender Diversity: Where are the Women?
The world population has tipped towards the feminine side, yet the creative side in advertising is way too heavy on the dude side. How can a male-dominant environment win over a woman-dominant consuming environment? Though men can get input from women, they cannot honestly and innately place themselves in their shoes. The current ads out there clearly display that sentiment. Creative leadership with men isn't a bad thing, but it shouldn't be the only method. Agencies should not only be entertaining a feminine point of view in terms of creative, but specific cases beg for that kind of perspective. No man should consider this mindset to be threatening. It should be a good thing.
Race Diversity: America is a Melting Pot, Except for AdLand
We can clamor about gender diversity all day, every day, but the real matter at hand is the growing number of cultures in America and the mixing of those cultures, and AdLand's failure to follow suit. The fact that Cheerios' creative department actually had to defend itself about creating a campaign around a mixed family is ridiculous. The fact that Coca-Cola received flack when it played "America the Beautiful" in different languages (instead of just 'Merican) shows that AdLand must pave the way and reflect the changes of the American landscape. With the booming population of Hispanics and Latinos, and with greater interaction and intermixing of cultures, races, customs, and ideas, AdLand must be able to attract those people who can properly tell that story.
We can research what a Mexican-American and a Cuban-American have in common, but how beautiful would it be to have someone who has lived the life tell it? A middle-aged white man could never picture the thoughts and images going through a young black boy's mind when they are dreaming up ways to become a successful man. Someone who was in that young boy's place before would know that he probably wishes more than anything to be known as a smart kid rather than a "smart black kid." It is these nuances that are missed when AdLand fails to recruit the racial diversity it so dearly needs.
Diversity of Background: Please, Can't We Widen Out?
The arguments for gender and race are truly compelling, but we think that there is too much attention paid to looks and genetics. Here we think that if AdLand recruits people from different backgrounds, it can corral the ideas, concepts, feelings, and needs that gender and race would provide. True, focusing on gender and race adds qualitative features to the problem at hand, but it is a superficial way to attack the problem. The advertising business started with people from all sorts of backgrounds. Ogilvy was well out of his 20s before he even started in the business. Bernbach looked to be more of an artist than an advertising man. Claude Hopkins focused more on sales and applying consumer behavior to get the sale. Rosser Reeves pioneered the "unique selling point."
These gentlemen, though similar in both gender and race, came from different backgrounds and walks of life. Are race and gender important? Probably. In this age, it is not just the ideas that matter, but who's coming up with the ideas. No longer can a brand do business with an agency that only hires white men, or an agency that doesn't use multi-cultural media planners, and expect to escape scrutiny. Advertising is a people business, and with people come politics. So even if certain people have different backgrounds, if they all look alike, politics is going to win a majority of the time.
Age Diversity: Everyone Young Isn't Stupid, Everyone Old Isn't Past Their Prime
Ageism is a delightful topic that everyone in AdLand knows should be talked about, but chooses to ignore it. It's true. The "Millennial agency" is a hot phrase to own. If there is an agency with people over the age of 50, that agency can't possibly be on the cutting edge of communications. On the flip side, we have seen reports of agencies that wouldn't hire anyone under the age of 40. Naturally, these seasoned professionals are past the years of chasing shiny objects and focus their attention on the tactics and practices that are tried and true.
Just like a financial portfolio, our holdings must be diversified in order to reap the highest rate of return.
A good workplace has a mix. It needs people who know the history and standard procedures, and it needs fresh and bright eyes who might see a procedure and notice how it could be improved or innovated.
These things aren't bad, just different. "Different" is actually a pretty good thing. Having a workplace with everyone under 40 could be chaotic, while having a workplace with everyone over 40 could be stagnant.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. That's a given. This is simply an argument stating that a mix is much better than singletons.
Is there a particular argument that resonates with you? Is there a different perspective you think should be addressed? We'd love to hear from you.
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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