I’m not bored of the diversity debate. I find it endlessly fascinating, like an Agatha Christie mystery, where more insight happens with greater exploration and thought. And, like one of those mysteries, you can often find something out that occurs as revelatory to you, only to discover that everyone else knew it all along and they now think you’re a bit thick…
Anyway, at the risk of holding up a giant sign pointing to that thickness, I want to discuss a new level of the mystery that I discovered for myself when I interviewed Jo Arscott.
The employment of an ethnically diverse workforce doesn’t necessarily mean the employment of an ethnically diverse workforce.
There’s a point in Jo’s interview where she (a girl of colour who grew up with a white family) mentions being somewhat surprised to discover that she’s not white. I then got the strong sense that Jo has spent large chunks of her life with that perspective: ie, that she didn’t define herself by the colour of her skin. She didn’t grow up in Hackney or Brixton, deeply immersed in the culture of the afro-Caribbean wave of post-war immigration; she grew up on a smallholding in genteel Gloucestershire, and that’s as white as it gets.
So what part of her would bring ethnic diversity to an ad agency? Yes, her experience as a woman of colour, but beyond that, the cultural elements of an urban background are missing. Would a white person from Haringey be more fully immersed in clichéd West Indian culture? Possibly. So what do we mean by multicultural diversity? Skin colour? Culture? Daily perspective? Upbringing? All of the above?
The question came up again when a friend here in LA asked for my help finding strategic talent to launch his afrocentric product in the UK. I soon discovered that there are very few planners of colour in London, and that there are even fewer with the kind of Afro-Caribbean background my friend was looking for (by the way, if you know anyone who fits that bill, please drop me an email: email@example.com).
UK advertising is a middle-class industry filled with middle-class people, and one could argue that it’s that homogeneity that’s stifling the diversity more significantly than a failure to include a certain number of people with a certain skin colour. And it’s only going to get worse: if you want to be able to survive in a big city on placement or intern wages, you’re going to need another source of income, and that excludes a lot of people.
So if it wants to be culturally relevant to the entire country, advertising needs ethnic diversity in all its forms. But it also needs socioeconomic diversity, because that’s what will bring the diversity within the diversity, if you see what I mean.
White, middle-class men and women can go a long way, but it’s like we’re writing music with half the notes. Find ways to being more voices into the choir and it’s only going to sound more interesting. And I get the ‘meritocracy’ argument, but the problem with that is that you can only judge the merits of the people you see. If there are whole chunks of the population that aren’t even stopping by, you don’t so much have a meritocracy as a ‘who’s the best middle-class white person’ contest.
I bet ten grand there’s a kid of colour out there without much cash, who’s thinking of a million ways to bring something incredibly creative to the world.
Unfortunately, advertising is not currently one of those ways, and until the industry changes things to make sure it is, it’s going to stagnate, atrophy and signal its death with a long and underwhelming fart.
Are you doing anything to stop that fart?
Jo Arscott is a true pioneer.
When she started in advertising she was a teenage girl of colour. And that was back in the 1980s, when the planet was a lot less woke (as the kids say) than it is now.
Then she paved the way for ‘Integrated’ work long before ‘360’ became an adjective.
Then she worked everywhere from Arkansas to Qatar.
And she’s now a walking diversity debate who doesn’t think there should be one.
So she’s had an advertising career unlike any other, but met every twist and turn with relentless positivity.
Have a listen as we discuss…
From Gloucestershire to Watford.
Inspiration from Margaret Thatcher and Boy George.
‘Oh my God, she’s black! Oh my God, she’s a girl!’
Integration was a thing.
That asthma poster.
To the BBC via Paris.
Saatchi and Saatchi under Dave Droga.
Being groomed by Michael Howard to become an MP.
Off to Coke in Atlanta.
Shopper Marketing and Bentonville, Arkansas with Saatchi X (Amish, Cowboys, KKK…).
And no real love for Chicago.
So back to the UK… before quickly off to the Middle East.
It’s all an education.
Is the whole diversity thing a good thing or a bad thing?
Colour of skin isn’t necessarily expertise in multicultural advertising.
A ‘cultural collage’.
It’s not about hiring people; it’s about how you talk to people.
World’s fastest talking man does Michael Jackson’s Bad in 20 seconds:
I was reading this article the other day.
It’s titled ‘Raising the bar for brand safety‘, and subtitled ‘Premium publishers must commit to higher standards for online advertising, not only to safeguard brand safety but also minimise ad fraud and maximise viewability‘. The author is Richard Reeves, Managing Director of the Association for Online Publishing.
I 100% appreciate the intention, but I can’t help feeling it doesn’t exactly practice what it preaches:
As the voice of premium digital publishers and a founder member of the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS), the Association for Online Publishing (AOP) is committed to securing the long-term success of the digital ecosystem.
This really starts as it means to go on: with a lack of specificity that leads to the very lack of transparency it professes to want to stamp out. Who are ‘premium digital publishers’? In what way are you their ‘voice’? Is JICWEBS a big deal? What do you mean by ‘success’? And isn’t the digital eco-system the entire internet? Can you really secure anything for such a massive entity? If so, how?
However, this goal is only achievable if the industry works together to create a more sustainable, accountable and reliable future, by adopting universal standards that go above and beyond minimum requirements.
‘More sustainable, accountable and reliable’ than what? What are these universal standards? Who defines them? What are ‘minimum requirements’ and how far ‘above and beyond’ them do you intend to go? 1%? 18% How will we know?
As such, the AOP’s innovative Ad Quality Charter, launched at its recent Inside Out Digital Publishing Convention, aims to commit itself and its members to ethical trading standards and better media verification.
Aiming to commit yourself to something? Why not just commit? How long will the aiming last? And what are these ‘ethical trading standards’ to which you are aiming to commit? Can you commit to what those might be? Can you aim to commit to what those might be? And ‘better’ media verification than what, exactly? And how much better etc. etc.
The new charter – currently a draft – recognises that the industry must take greater collective responsibility for providing advertisers and agencies with access to quality inventory and verified audiences through a transparent supply chain. It will require the AOP and its members to adhere to stringent quality requirements relating to the contentious issues of brand safety, fraud and viewability.
‘Providing advertisers and agencies with access to quality inventory and verified audiences through a transparent supply chain’ doesn’t specify what ‘quality’ means (high quality? Low quality?), nor does it specify what ‘verified’ or ‘transparent’ mean. I’m sure Mr. Reeves is aware that there are degrees of transparency, verification, responsibility and quality, but his lack of specificity makes him look as if his entire premise is built on rather weak foundations.
It goes on for another few paragraphs, which contain the following undefined words and phrases:
minimise the risk
exploit the industry,
fraud detection and non-human traffic tools
a metric that will exceed the current industry standards.
deliver bespoke viewability metrics
optimise on-page placement based on user behaviour and content consumption
commit to reducing unacceptable ad clutter.
address the root causes of latency and the subsequent impact on viewability performance.
premium consumer experience
ensuring the healthy future of the digital advertising industry.
raise the bar for digital advertising standards,
cleansing and protecting the supply chain
allowing the ecosystem to flourish.
If you want to create better standards and practices in digital advertising, more power to you – God knows the industry needs them. But if the official bodies dedicated to this set their stall out with such indistinct vaguery it doesn’t bode well for the future.
If you stand for transparency, clarity and accountability you need to prove it in your own practices.
After all, if you aren’t going to do it, why should anyone else?
I don’t know if this the case in your neck of the woods, but where I’m from there are a lot of jobs where you place an initial before C and D.
We have ACDs (Associate Creative Directors), GCDs (Group Creative Directors), ECDs (Executive Creative Directors), the plain old CDs, and the grand poobahs, who are now called CCOs (Chief Creative Officers). We also still have juniors, plain old copywriters and art directors, and senior copywriters and art directors.
I might have missed a few (I have heard tell of the RCD – Regional Creative Director), but if you add in placements (or their equivalent), you have at least nine levels of seniority in the creative department. When I were but a nipper there were only creatives (with an occasional informal use of junior/middleweight/senior) and a CD. Some agencies had Group Heads, but until the early 2000s that was it.
In fact, here’s a handy guide to what your current job title would have been in a 1995 UK agency:
Junior Copywriter/Art Director Copywriter/Art Director
Copywriter/Art Director Copywriter/Art Director
Senior Copywriter/Art Director Copywriter/Art Director
ACD Copywriter/Art Director
CD Copywriter/Art Director
GCD Copywriter/Art Director
So how did things change, and is the new situation better?
I think the answers to both questions might be related:
- Promotions are free, and therefore easier to hand out than raises. Even though, in this time of 9 levels, promotions have become less significant, they still give people a nice fuzzy feeling inside and a new level at which to join a new agency. So, in these straitened times, they’ve become a cheap way to make disgruntled people a little happier.
- I think America has had these layers for longer. With the globalisation of agencies via holding companies, the practices of other countries have spread faster and harder, especially as the US office is often the mothership, imposing its ways on the rest of the world.
- With the fragmentation of accounts and disciplines, more people are in charge of smaller and more diverse parts of a campaign’s creation. Job titles help to differentiate them, although having four CDs on a job must get quite confusing. Then again, having fifteen copywriters, twelve art directors and three CDs would probably be even worse.
- People can’t help loving this shit. If you grew up thinking the CD was the cappo di tutti cappi, there’s a going to be a little voice somewhere in the back of your mind telling you that it’s still a big deal to become one, even though it now means you’re basically the equivalent of a 1997 ‘senior copywriter’.
Aside from it all feeling a little silly, I can’t see much of a downside. Enjoy your new titles if they make you happy, and if the dude from the social engagement agency now knows he should respect your authority then that can only smooth things along.
Thanks for reading.
Lots of love,
60 years of logos:
Black Thought of The Roots on a mad freestyle session (thanks, A):
A year of voice commands from a 5-year-old (thanks, D):
JCB hot dog:
Starlings taking off at 200 fps (thanks, D):
Here’s a delightful guest post from Father Critmas:
People are always asking me, Father Critmas, how can I be more like you? How can I be the World’s Best Creative Director™. And I always tell them the same thing. “How dare you talk to me.”
Last night I went to a screening of this wonderful movie:
Due to an interesting quirk of people from the movie business generally going to one particular LA cinema (the Arclight in Hollywood. The sound and picture are always brilliant) they’ve started having Q&A screenings so that Academy voters and their friends can see the stars/directors and ask them about the movie (a couple of weeks ago we went to see Murder on the Orient Express, topped off by an interview with the very affable Kenneth Branagh; Al Gore showed up for the Inconvenient Truth sequel; Margot Robbie, Justin Timberlake and Kate Winslet have also popped by).
So this showing of The Shape of Water ended with an interview with the director, Guillermo Del Toro, and two of the stars: Octavia Spencer and Doug Jones.
(I love GDT. He makes horror films with heart and humour, as well as blockbusters that have more brains than most. And he’s had an interesting life – for example, his dad was kidnapped and James Cameron gave him the money to pay the ransom.)
Here are three things Señor Del Toro said that could be applied to stuff you’re working on:
- The relationship with an audience is like a game of tennis: you express part of the story, but for that to work, you need the audience’s response, so they hit it back, you reach that expectation and hit it over the net again. But the real trick is not to hit the ball straight at them. You need to give it something interesting and unexpected so they have to stretch a little to make the return. If you see TSOW you’ll notice yourself constantly reappraising the situation and how you’re responding to it. That’s the fun.
- Along similar lines, you have to give the audience what they’re expecting, but not in the way they’re expecting it. So this film has a beast that’s a hero, a damsel who’s in charge rather than in distress, a leading man who’s an arsehole and a villain who’s a good guy. That helps the ball spin over the net in very satisfying ways.
- When he was six, GDT saw The Creature from the Black Lagoon but he was disappointed that the creature and the girl didn’t get together. So he spent ages drawing them as a couple, going on bike rides together etc. Cut to 52 years later and he finally made the version of the movie he really wanted to. So never, never give up on your dream, even if it takes 52 years.