Never Mind Racial Minorities Working In Advertising, What About Racial Minorities In Ads??

Now and again the advertising ‘community’ wrings its hands over the paucity of racial minorities that work within it. Then we go back to our lattes and wring our hands over the lack of women or homosexuals or, more likely, most of us couldn’t care less.

I posted about this on the ‘other’ blog about a year ago and DHM’s blog has mentioned it recently, but I think I might have found a subconscious reason why:

There aren’t many racial minorities in our ads, at least not in the good ads that might make you want to get into advertising. Chack out the UK nominees at D&AD this year:

Skoda Cake? Zero. Here Come The Girls? Two quick shots in 100 seconds. Carling Space/Out has a black guy but he’s not given a line in 60 seconds of Space (in fact you can barely tell he’s black) but he’s upgraded to a line in Out. Time Theft? Zero. Dangerous Liaisons? Zero. In Orange ‘belonging’ the star has about 50 friends, one of whom (barely featured) is black. Brylcreem Effortless? None.

Interestingly, the main character in the best ad of last year is black, but then Americans seem to have either a much more enlightened attitude to featuring racial minorities or a legal paranoia about positive discrimination. I remember a few years back where every ‘youth’ ad in the US had to have a young black guy who was often the cool counterpoint to a white idiot. Hey! Reverse racism! (Or something)

I’m not for a second suggesting that this is all about racism, but there may be some reasons for this that come from somewhere other than a desire to burn crosses on lawns:

1. Pan-Euro ads. Aside from the fact that most of Europe is caucasian, the vast majority of the spenders in Europe are definitely so. Add to that the very real racism of countries like Italy and Spain and you have territories where the inclusion of racial minorities is very unlikely to happen. And now that more and more of the UK’s ads are for other markets, this is only going to increase.

2. The Scandinavian influence (I say Scandinavian because they have made the biggest impact on UK advertising over the last ten years, but the same could be said of other nations). There aren’t as many racial minorities in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland, so for those directors and creatives, it’s unlikely that the the first person they think of casting for a commercial will be a racial minority, and the absence of such may not even occur to them.

3. A few years ago I went to see Miuccia Prada give a talk. One of the audience asked her why she didn’t feature black girls in her catwalk shows. She replied that her shows represented her visions and dreams, and if those didn’t feature black people then nor would the shows. She didn’t think it was her responsibility to dishonestly represent her ‘art’ to tokenly include racial minorities. I guess there may also be an element of that in advertising. Should we have a black person in an ad just because there are a lot in the country?

4. Racism. I worked on a telecoms account (not BT) a while back and we suggested having a black guy as one of the characters in our animated commercial. I can’t remember why we wanted to do that, but it was probably to differentiate his vignette from the several others we featured. Anyway, we didn’t see it as a problem. We then got an email back from the client that said we were being ‘controversial enough’ by using animation and that we didn’t want to ‘fan any flames’ by featuring a black character. It was written with the kind of illiteracy one might expect from an unhinged BNP member and left us, in the year 2000, quite shocked, particularly as the account guy was a racial minority.

There are some interesting exceptions: Halifax has given us black, asian and fat as a house, as if they’re trying to cast anyone but a good-looking white guy, and of course, many of Nike and Adidas’s finest spots have featured black people, but it’s not many. Check out the Hovis ad: one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it view of a black guy from behind followed by a quick shot of an asian couple.

Is this the reason few black people want to get into advertising? Maybe. Or is it the case, as I mentioned on the DHM post, that black people don’t actually like the overall image of advertising as an industry and don’t find the idea of joining a hotbed of white, middle class smugness very appealing?