Why Ads for Blacks Backfire
A controversial viral campaign from Summer's Eve proves that the ad industry still doesn't understand black consumers.
Many experts agree that the lack of diversity in the advertising industry is a major issue. When a homogeneous group speaks for the multicultural masses, insensitive ads are the result. The report "Research Perspectives on Race and Employment in the Advertising Industry" found that blacks made up only 5.3 percent of managers and professionals at ad agencies in 2008.
In its statement, the Richards Group mentioned the use of "multicultural experts," who were consulted during the creation of the Hail to the V campaign. The use of such experts sounds like a step in the right direction -- if these agencies actually listen to what they have to say.
"We are often called in after the concepts have been formulated, and our expertise is called upon to make sure the ads don't tick anybody off," says Brown. "I've had experiences when we've said no to a campaign and it goes forward anyway, with the mainstream agency saying, 'Well, we did vet this through our minority partner.' "
Solely placing the onus of common sense on diversity experts isn't enough. Ad execs of any color should be able to create ad campaigns that don't offend. And if they're not sensitive enough to know when a message has crossed the line, maybe they shouldn't be in a position to reach, and offend, millions.
Anderson says Summer's Eve's talking hands are far from the last stereotypical images we'll see in advertising, but he's confident that black consumers can make their voices heard.
"If we can even generate a portion of the energy we had during President Obama's campaign -- the mobilization -- we should be able to immediately flood email boxes and use social networks," he said. "Advertisers will get the message real quick."
Patrice J. Williams is a New York City-based writer. You can follow her on Twitter.