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diversity into their work

Advertisers need to add
diversity into their work

During the course of my 40-year career in advertising, I have often been asked what were the most significant trends in the United States that advertising could take credit for starting. It seems many people outside the advertising business actually believe that advertising started trends from rock ‘n’ roll in the ’50s to the sport-utility-vehicle craze of the ’90s.
As surprising as it may seem, advertising had nothing to do with starting either of these trends. Enhance them, yes. Start them, no. In fact, I cannot think of a single trend in the United States that advertising actually created or started.
What advertising most effectively does is reflect American attitudes and trends, and then play them back to consumers in an arresting and memorable way to enhance the brand or service being advertised.
Volkswagen of America Inc., in the ’50s and ’60s, correctly mirrored the American desire for an inexpensive car that delivered good gas mileage. “Think Small” and “Lemon” advertising for the “Beetle” effectively reflected this trend for automobile economy and efficiency. Subsequently, this made the “Beetle” an almost overnight marketing success.
PepsiCo Inc. has long employed research to measure the mood of the country in developing their brand-building strategies. In the late ’60s, research indicated the nation had grown weary of the war in Vietnam and Americans were not feeling good about themselves as a result of this involvement. Pepsi developed the “You’ve Got a Lot to Live– and Pepsi’s Got a Lot to Give” campaign as a direct response to that national attitude.
In the ’70s, Pepsi launched “Join the Pepsi People–Feel’n Free” campaign to reflect the distrust that research revealed Americans had of large organizations and companies. People no longer wanted to be just a number. They wanted to be recognized as individuals who had opinions–even if they differed from their organizations’ “party line.”
There were other attitudes and trends in the ’60s that advertising reflected. The American family was depicted as a husband, mother and two children–with Mom always home in the kitchen. Packaged-goods advertisers had a field day selling her toothpaste, toilet paper and laundry detergent with “slice-of-life” commercials.
All of these families were 100 percent white. Advertising in the ’60s did not acknowledge the diversity of our nation’s people. Since advertising was written and produced by white people, white people ended up in ads and commercials. African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians bought the same products whites bought, but minority cultures were not represented in advertising for these products. There was all-black advertising to African-Americans and all-Spanish advertising to Hispanics, but no real attempt was made to integrate different cultural groups in the same ads.
In the ’80s and now even more so in the ’90s, advertising has begun to change its attitude toward diversity with an “integration” of sorts by including multiracial cultures in some television spots and print ads. However, once again, advertising did not start this trend. It was driven by legislative affirmative action and a demand by some consumer groups for a more inclusive reflection of our nation’s culture diversity in advertising, television programming and movies.
This advertising history lesson I have just outlined flashed through my mind as I sat in the audience at the First Baptist Church of Rochester in Brighton on Sept. 16. That evening, Rochester Mayor William Johnson Jr.; Mary Anne Towler, co-publisher of City Newspaper; Diocesan priest James Callan from Corpus Christi Church; and the Rev. Dwight Cook from Mount Olivet Baptist Church spoke passionately and eloquently on the need to “dismantle the legacy of racism.”
Each of them challenged all of us as individuals to attack discrimination in all its forms. It was a powerful and persuasive argument against racism, but I realized as I sat there that one industry was missing from this dialogue. My industry –advertising.
It’s not that we, as advertisers, have not tried to “do the right thing.” It is just that we do not do it the right way. I recall a black commercial we did for Pepsi-Cola in the early ’80s. We pictured an all-African-American high school basketball team in the inner city where one player learned from his African- American coach that he had won a scholarship to college. In this commercial, there was much rejoicing and drinking of Pepsi to a jingle that ended with the theme line, “Catch that Pepsi Spirit.”
We were proud of the commercial and showed it to some African-American groups–who hated it! They rightfully pointed out that we had created a stereotype of a black athlete who they believed was only getting the scholarship because he could play basketball and would most probably never finish college. We had failed to understand the depth of helplessness African-Americans feel in the inner-city community. They did not want us to advertise to them. They just wanted to be a part of our advertising.
We were wrong then and we’re still wrong most of the time today when we attempt to “integrate” advertising. The Rev. James Callan had it right when he said: “Adding images and visuals are key–black people will never feel comfortable with churches with only whites in stained glass.”
And that is advertising’s business–images and visuals. Instead of a token inclusion of multicultured people in advertising, we should look for opportunities in every visual situation we create to reflect the full range of men, women, Caucasians, African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians where it is creatively appropriate.
I am not advocating statements against racism. Advertising’s job is to sell a brand or service, not to pontificate. I admire Nike Inc.’s commercial in which Tiger Woods says, “There are still some country clubs where I can’t play golf.” However, that is a personal position and decision made by Tiger Woods and Nike to speak out on the issue of racism.
What I am trying to say is that all we as advertisers have to do is look for visual ways to include multiracial cultures in some form in every ad we do. For example, a holiday family setting in a print or television ad that includes an Asian child with a Caucasian family would seem perfectly natural to me. Why? Because this happens regularly in my family. One of my grandchildren is of Asian birth.
I am suggesting each of us in advertising think about visual ways to include diversity in every ad we do. Obviously, in many instances, it will be inappropriate. However, if we do not even consider it, change is unlikely to happen. If we could effect such a change, it would be “one small step for advertising, but perhaps one giant leap for mankind”–a trend all of us in advertising, for the first time, could share pride in starting.
(Jack Kraushaar was a BBDO senior vice president in New York City and from 1983 to 1991 was chairman of Blair/BBDO in Rochester. He now is president of the consulting firm JFK Communications.)

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