Lack of diversity in Marketing and Advertising industries!

2016-11-21 00:00

"In the advertising industry, English is the first language of business, but it’s not the mother tongue of 91 percent of the population. To employ teams with little or no experience of the target audience they are marketing to is exceptionally shortsighted as clients will seek out agency partners that better represent and instinctively understand their consumers"

Marketers should demand their agencies introduce diversity quotas. Hire more women and Black people and pay them well.

It’s 2016, and while many things have changed in the advertising industry, the sorry state of diversity isn’t among them! Hiring, of course, is only part of the problem. The failure to retain young black talent due to lack of encouragement or opportunities and hire more women, is the other issue amongst other issues.

The industry refuses to transform, if you’re black and you happen to make it to top management or senior something the industry is perpetuating the stigma that black appointees are merely the beneficiaries of preferential treatment through fronting. They even have BEE partners there for show!

Some go as far as subconsciously blaming Black people for the diversity problem. They say blacks are both unaware of careers in advertising and unprepared.


Someone once changed careers because he was told  “I’m sorry Amandla, but I don’t think our client is ready for a black copy writer”.

The advertising industry refuses to diversify. The advertising agencies continues to push racist agendas of their clients. The industry continues to discriminate against black hair because the client thinks it’s too dirty. We have all heard the likes of celebrities like Claire Mawisa being sidelined because she has dreadlocks, they even went as far as asking her to cut them off to get the job.

We have woken up to the uncomfortable fact that while 80% of consumer spending is directly influenced by women, only a small % of creative directors are female.  Indulging in a box-ticking exercise in work and employment practices, so you can win awards, or beat your peers – instead you must reflect the population as it is, not only for society’s good, but for the good of your businesses.

Having a truly diverse workplace is the societal equivalent of a meaningful brainstorm. Brainstorming is, after all, getting a group of diverse people together to share different views to arrive at the best ideas.

Diversity brings diversity of ideas, which is what the industry is crying out for at the moment. Take a look at the current crop of marketing from some of the biggest brands and you would be forgiven for thinking that we live in a white, middle class.

The advertising industry has to put on its big boys’ and big girls’ panties and face the glaring truth: that the racial diversity issue has little to do with awareness or availability of qualified black talent but everything to do with prejudice and racism inside advertising.

Yes, I’m calling a lot of people in advertising either prejudiced or racist, but I firmly believe it’s a prejudice issue more than a racist thing. Please, the two terms are not the same. Before you pull out the pitchforks and torches, allow me to explain the difference. No. Let’s allow Merriam-Webster to give the definition of the two words:


“Preconceived judgment or opinion (2): an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge??.”


“A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race?.”

It is important to understand the differences and variances between the two words. I believe most of the issues concerning diversity are tied to a form of prejudice, rather than racism, although there is a bit of that going on as well.

I cringe every time I hear advertising professionals throw out words like “culture” and “fit” when talking about hiring people. Both terms reflect a degree of prejudice. What is it about the person that doesn’t “fit?” What “culture” doesn’t a person have that he/she can’t do the job?

The ambiguity of these words makes their use as a tool for excluding a group of people an act of pure genius. An interviewer can have a feeling that the person will not be a good “fit” or match in the “culture” without having to explain why. It is the perfect cloak for prejudice.

Until advertising acknowledges and moves to deal with this prejudice —instead of promoting and perpetuating the idea that Blacks are either unaware or do not possess the skill set to work in advertising — very little will change.

Ah, but here is the catch: Advertising cannot and will not face its racial diversity issues alone. And the industry shouldn’t have to. This is partially the fault of clients.

Clients know their agencies. They know the people who work on their accounts. And they are keenly aware that it has been a white men’s club for years.  All too often, the only people of color in the room during meetings are on the client side. This should make clients uncomfortable, and give them pause.

The racist ones clients who don’t like black hair and think black people should dance in adverts, those ones, we see you!

The issue of racial diversity is so much more than political correctness, it is good business. Having a diverse staff allows an agency to have a wider range of experiences and views to pull from when creating messages to reach an audience that is becoming more diverse every day. Clients are screaming for more effective work. Well, how effective is it to always approach assignments from a singular cultural point of view? It isn’t.

So what can clients do? (The not so racist ones) Simply asking about and encouraging the agency to look into its diversity issue will have a huge impact.

For more than 20 years, we have watched and waited for advertising to mature and develop a conscience on this subject.

Shame on advertising.

“Advertising is afraid of the dark.”

For far too long you have portrayed us like circus monkeys. For far too long you have portrayed us as people who dance to everything in your adverts. For far too long we have been dancing for white people’s amusement. For far too long you have portrayed our lives so wrong because you don’t even consult us but you want to talk about us to sell your clients product. Your obsession with making black people dance in your adverts is insulting and offensive.

In 2016 you still think that adverts with black people must involve dancing and running and screaming and so on! Is this the life of black people according to you? Black people must dance in all ads, food, insurance, washing powder, petrol etc

There is absolutely nothing wrong with dancing but we are sick and tired of you thinking that the only way to capture the black market is by dancing! We are not here for your amusement! It is high time that you stop with your lazy work of making black people just dance. Do your research, understand the market and sell us the product in a decent manner. By doing research, We not saying ask Sipho, the only black at yours braai, he understands nothing about black lives and struggles because he has always aspired to be like you, eat like you, speak like you and just be there as the only black guy at the braai, bruh!

By research, by no means do I mean that you go to the township and hang around Vilakazi  Street and now think you understand the black market. Hire more black creatives and use them. So they can help you “fit” into the “culture”

It is your understanding that black people have rhythm, by no means does this mean that this becomes your entertainment, we have come far as a nation, we are aware, we ARE educated, we know better than we did before, we love fun and dance but not for you to see that as your point of sale. Please stop annoying us with dancing black people in adverts. It is OFFENSIVE AND TIRING! Sikhathele inina nisenza ihlaya!

Not so long ago;  Chris Moerdyk wrote: “Is there racism is the advertising and media industries? Unquestionably there is. The obsession for continually wanting to define its target markets by skin colour is disgusting!

The industry is still extremely white, despite the fact that many of the larger agencies have development programmes. The process is simply not happening fast enough and apart from a few exceptions many of these attempts are nothing more than tokenism.

This somewhat half-hearted attempt to bring blacks into the industry is by no means the fault of white players in the industry. Black executives in the ad industry are mostly also paying lip service to development and transformation.

Statistics show that the advertising industry is still mainly white. A lot of people in the industry point at the number of young blacks attending advertising schools and suggest that “we all wait for this to filter through into the industry”.

But, the problem is that very few young blacks manage to get a foothold into the industry without having either lots of money backing them, university degrees or some other sort of training. Unlike a lot of whites.

The advertising industry needs to create far more ambitious programmes particularly to develop raw talent and to start putting this talent to work without insisting on years and years of expensive advertising education.

In a nutshell, while young whites are managing to get job interviews, young blacks aren’t able to have their telephone calls answered. What is that, other than racism?”

Follow me on Twitter: @Zulu_Admiral

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