Commentary

Weathering Advertising Week: Advertising For Good?

“(Fill in the blank) is about to change everything,” tended to be the rough title of about 30% of the panels during Advertising Week — it’s an industry in transition, after all! Still, lifting the lid on tough issues in a communal atmosphere can’t hurt.

That was the case on Tuesday morning, when I moderated a panel called “Advertising for Good,” (actually another popular theme this week) at the One Club’s “Here Are All the Black People” conference.  

To get sidetracked immediately from the question of whether advertising for good is even advertising (or good). let’s first go with, what the hell kind of name is “Here Are All the Black People”?

Well, it’s an iteration of “Where are all the black people?” — which is how the One Club started an evening session four years ago, as a way to raise awareness about the extreme lack of diversity on the creative side of the business. GS&P co-founder Jeff Goodby came up with the name as an homage to a semi-joke from a young African-American he had hired as a copywriter, who sidled up to him at every agency event thereafter and asked that question.

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To say that the lack of diversity in creative is still an issue is like announcing that we need electric light. It’s a very slow, uphill battle.  

Anyway, about three-quarters of the “Here Are All The Black People” day was devoted to offering practical, hands-on advice for getting these student attendees (many in graduate schools of advertising) placed in jobs, with one-on-one portfolio reviews, recruiting interviews, and pitch meetings.

Alternately, the “For Good” panel was to serve more as an inspiration of what could be, once the audience got to claim their rightful places inside the walls. Call it advocacy advertising, cause marketing, or advertising for good: it’s stuff that actually benefits the world.  

To be sure, while it’s the most inspiring work an agency can produce, it’s not an entirely selfless act. While such ads are sometimes tied to, and benefit, brands as well as causes, they’re also great for agency morale. Everyone on the creative side wants to work on this kind of stuff, and advocacy ads often win awards.

So this was a survey of some of the most recent award-winning work involving advocacy advertising, presented by the chief creative officer of each agency.

Will Chau, of GSD&M, Austin, showed “Get a Shot, Give a Shot,” for Walgreens. So far it has resulted in seven million vaccines given to kids in underdeveloped countries.

Greg Hahn, of BBDO, showed, “Monsters Under the Bed”   as part of the agency’s continuing work on the “Sandy Hook Promise” project. A huge tearjerker, it makes parents aware that while they are perhaps wonderful at tending to their kids’ imaginary fears, they rarely think about how to protect them from gun violence. It ends with “Last year, zero kids were killed from monsters under the bed.” Gulp.

Andreas Dahlqvist of Grey New York showed “The Gun Shop,”  about opening a fake gun store in New York, with the merchandise tagged to say whom it previously killed.

Icaro Doria of DDB/New York showed “Drinkable Book -- Water is Life,” promoting an amazing scientific breakthrough: filtered papers that purify drinking water. And having access to clean, drinkable water saves millions of lives.

Ted Royer and Sara Shelton, of Droga5, introduced the “Equal Payback Project,” starring Sarah Silverman, to illustrate the pay differential for women, and a solution -- as only Sarah can. Profits go to the National Women’s Law Center. 

The work got people thinking, crying, and cheering. Afterward, the audience asked great questions. Some of it was about being prepared for blowback (transgender people found the Sarah Silverman video objectionable, for example).

Later in the day, it turned out that a photo of our panel was wildly derided on Twitter. Indeed, the pic showed, um, let’s call it an “embarrassment “ of white people under the “Here Are All the Black People” banner. “This looks like a congressional hearing about women's health...w/ no women,” one of the kinder commenters declared.

Chau, a panelist who happens to be Asian-American, and also runs Austin Creative Department -- an ad school built on giving kids an affordable education -- responded, “While there were no African-Americans on that opening panel, diversity was represented, and that's the inclusive purpose behind the event. The overwhelming spirit and energy was nothing short of inspiring and motivating. Please take this into consideration before making a snap judgment based off of one photo. It's easy to tear down. What the organizers have built here, that's hard.”

One of the organizers, Traecy Smith, the One Club’s Director of Diversity, told me: “It is most unfortunate when one image creates this type of reaction, when overall, this event was incredibly diverse. When we get to a point where we need to count how many black, white, Asian LGBT, women, Native Americans [there are]....we surely lose the point and the effectiveness of what this event was created to do.”

I agree with both sides. Optics matter. Especially in this business, when everyone in the audience is a critic and social media expert.

My first suggestion would be to revisit the name “Here Are All the Black People." It’s now the somewhat awkward response to a provocation that started with an inside joke. It’s an industry-changing event, and deserves a more inclusive name.

My second reaction is that blowback is good, because it makes you dig deeper. One reality that the photo illustrated is that, yes, the CCOs of major ad agencies tend to be white and male.

We have to keep working at it. I know the next time I’m asked to moderate a discussion, I’m going to do the awkward and uncomfortable thing right out of the box, and ask about the breakdown of the panelists.

Maybe we can look forward to a panel in the future entitled “How Diversity Changed Everything.”  

14 comments about "Weathering Advertising Week: Advertising For Good?".
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  1. Claudia Caplan from MDC Partners, October 1, 2015 at 10:51 p.m.

    Great one Barbara!  Two comments.  One, the Walgreens "Get a shot, give a shot" features perhaps the single cutest baby in the history of advertising.  Can't get enough of watching it.  Two, perhaps the title of the next panel can be, "Here's that token black guy!"

  2. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, October 2, 2015 at 8:55 a.m.

    While the For Good work showed what raising awareness of issues can do for people's attitudes, I wonder how much of the motivation behind doing this work is to win awards as the ultimate goal.

    Across town at the IAB conference (where I was), discussion on ad blockers and cross platform measurement and tracking showed that a lot of industry thinking is directed towards how we can manipulate and use data (and ultimately, people) towards commercial ends without really regarding them as more than numbers.  And any block to our ability to achieve this (ad blockers) is a threat to our industry. But any consideration of audiences as people takes a back seat to metrics.

    IAB also introduced its iDiverse campaign to create 10,000 new jobs in 10 years designed to include a more diverse population in our industry. This seems like a low bar for success given the number of companies (several hundred) who influence or are involved in ad technology. The idea that this has to be a slow process is bs. It's far overdue and it makes our industry less for it.

  3. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, October 2, 2015 at 9:36 a.m.

    Jonathan-- yes, yes, and yes.  Claudia-- yes!

  4. Don Perman from self, October 2, 2015 at 10:08 a.m.

    A wonderful read on the panel. It's a smart, funny, and insightful column.  A great education and a swell job of on-site reporting.

  5. brad berger from aim high tips, October 2, 2015 at 11 a.m.

    If a company want to advertise for good all they have to do is give my www.aimhightips.com to the world for Free in over 100 languages.

  6. Ruth Thomas from Second helping, October 2, 2015 at 11:13 a.m.

    it seems when advertisers show any kind of diversity these days, the message of diversity becomes forced and the message of product disappears...I have seen in the last few weeks, racially mixed families, gay couples at home, entire boardrooms looking more like a UN conference .....we have a long way to go to make these normal images instead of manipulations...just listened to NPR story with out takes from 70's sitcom about Billy Carter....the show was so awful and really made you see how far we have come...change has to be slow for people to really accept it....it's like sitting in a blackened room....if you turn the light on all at once, you are blinded, but if you slowly brighten the room, your eyes adjust and you can see very well

  7. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, October 2, 2015 at 6:23 p.m.

    Do other industries have conferences about the lack of diversity in their industries? i don't think so, but would welcome correction. It seems that advertising is such a small industry, lots of startups some of which succeed and sell out, some of which succeed and remain small and independent, others fail and even most of the ones that succeed have a life expectancy of about a generation and a half after which the names change and the cultures too. The holding companies I suppose can be sensitive to the issue since they are large enough to bear watching by the authorities and subject to lawsuits and demonstrations and they have very large clients who daily deal with diversity issues of every kind. Long time ago, there were significant black media companies and, according to Ethnic America, publishing was one of the industries that led to significant black fortunes. But they were hardly diverse companies, looking for their readership black people but hoping and getting investment by national advertisers along with local (in the case of newspapers). Every spring, we tried to recruit summer interns from Howard and Morgan State (the former because it was famous; the latter because the great Roosevelt Brown came out of there along with Robert Thweatt an old mentor). No one ever applied. We attributed it to the fact the pay wasn't much ($350 a week plus all you could eat) but the more self-effacing among us thought that we weren't famous enough or the advertising business itself was viewed as passé by people of formal education outside the graphic arts. But it is the individual that matters. All the stats and head counts mean nothing. The most extraordinary person I met in the advertising business was an African-American art director who at age 33 having made VP at a major agency decided to enlist in the Army and go through basic training following 9/11.

  8. George Parker from Parker Consultants, October 2, 2015 at 7:41 p.m.

    Back in my "Mad Man" days in the mid sixties, I was at B&B. The only black guy in the building was the "Music Director." Thirty years later, I was at JWT. The "Music Direcor" was also a black guy. There where some other black guys in the building. Mostly in the mail room. Reminds me of the great old 1967 DK&G ad for the Broadcast Skills Bank... "What do you do if you aint got rhythm?" Sorry, not being racist... Just stating a fact.

  9. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY, October 2, 2015 at 7:58 p.m.

    "Where are all the old people?" is another question to ponder. And I can't think of a single disabled-since-birth person I've ever seen in an ad agency (I knew someone with a prosthetic leg, but she got around as well as anyone). 


  10. Alan Wasserstrom from None, October 3, 2015 at 10:42 a.m.

    This interesting column reminds me, a past media lawyer not in advertising,of the new proliferation of ads for foundations for the elevation of diverse groups of kids byathletes notably Notah Begay III, a native american, and to a lesser extent Tiger Woods of a multiethnic background which promote education and health issues prevalent in these communities.I have no idea who produces these ads but this article did a nice job of reminding me of their messages

  11. Jim English from The Met Museum, October 3, 2015 at 12:36 p.m.

    I think the folks who derided your panel should do a little homework.  Barbara Lippert quoted in 2013 on a Volkswagen ad set to run on the Super Bowl featuring a white man improvising a Jamaican accent in an office setting.  "It made me uncomfortable to see all of those white people in an office setting doing this. I found it offensive."

  12. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY, October 3, 2015 at 3:28 p.m.

    Duracell got lots of praise a couple years back for its "Trust Your Power" ad with NFL player Derrick Coleman. Everyone raved about how beautifully the ad communicated the inspiring story of a young man who had overcome the challenges related to his deafness (he kept going, just like the Duracell batteries powering his hearing aids) to become a sports star. I misted up, too.

    But when I played the ad for my 25-year-old nephew, deaf since birth, he looked unimpressed. "What you think?" I signed. "HOH football player with hearing aids," he signed back. I noticed that he described Coleman as "HOH" (hard of hearing) rather than "deaf," a distinction most hearing people don't make, but a significant one. I signed "You like story?" He shrugged and signed back, "Yes, but same story many athletes."

    And that's when I realized that the story was told completely in voiceover -- no captions, no signing, no lips to read. Ironically, the story played successfully to hearing viewers, but excluded deaf viewers. Had Duracell's creative team involved someone deaf in the ad's development -- or someone with a good understanding of deaf culture and deaf issues -- the ad could have played successfully to both audiences. 

    BTW, Samsung got it right when it ventured into deaf territory with this ad https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrvaSqN76h4. Inclusion is the big issue. Duracell missed that.      

  13. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, October 4, 2015 at 11:43 p.m.

    Mr. Jim English-- please get in touch with me at Barbara@Mediapost.com. Thanks!

  14. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 19, 2015 at 11:33 a.m.

    I still want to know: Any company that raises money for a non-profit (except the NFL which is a non-profit), do they claim a charible deduction on their taxes ? Then, they will be charging more to cover the costs and financially benefiting from your donation. Suggestion:Give directly to the charity.

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