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.
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.”