Oberland Campaign Spotlights Adland's Racism

While there’s lots and lots and lots of talk about diversity and inclusion at Advertising Week New York, one agency has taken it upon itself to try to actually do something.

Oberland, which focuses on cause-related issues, broke an online campaign on Monday (timed to the aforementioned event) that slaps the industry for its racist stereotyping of minority groups.

One spot, called "The Audition," features an African-American man auditioning for a role in an ad for two white female creatives. When asking him to “take it from the top,” the creatives mispronounce his name and then mispronounce it again after the actor corrects them.

After the actor reads his line, one of the creatives asks him to do it again, this time, “a little more street.” They like that rendition a bit more but ask again if he could repeat the line “more like a gangsta.”



The actor repeats the line, the creatives say he “nailed it,” thank him and he leaves, clearly displeased at their clueless pursuit of a racial stereotype for the ad they’re creating.

The scene cuts to a graphic that asks, “Is the ad industry racist?” followed by another graphic: “Is the ad industry racist-ish?”

In case there’s any doubt that the questions are rhetorical, the next person shown in the spot is agency veteran and diversity advocate  Keni Thacker, who states, “I have been this person on one or more occasions during my time in advertising,” referring to the African-American actor in the previous scene.

“What happened in this example was arrogant, ignorant and racist,” Thacker said of the creatives trying to coax out a racial stereotype from the actor. “The arrogance comes from the creatives never being put in this situation before,” he says. “Therefore they are oblivious to how disheartening and disrespectful it is to tell someone to promote a stereotypical tone associated with their race.”

“The ignorance,” said Thacker, “comes from them not thinking outside of themselves. For decades creative teams have drawn imagery that is stereotypical, assuming it would appeal to consumers of color. So that nothing that changes is the racism, the same racism that this country has built upon the backs of those that have been disenfranchised, while profiting off of that same racism to advertise and sell products.”

Another ad in the campaign addresses ageism in the industry.

The ads are more powerful than any of the talk so far on diversity at the conference. They’re provocative and meant to be. As a rep for Oberland put it, the campaign is designed to “start more industry conversations and, hopefully, start a movement.”

The hope, the rep added, is that other agencies “produce ads that spotlight discrimination and elevate the #NothingChangesIfWeDon’t message.”

Creatives need to watch this campaign. I’m not going to get all preachy here, but I believe this campaign (and hopefully others that follow) will spark thought and action. Talk only goes so far.

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