“You turn on TV today, watch films today, the diversity of this country is not reflected on our tv screen or on our movie screens because the gate keepers do not reflect the diversity of this country.” – Spike Lee,
For many years the advertising industry has struggled with the under-representation of African Americans in its workforce. In a 2009 study entitled, “Research Perspective on Race and Employment In The Advertising Industry”, the advertising industry was shown to be woefully behind the diverse communities they serve as well as other industries of comparable size. As a result of this and other studies the advertising industry has come under increased pressure to become “more diverse”. But what does diversity mean for an industry like advertising? Is it simply hiring more minorities or is it something more?
At its most basic level, advertising is a conversation. A dialogue between brands and consumers, advertising is the transformative vehicle by which commercials become dramas, logos become icons and the products you never heard of, become the partners you couldn’t live without. Yet like any conversation, truly effective, advertising must speak the same language as the consumer. A balance between the artistically excessive and economically pragmatic, advertising must speak to an audience that is defined not by broad labels but by unique experiences.
Today’s global market demands advertisers possess a form of diversity of thought that is on par with the consumer’s. In an age of shrinking budgets and constant competition, diversity of thought will not only set agencies apart but also create work that brings people together. This is the type of diversity that film maker and advertising executive Spike Lee speaks of in his 2009 lecture at The One Club. More than filling quotas or trying to pander to specific communities, Lee speaks of a diversity that respects the unique qualities of different communities while simultaneously speaking to the common themes that unite us all. This is a process that will not only require change at the ground level but also change at the executive level. So while the makeup of the advertising workforce must better reflect the minority communities they wish to serve, we must also look for diversity at the highest levels of the institutions as well.