The advertising world only cares about causes just long enough for one or two award seasons before they move on to something else that is considered fresh and might garner them some awards.
Sorry to burst your bubble.
Despite all the tweets and heartfelt sentiments, in general, the advertising industry doesn't care about Black Lives Matter any more than it cares about LGBTQ+ movement, or any other woke cause that millennials hold near and dear to their hearts this month, because they only give a shit about jumping on the latest trend--whatever it is-- and then capitalizing on it just long enough to hopefully win something at Cannes or One Show before they move on to something else.
I know this is shocking news for people who consider themselves senior level who have been in the industry for three years, but it is in fact, 100% true.
Here's how I know.
Ten years ago, when I first moved to L.A., the Big Cause™ was bringing water to Africa. We must help Africa! They have no water! Two years later, this was replaced with another cause. It might have been online bullying. We must stop online bullying! Then again it might have been "sensible gun control," When will we enact sensible gun control?!
I am sure I am getting the year and the causes mixed up, but it's so hard to keep track when one is always dropped in favor of something new and so soon, despite not having made any headway. But that's how it goes, because how many pencils and lions can be awarded for the same cause?
Answer: Not many. Besides, it's not like people win for actual results. They aren't entering this kind of stuff in the Effies.
Throughout the past few months, I have taken an informal poll of the Latin American, African American, and Asian American people that I have worked with in advertising over the past decade and a half to get their feelings about brands (and by extension ad agencies) responding to the current movements. Without fail, all of them feel like this is nothing more than cheap pandering. They are all cynical and skeptical and will only believe it when the agencies put actions to their words.
And who can blame them?
Ad agencies who have changed their avatars in the past few months for Black Lives Matter, have not in any way shape or form done anything to hire more black people any more than they have hired more women. They also haven't stopped laying people off who are over 40, and unfortunately "We must stop ageism in advertising," is not sexy enough for the award shows to take into consideration-- presumably because the usual TBWA and FCB suspects who are permanently ensconced in the seats are immune to this issue. If that changes you better believe the usual suspects will be there harping on how we must change.
But that's the problem. It's only harping.
Despite all the posturing and hand wringing and Zoom-conferences, the industry is only going to talk about this for another year at best until there's a brand-spanking-new cause to capitalize on, because this is what advertising has become. Responses, not results. Engagement without substance. Metrics without human measurement.
Once upon a time, we made culture. Now we cling desperately to whatever happens to capture the public's imagination (or whatever we perceive is capturing the public's imagination) this very second. And I add this qualifier because often the perception is at odds with reality.
If you think this is effective, I'm sorry to tell you that you are sadly mistaken. It takes three seconds to change your avatar to black. Or to a rainbow flag. Real change is hard. It takes hard work. And more importantly, it takes time. And a lot more effort than we are willing to put forth.
If you wanted to get more African Americans in advertising, you'd start by developing a high school curriculum to teach advertising to students since many aren't in a position to go to college, let alone portfolio school, never mind working for peanuts as an intern.
But how do you maintain that in an industry where leaving every two years to further your career is the norm? Answer? You don't.
You don't any more than you convince Nike to stop making shoes in sweatshops. By the way, more people need to be calling Nike (and by extension their long-time agency WK) out for the blatant hypocrisy at championing Collin Kaepernick at the same time as promoting a company that makes its shoes in a country that has an abysmal human rights treatment of black people. They should not get a pass because they are now "woke." Because it's bullshit.
I 100% agree that the industry needs a change. But this change isn't only skin deep. It needs a complete overhaul from the top-down, inside and out.
I'm convinced now that the simplest way to make this happen, and perhaps the only way, is for people who want real change to start their own shops. Forget the dinosaur holding companies who own agencies that have 14 partners on a board who make all the money and work everyone else to death for peanuts. Forget the "content creators," whose content is as forgettable as this week's influencer they've brought on to hawk a product with the sincerity of a psychopath. Forget the agencies who call 'doing your job," "disruption," and the agencies who roll over for CMO's who, like the people in advertising, won't be there eighteen months from now.
Just like brands, the world needs building. But you don't build something overnight, nor do you build something with the intention of winning awards.
I would very much like to be wrong in writing this, but if history tells me anything, we will be on to something else very soon.
There are a lot of factors to blame-- social media, award shows, our tendency to chase what's trending versus building a brand. The brunt of the blame should be on advertising's lifecycle. Slightly longer than a fruit fly. And in the great scheme of things, slightly less meaningful.