Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Essay Thirty-One

Knock! Knock!
Who’s there?
Two bad jokes masquerading as MultiCultClassics Minutes:

• Trinity International University evacuated its minority students in response to threatening, racist hate mail sent to three folks. Authorities caught the culprit — and it’s a Black female student! Turns out Alicia Hardin wanted to make her parents believe the school was dangerous, hoping they’d transfer her to Jackson State University. It probably would have been easier to win a UNCF scholarship. As former Vice-President Dan Quayle once flubbed, “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.” True dat.

• Stanford Douglas (a Black guy) shot and killed William Berkeyheiser (a White guy) because he allegedly heard the victim tell a racist joke seven years ago. Douglas refused to repeat the joke for detectives. So anyway, a Black guy and a White guy walk into a bar…

Monday, April 25, 2005

Essay Thirty

What the world needs now is love, sweet love — particularly considering the following hate-filled MultiCultClassics Minutes:

• Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois shuttled dozens of Black and Hispanic students to a hotel as a safety precaution after three folks received nasty, racist letters. Rumors claim the threatening notes targeted students in interracial relationships. Let’s scratch this school off the list of potential locales for Snoop Dogg’s next “Girls Gone Wild” video.

• The video of Florida police officers handcuffing a feisty 5-year-old may be the greatest example of excessive force since the Rodney King beating.

• Michael A. Smith, a Vietnam War veteran, spit into Jane Fonda’s face during a book-signing event in Kansas City. Smith deemed his actions a “debt of honor. She spit in our faces for 37 years. There are a lot of veterans who would love to do what I did.” That’s a long time for hate to fester — most folks only identify Fonda as the old lady who produced aerobics videos.

• Bates Advertising was found guilty of firing EVP Kathryn Jordan based on her disability. The agency must now pay Jordan $2.5 million. This proves Blacks, Hispanics and other minorities aren’t the only ones facing discrimination in the advertising industry.

• Anna Ayala, the alleged victim of the Wendy’s Chili Con Finger incident, is now being fingered as the actual culprit. And the search continues for the owner of the detached digit. Hate to say it, but a body part in chili is still less disgusting than the questionable ingredients of a typical McGriddles.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Essay Twenty-Nine

[The following is a response to comments left on Essay Twenty-Eight.]

Dear mrmexico,

First, thanks for reading and writing.

You make provocative points, and I’m offering my own random perspectives and pontifications. Sorry if this essay repeats stuff from past essays.

Based on your comments, as well as things I’ve seen and heard from folks involved with Hispanic advertising, I suspect we all face similar challenges in the multicultural arena.

“A good idea is a good idea” isn’t always applicable with multicultural advertising — especially when clients still demand “Hip-spanic” directions or ask, “What’s Black about it?” Sadly, the same demands surface within minority agencies too.

Therefore, I’m hesitant to blame target markets more than clients for the issues surrounding multicultural efforts. For now, I’ll continue to distribute the blame between clients and advertising agencies — because both are squarely accountable.

It’s true that Hispanics and Blacks are quick to complain with accusations of perpetuating stereotypes. These groups tend to be hypersensitive on the cultural tip, filled with paranoia and suspicion. It’s a seemingly no-win scenario — they’re irate over insufficient representation, and then irked over increasing representation. But there are real social crimes and inequities to warrant the responses and attitudes.

Sure, many Hispanics decorate their cars’ rear windows with Old English type fonts, and many Blacks enjoy barbecues. So why would they get upset to see the imagery in commercials or print ads?

For starters, these messages are not conversations among the audiences. That is, it’s not about Hispanics speaking to Hispanics or Blacks speaking to Blacks — even though Hispanics and Blacks are often technically creating the messages. Rather, the messages are coming from huge, predominately White corporations. And that makes all the difference in the world.

Cultural cues in advertising are fine, provided these cues are relevant to the brand and commercial concept. But when the cues become borrowed interest designed to pander to minorities, the messages become legitimately insulting and offensive.

Hispanics and Blacks are not monolithic groups. The diversity within the segments is as broad as the mass market. Given the lack of rich media coverage these groups receive, every image becomes extra dramatic. As I’ve stated before, clients and agencies have certain responsibilities and obligations when dealing with minorities.

One solution would be to significantly boost the number of minority-targeted messages, but that’s a pipe dream for now. In the meantime, everyone needs to do a better job when judging the content and character of ideas prior to actual production.

Research studies show many minorities dislike the majority of the ads targeting them, mostly because of imagery they deem stereotypical. Research studies also show many minorities are attracted to fresh and unexpected imagery. More research and planning should be done to uncover more authentic insights. But that would require more money, which makes it one more pipe dream.

The lines between minority and mass market advertising continue to blur. I believe this can be a sign of progress — but only if the progress dissolves political and professional segregation and unequal opportunities.

But that’s just my biased opinion.

Culturally yours,

HighJive @ MultiCultClassics

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Essay Twenty-Eight

MultiCultClassics Minutes — just like CBS’ 60 Minutes, except without all the integrity, reputation, quality and loyal audience.

• The Professional Sports Watch: NY Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield is the latest athlete to face off with punks in the stands. While Sheffield ultimately managed to compose himself on the field, he plans to aggressively fight any fine or suspension. Why does it seem like most of these brawls are initiated by White guys?

• The Rosa Parks vs. OutKast Watch: The civil rights icon and rap duo settled the defamation and trademark infringement lawsuit that started in 1999. As part of the agreement, OutKast and Sony BMG Music Entertainment will develop projects “to enlighten today’s youth about the significant role Rosa Parks played in making America a better place for all races.” Can’t wait to see that video.

• The Fudge Watch: The clock is ticking on Y&R Chairman-CEO Ann Fudge, as the search for her replacement is officially public knowledge now. Anonymous sources insist Fudge bombed like a B-52, citing a host of alleged shortcomings. But let’s spin the event in a positive light. Fudge only failed to accomplish what a long line of White folks — who probably had more support and bigger salaries — failed to accomplish too.

• The Hip Hop in Advertising Watch: Activist groups in the U.K. blasted Reebok for a commercial starring 50 Cent that glorifies guns and violence. The Boondocks comic strip characters blasted Mickey D’s for a commercial that glorifies obscene acts with Double Cheeseburgers. This is why they invented TiVo.

• The Michael Jackson Watch: Actually, I stopped watching after Thriller.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Essay Twenty-Seven

MultiCultClassics presents Real Quotes from White Folks to Black Folks in The Ad Industry.*

During a job interview:

“…and, of course, we’re an equal opportunity employer…”

During a promotion of a Black woman:

“…I’ve hit the jackpot — two minorities in one!”

During a creative presentation:

“…if you’re willing to fall on your spears for this work…”

“…I was expecting to see much hipper ideas from your agency…”

“…do something music-driven — you’re good at that…”

“…I didn’t burn down South Central — you did!”

“…can you guarantee no one will be offended by this?”

“…I like it! It reminds me of that Eddie Murray movie…”

“…what’s Black about this concept?”

Responding to a casting selection:

“…he looks just like (fill-in-the-Black-celebrity)…”

Responding to a vendor recommendation:

“…I can’t believe you didn’t present a minority director…”

Responding to a set design:

“…it needs more Afrocentric touches…”

Responding to a radio spot:

“…she (the voiceover talent) doesn’t sound Black enough…”

Responding to a commercial rough cut:

“…I showed it to my housekeeper, and she loved it…”

Responding to a layout:

“…I showed it to my secretary, and she said…”

“…I showed it to people in the cafeteria, and they said…”

“…I showed it to the mailroom guy, and he said…”

In the hallways:

“…excuse me, are you the mailroom guy?”

*All quotes guaranteed authentic — or your money back!

[Special thanks to the many folks who generously contributed for this collection.]

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Essay Twenty-Six

Here’s your recommended daily allowance of MultiCultClassics Minutes:

• Happy Anniversary to everyone at BET.

This week’s issue of Advertising Age salutes BET on its 25th anniversary. A special section features articles and interviews. Plus various companies pay tribute with congratulatory print ads. As always, the ads range from good to bad — mostly bad.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi are equally tacky, presenting messages hyping their own logos and products.

McDonald’s offers the worst ad, with a corny headline that reads, “Before hip-hop could walk, before bling was a thing, before anyone knew what crunk was, BET had it goin’ on.”

Now that’s def, homies. One can only wonder who deciphered the slang terms for McDonald’s executives. And the headline is technically incorrect — hip-hop has been around longer than BET.

The best ad comes from Johnson & Johnson. The elegant copy reads, “Thank you BET, for nurturing African American entertainment over the past 25 years. Best wishes for continued success from one nurturing company to another.” Simple. Classy. Nicely designed.

Only three advertising agencies show respect — SpikeDDB (hooking up with others on the Pepsi ad), Haley Miranda Group and GlobalHue.

• Negro League Baseball is the title of a new book featuring photographs by Ernest C. Withers and an essay by Daniel Wolff. The book captures great images of the leagues’ players and personalities. Pardon the sloppy segue, but sometimes it seems like the advertising industry — with its multicultural segregation — has essentially created corporate Negro Leagues.

• “Racism is the biggest cancer in my lifetime. And I know I can’t cure the cancer, but doesn’t somebody have to attack it? It just seems to me people are afraid to talk about race. We’re richer than ever, more educated than ever. The country is more diverse than ever. But I think we’re more scared than we’ve ever been when it comes to talking about race. We spend more time and effort trying to cure racism than we spend trying to prevent it. Nobody wants to talk about what they think about people who are different until something really terrible happens, and once you reach that point nobody is rational. At that point, people are just stuck in their positions hating each other.”

Those thoughts come from NBA legend Charles Barkley, whose latest book — Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man? — presents frank discussions about race with a variety of people. Check it out.

• P. Diddy announced plans to launch his own wireless phone service. But J. Lo still won’t return his calls.

• Speaking of wireless service, Foxy Brown pleaded not guilty to using her phone and fists to beat two nail salon workers over a pedicure gone wrong. The alleged assault took place in August 2004, and the trial is being held in Manhattan. Let’s hope Foxy’s cell doesn’t land her in one.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Essay Twenty-Five

I just learned I’m part of two major lawsuits — along with over a billion other folks.

Mickey D’s has been running a legal notice in major publications, alerting customers about the lawsuits and impending settlements stemming from its use of trans fatty acids in cooking oil. Like most McDonald’s advertisements, the notice features a dull layout and corny copy; however, there are no lame youth photos, product inserts, logos or “i’m lovin’ it” tagline.

Two-thirds of the page lists complicated legal jargon. As a participant in the lawsuits — a role automatically given to anyone who purchased or ate fried food at any McDonald’s restaurant in the U.S. after September 3, 2002 — I wonder if I need to have my lawyer review this document. Heaven forbid these criminals should deny me proper compensation, which I’m presuming will come in the form of McDonald’s Gift Certificates and Happy Meal toys.

As Martha Stewart was inevitably sent to jail for her crimes, perhaps Ronald McDonald is facing potential incarceration. It was only a matter of time, considering his long-term association with the Hamburglar. (I’ll forgo any obscene references to tossed salads or usage of the word McBitch.)

Given McDonald’s recent multimillion-dollar bonuses awarded to its chief executive officers, I recommend participants of the lawsuits hold out for maximum damage payments. Plus, I’ll send a McGriddles® Extra Value Meal to the first reader who successfully plays the race card in this courtroom drama.

In fact, let’s all start referring to this as McReparations.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Welcome, New Readers


In the Advertising Industry, racism continues to be a major problem.

Diversity programs flounder.

Self-regulatory initiatives move more slowly than the legal actions in our court systems.

It seems like everyone wants to pretend nothing’s wrong. Sadly, the only people speaking out are outsiders—from Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to New York City Council member Larry Seabrook and the New York City Human Rights Commission. Insiders can’t go public unless they’re ready to leave the industry entirely, fearing the politics that lead to job loss and more.

It’s time to create discussions and debates. And now there’s a forum designed to do just that.

The blog was created by an advertising insider with a unique perspective on today’s multicultural issues. The writer has worked extensively at mass market agencies and multicultural agencies, witnessing firsthand all the things most people will ignore or even deny.

Please view the blog—starting with Essay One. Then share it with everyone you know. Thank you very much.

Essay Twenty-Four

Essay Fifteen questioned certain comments from creatives at True Agency, the African American advertising agency (owned by TBWA\Chiat\Day) handling multicultural duties for the Nissan account.

Now comes the following letter that appeared in the February/March issue of NV magazine:


It’s weird to write to a magazine regarding the advertisements but I have been noticing both Nissan and Infiniti’s ads and they’re working really hard to be in tune with the African American spirit. I must say they’re doing a surprisingly good job. I mean they present powerful images wrapped in text that honors us. Usually advertisers try to embrace pop culture and are usually years behind the time. (sic) They use old slang. The styling is off. I mean Nissan and Infiniti really are giving something cutting edge and that compliments (sic) NV so well. In fact while I’m handing out compliments looking at NV the advertisements have always seemed to fit into the book well. There hasn’t been anything tacky or offensive. It seems that you have standards when it comes to advertising and are not selling out your people to the highest bidder. I can appreciate that and I look forward to your annual Black & White issue.

Anisha Syms
New York, NY

For the record, MultiCultClassics has respected NV magazine for many years. The editorial content and design continue to be fresh, provocative and contemporary. This publication deserves more readers — and definitely more advertisers.

But the above letter seems fishy. Perhaps the writer is legitimately impressed by the Nissan campaign. Or maybe Anisha Syms is trying to land a job — or a date — with the folks at True Agency.

“It’s weird to write to a magazine regarding the advertisements…” That’s a major understatement. Besides advertising trade publications, it’s probably completely unprecedented for readers to send ad tributes to media vehicles.

“I mean they present powerful images wrapped in text that honors us.” Please. Only veteran advertising hacks write lines like this. Granted, Anisha Syms may be a veteran advertising hack. But if so, what would be the motivation for presenting this letter?

“Usually advertisers try to embrace pop culture and are usually years behind the time. They use old slang. The styling is off. I mean Nissan and Infiniti really are giving something cutting edge…” This continues the veteran advertising hack tendencies, while taking a jab at Black advertising. In the automotive category, Uniworld in New York consistently produces messages for Ford resulting in high praise and high recall/likeability scores from African Americans and the general market too. And technically, Nissan has been “giving something cutting edge” ever since the account landed at TBWA\Chiat\Day.

“In fact while I’m handing out compliments looking at NV the advertisements have always seemed to fit into the book well. There hasn’t been anything tacky or offensive. It seems that you have standards when it comes to advertising and are not selling out your people to the highest bidder.” Oh. My. God. Whassup with Syms?! The February/March issue of NV contains seven ads: two allegedly cutting-edge Nissan ads, a standard diversity recruitment Pitney Bowes ad, a Partnership for a Drug-Free America ad, two Toyota ads (one is a very contrived and insipid Black History Month ad; another makes an inane connection between owning a Camry and climbing to the top of the proverbial ivory tower) and a Kool cigarettes ad (which blows Syms’ belief that NV isn’t selling out).

So what the hell is going on here? Is Anisha Syms just an ordinary citizen enamored with advertising? Is the letter a viral self-hype tactic for Nissan? Is MultiCultClassics reading too much into the gushing viewpoint?

It’s hard to tell what’s really true in this case.

[To be clear, this essay is not intended to disparage NV magazine. As mentioned previously, MultiCultClassics respects NV — and strongly encourages everyone to pick up the latest issue and seriously support the progressive publication. NV is available at Borders, Barnes & Noble and other retailers.]

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Essay Twenty-Three

Holy Sh*t!

As it turns out, there may have been a few Black popes in history. A Google search revealed three men who held the title back in the day.

Pope St. Victor won the gig in 189 A.D. His accomplishments included establishing a set date for celebrating Easter. He died a martyr in 199.

Pope St. Militiades served from 311-314 A.D. St. Augustine gave him serious props, calling Pope St. Militiades, “a son of peace and father of Christians.”

Pope St. Gelasius served from 492-496 A.D. His accomplishments included rescuing Rome from famine and composing a book of hymns (definitely pre-gospel music).

The minor controversy here involves the lack of photos or hard evidence. While these popes may have had African roots, that doesn’t necessarily mean they were Black. But let’s presume they were and celebrate the groundbreaking reigns.

Then let’s also realize the Catholic Church is more liberal and progressive than the advertising industry — at least when it comes to diversity. Damn!

[Special thanks to Sister Chiara for input on this posting.]

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Essay Twenty-Two

Two more MultiCultClassics Minutes (that took about two minutes to write):

• You say burrito. I say burrato.

A recent newspaper article discusses the complexities of naming America’s largest minority. The two leading labels are Hispanic and Latino, accompanied by Cuban, Mexican, Chicano and more.

Is it possible to categorize people without creating controversies, contradictions and conflict?

Hispanic. Latino. Cuban. Mexican. Chicano. Latinos Americanos. Negro. Colored. Afro American. Black. African American. American Indian. Native American. Oriental (Yeah, there are still folks using this term!). Asian. Asian American. Handicapped. Disabled. Physically Challenged. Queer. Gay. Lesbian. Homosexual. Big-boned. Chubby. Full-figured. Obese. Thick. Fat. Midget. Dwarf. Little Person. Michael. Marlon. Jackie. Jermaine. Tito.

Maybe names — or even words — will never work. A numerical system or graphic icons might be better.

Just so long as it doesn’t involve text message symbols. ;(

• “They want me to die… in a hole,” White supremacist Matt Hale insists.

No argument here.

For the news-deprived, Hale was convicted of soliciting an undercover informant to execute U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow. When Lefkow’s husband and mother were murdered in February, Hale was a prime suspect. As it turned out, the actual killer had no apparent ties to Hale. But who can say whether Hale indirectly influenced or inspired the homicides? Jailbirds of a feather…

Hale now faces a 40-year prison sentence, which will give him plenty of time to continue his law studies. Perhaps he’ll inevitably come to realize the justice system worked fine in his case.

(Then again, it seems a bit odd that OJ Simpson and Robert Blake literally got away with murder while Hale got sent off for poorly planning a homicide.)

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Essay Twenty-One

Here are a few MultiCultClassics Minutes:

• In 2004 Y&R Chairman-CEO Ann Fudge expressed surprise over the “dearth of diversity” in the advertising industry; plus, she announced plans to deal with the issue in her company. Now comes news of a corporate decision to replace Fudge. Looks like WPP CEO Martin Sorrell is determined to dial up the dearth.

• “If you are a part of the African-American community and your history has been so misrepresented or absent in history, then every one representation becomes so important because it replaces history into the public consciousness,” said Carol Becker, dean of faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “And how that’s done is going to be important to people.”

This quote actually came in response to the controversy sparked by a North Carolina statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. (The statue has received strong reactions from residents — particularly Black folks — who believe it does not look like the civil rights leader.)

But the quote applies to multicultural advertising too. Despite decades of slow and questionable progress, minority representations in ads continue to be grossly inadequate on many levels.

That’s one reason why it’s imperative to create positive and authentic images free of stereotypes. Like it or not, multicultural advertising demands certain responsibilities and even moral obligations.

• Sears reportedly cut the fees it pays to mass market advertising agencies Y&R and O&M. Given the retailer’s constant sales woes, it’s a wonder both agencies are being paid at all. Last year the two shops shared Sears’ $640 million ad budget — which probably exceeds the amount of loot Sears gives its multicultural advertising agencies by about $640 million. Perhaps it’s divine retribution for Sears’ decision to eliminate its internal multicultural marketing unit in 2004.

• It pays to be a White man in corporate America. Mickey D’s handed out multimillion-dollar awards to three chief executive officers, including two dead guys. Talk about Mad CEO Disease.

• The list of replacement candidates for the late Pope John Paul II includes a Black man, who would certainly be a dope pope. Sadly, it will be a cold day in hell… um, never mind.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Essay Twenty

Why do so many ads targeting African Americans rely on cultural commercial clichés?

In the past weeks, at least three spots appearing to woo African Americans have featured identical imagery. Sunny D presents the corny tale of a proud Black mother raising her little drummer boy. The spot traces the youth’s artistic evolution, as Sunny D powers him from prepubescent percussionist to high school garage band to college marching band. Sunny D is accompanied by Mickey D’s, as the fast food dinosaur offers a super-sized marching band for McDonald’s Value Menu items. Completing the trio is Verizon Wireless, with a rat-a-tatting rip-off of the 2002 movie Drumline.

The advertisers can’t accuse their peers of plagiarism, as marching bands have been parading in African American advertising for decades. Coca-Cola rolled out an early depiction in the 1970s — and replayed the theme again in a recent print campaign. And the beat goes on, with countless corporations showing repeat performances of the contrived scenario. Apparently, Black folks just can’t get enough of those rousing marching bands.

The advertising agencies regurgitating this garbage deserve most of the blame. One wonders what the account planners really do at these places — did some genius actually introduce research to connect marching bands to fruit juice, Big Macs and cell phones?

Resorting to the standard recipes for multicultural communications prevents progress on so many levels. Even the shops claiming to be on the true cutting edge essentially update the clichés, falsely promoting the polished shit as breakthrough.

Clients are the co-conspirators in this mess. Their desire to do the right thing inevitably leads to the wrong executions. It probably started with the inception of multicultural advertising. After the first corporation unveiled a marching band, everyone else wanted to own one too. And over time, an innovation became overdone.

The cultural ignorance of clients is obvious as well. The ads really reflect clients’ perceptions of Black lifestyles, primarily based on slanted media coverage and limited personal experiences — and secondarily based on the fear rooted in remaining politically correct. In other words, the majority of clients are literally producing their own interpretations of the target audience. Plus, these clients are usually demanding “cultural relevance” that forces conceptual irrelevance and borrowed interest.

While this essay is focused on African American advertising, the issue undoubtedly applies to multicultural efforts in general. Shops catering to Hispanics, Asians and more face the same challenges.

Advertising agencies must strive to deliver and sell better work, rejecting the crap that’s been played out. Clients must strive to present original and authentic messages to the public versus joining other media in perpetuating stereotypes.

The solutions sound easy. Yet for over 40 years, the problems have been marching on.