Thursday, August 14, 2008
5818: Madison Avenue And The Color Line—1B.
MultiCultClassics originally picked up a copy of Madison Avenue and the Color Line: African Americans in the Advertising Industry by Jason Chambers back in January, promising to eventually review it. Unfortunately, a crazy schedule prohibited an honest reading of the book.
Well, nearly seven months later, the reading has finally begun. Given the reality that it might take some time to complete the effort, MultiCultClassics has decided to submit a running review, posting critiques and commentary as pages and chapters are covered.
For background, visit the book’s official website. Additionally, Carol Watson offered her thoughts months ago at Advertising Age’s The Big Tent.
As noted back in January, it’s ironic—and sadly outrageous—that many bookstores stock the title in the African American section versus the business section. The irony comes from Chambers’ observations that Blacks have been historically separated/segregated from the mainstream advertising industry. The sadly outrageous part comes from the fact that the book is a hardcore study of the advertising industry. It ranks right alongside contemporaries like Adland by Mark Tungate or classics like The Want Makers by Eric Clark, The Image-Makers by William Meyers and The Mirror Makers by Stephen Fox. Instead, you’ll find Jason Chambers’ work sharing shelves with Veronica Chambers, W.E.B. Du Bois and Michael Eric Dyson. Not shabby company, but arguably the wrong neighborhood—or to be fair, the book should appear in African American and business sections.
The preceding paragraph is critical because it’s important to consider the potential audiences for the book. Given the continuing turmoil surrounding Madison Avenue’s dearth of diversity—including the actions of New York City’s Commission on Human Rights—Chambers’ tome should be required reading for all agency and industry leaders. Especially the White folks, to be clear. The insights featured in the book could go a long way in lessening the confusion and cultural cluelessness so prevalent in our global professional community. This is not to imply White adpeople never peruse the African American sections of the local Borders and Barnes & Noble stores. Rather, the book would hopefully become more top-of-mind, visually accessible and relevant to a broader group in the business section—which is imperative in light of the limited media attention it’s received to date.
In today’s fast-paced world, many of us prefer scanning thin books from Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell or Ken Blanchard. Or we’re accustomed to advertising and marketing books that are semi-instructional ala Luke Sullivan or the published series from Adweek. Like the previously mentioned contemporaries and classics, Madison Avenue and the Color Line is a serious historical piece. You won’t get through it during a New York-to-Chicago flight, unless you graduated summa cum laude from the Evelyn Wood School of Reading Dynamics.
Chambers is an associate professor in the Department of Advertising at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and consults for companies and media outlets. Essentially, he’s an outsider—at least in terms of lacking ad agency experience. One might ordinarily dismiss the author, as outsiders tend to be ignorant on so many levels about our industry.
Yet Chambers brings a fresh viewpoint to the proceedings. He’s curious and not immediately judgmental. Like a great reporter or social anthropologist, he seeks facts, data and respected opinions. Chambers did tremendous research, culling through periodicals, journals, studies, etc. Plus, he interviewed key players and trailblazers. Then he launched comparisons and contrasts to parallel businesses. And he wrapped everything into American history. The book is a deep and thoughtful exploration of a subject traditionally clouded in mystique and misunderstanding.
Madison Avenue and the Color Line by Jason Chambers presents an opportunity for everyone to finally “get it.” Or minimally walk away with a single clue.
This concludes the introductory review overview. The next installment will dig further into the specific content. Stay tuned.