As 2009 rings out, diversity fans in the advertising industry will party like it’s 1999. Or 1989. Or 1979. Or 1969, 1959, 1949, 1939, etc.
That is, the past year played like a rewind of, well, every past year. For Madison Avenue, the journey toward inclusiveness runs on a treadmill.
In January, Omnicom anointed Tiffany R. Warren as its new Chief Diversity Officer. A few weeks later, executives from DDB New York presented an Ad Age perspective on recruiting top talent—without making a single reference to diversity. Guess they didn’t get the memo on Warren’s arrival. Sanford Moore offered his opinion by declaring, “Diversity executives and diversity consultants are diversity pimps. The only thing that’s diversified are their bank accounts. They’re put there as window dressing. And window dressing gets taken down after the holidays.” Moore was ranting at a press conference starring Cyrus Mehri and the NAACP to introduce the Madison Avenue Project, along with a report documenting the blatant inequities that minorities face in the field. Ad Age appeared to confirm the charges with its Agency A-List, where A stood for Anglo. Things weren’t looking much better on the client side, as My Black Is Beautiful advocate Najoh Tita-Reid left Procter & Gamble. And the exclusivity picture became even clearer with the launch of the inane TNT series Trust Me.
In February, the ABAA celebrated Black History Month by writing a letter to the ANA, requesting a meeting “in order to open a substantive dialogue about how to bring Black-owned agencies into the mainstream.” To date, the ANA has made no public acknowledgement of the letter. They’d probably claim it was lost in the mail—by the Black mailroom attendant. Meanwhile, MultiCultClassics saluted Black History Month and beyond with Culturally Clueless FAQs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11. And Madison Avenue honored Black History Month with The Advertising Industry Diversity Job Fair and Leadership Conference, an event that could best be described as ghetto. Oh, and Tiffany R. Warren spent her second month on the job reminding Omnicom brass of “the far-reaching benefits of a diverse employee base.” That they needed to have their memories jogged in 2009 speaks volumes.
March came in like a
April showered noteworthy happenings. The Diversity in Advertising Career Day inadvertently lived up to its oxymoron name, leaving potential candidates feeling isolated and abandoned. At the 4As Leadership Conference, President and CEO Nancy Hill announced that the organization would be known as the 4As—and later admitted there continues to be a dearth of AAs (African Americans, for the slow readers). W+K co-founder Dan Wieden delivered classic lines to rival Just Do It. Weiden confessed the issue of diversity “continues to gnaw at me because, like it or not, in this business I essentially hire a bunch of white, middle-class kids, pay them enormous, enormous sums of money to do what? To create messages to the inner-city kids who create the culture the white kids are trying like hell to emulate. But if you go into the inner city, odds are these kids aren’t even going to see advertising as a possibility, as an opportunity for them. Now that’s fucked up.” Also fucked up was the general lack of interest for the conference’s obligatory diversity-related panels. All of which inspired a special Easter ad from MultiCultClassics.
In June, head-scratching moments included the handling of the Illinois State Lottery account, the trials and tribulations of New York City Councilman Larry Seabrook and the hiring
The rhetoric repeated in July, as advertisers stumbled into the spotlight. Coca-Cola executive Yolanda White discussed the soft drink company’s renewed enthusiasm for Blacks—yet pledged no allegiance to Black agencies. Ad Age editor Teressa Iezzi
August heated up with a lame video from CP+B interns that crystallized Wieden’s words. Plus, Wieden’s words prompted further online debating. Additional diversity ditties and disasters included a Polish joke by Microsoft, Pepsi’s rip-off of My Black is Beautiful, peculiar driving instructions from BMW and a Neil French-styled editorial penned by an adwoman.
In September, Ad Age unveiled its almost minority-free Media Mavens 2009. Advertising Week was weak, with diversity panels regurgitating the same old solutions. IPG Chief Diversity Officer Heide Gardner puffed, “Homogeneous creative teams limit the number of idea combinations. … They can also come up with some embarrassing creative.” Gardner should know, as IPG shop Draftfcb is behind some of the most offensive and culturally clueless stuff around. VCU Brandcenter director Rick Boyko joined the chorus of ad honchos admitting the industry has failed with diversity initiatives. In contrast, McDonald’s Global Chief Diversity Officer Patricia Sowell authored a book on workplace diversity. The woman should send copies to Mickey D’s White advertising agencies—along with copies of Doug Saint Carter’s brainchild.
October was kinda scary, and the spookiness had nothing to do with Halloween. Bob Liodice and Nancy Hill tried to assemble an army, despite the reality that Madison Avenue recruits tend to be dodgers and deserters. Mark LaNeve appropriately went from being a dishonest car salesman to hawking insurance. The U.S. Census promised a significant portion of its marketing budget would go to minority agencies, although White agency Draftfcb will control the purse strings. And The One Club cut Julius Dunn and his Adversity program from its budget.
In November, Ad Age unleashed Power Players 2009, a collection that somewhat symbolized White Power. At the ANA Masters of Marketing Conference, Mickey D’s bragged about its use of ethnic insights, while its ethnic agencies still receive second-class citizenship in the corporate hierarchy. Of course, the majority of conference attendees acknowledged their enterprises did not engage multicultural specialists. The attendees do not engage minorities too, based on the conference video by Yahoo! Coca-Cola, on the other hand, said the multicultural space will be a core focus for the company. By 2020. Yee-hah! P&G ended the month by stressing the importance of supplier diversity to its White ad agencies—via email.
It wasn’t exactly a December to remember, with Ad Age pooh-poohing critics of the awful and offensive Shiny Suds spot. Additionally, Ad Age published its Book of Tens—allegedly calling out the big news items of the decade—and made zero mentions of diversity. Julie Roehm’s sex scandal trumped Cyrus Mehri and Sanford Moore. Adweek countered with the Best of 2000s Winners, dumping all minorities into a single receptacle and tagging Globalhue as Multicultural Agency of the Decade. It would be fascinating to tally how many times Adweek has actually reported on Globalhue in the last ten years.
Throughout the year, a band of stalwart revolutionaries sought to bring enlightenment to the masses. Craig Brimm tried to teach White people how to dance. Lincoln Stephens debuted The Marcus Graham Project. Celestine Arnold scored with race and culture in video games. Sanford Moore retold his views on apartheid in advertising. Latoya Peterson examined the racial erasures on AMC series Mad Men. Hadji Williams explored the inability of minority agencies to gain AOR status. Bill Green and Angela Natividad birthed AdVerve, a podcast that has probed racism, sexism and more. Harry Webber shared the joys of being blacklisted. Jo Muse preached on diversity. Laurence Boschetto was bashed for blathering about minority vendors. Laura Martinez translates culture with humor and passion. Alvin Gay is ready with a thought for this day. Kenji Summers keeps it real positive and optimistic. And The Big Tent contributors and commentators march onward. Apologies to everyone accidentally left off the list.
Let’s close out the post with a hat tip to Draftfcb and Omnicom, two enterprises that drew a tie for the greatest number of culturally clueless offenses in 2009.
So what lies ahead for 2010? Possibly a rewind of 2000. Or 1990. Or 1980. Or 1970, 1960, 1950, 1940, 1930, etc.
For now, MultiCultClassics ain’t going anywhere.