The New York Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliott published his final column titled, “The Top 5 Changes on Madison Ave. Over the Last 25 Years”—and the old man ultimately showed that the more things change in adland, the more they stay the same (and even regress). Worth noting was the first change on Elliott’s list:
THE RISE OF DIVERSITY MARKETING As America has come to resemble the “gorgeous mosaic” of David N. Dinkins, advertisers responded—slowly at first, certainly—with inclusive, multicultural campaigns. The results of the 2010 census, which showed the Spanish-speaking population becoming a national presence, produced a boom in Hispanic marketing.
And as same-sex marriage becomes more prevalent and accepted, Madison Avenue is running ads with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender consumers in mainstream media, not only in media aimed at this market. This year alone, brands climbing aboard the rainbow bandwagon included Beats Music, Brita, Cheerios, Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, Heineken Light, Honey Maid, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Mr. Clean, Revlon, Starbucks, Taco Bell and Tide.
Unfortunately, the rise of diversity marketing—which is highly debatable—has not sparked a rise of diversity. Representation of Black executives has actually declined in the field. On Madison Avenue, Mad Men era exclusivity lives on. Diversity remains a dream deferred and denied. Hell, the very definition of the term has shifted in recent years to focus on elevating White women.
For Elliott to state “advertisers responded—slowly at first, certainly—with inclusive, multicultural campaigns” is a little misleading (and perhaps a lot mistaken). The majority of clients responded inadequately; plus, it could easily be argued that a growing number are responding improperly with their non-White initiatives.
As for the “boom” in marketing to Latinos, it’s more like the backyard beating of a piñata—that is, it’s an event isolated from the general market fiesta. Multicultural marketing constitutes a separate-but-unequal ghetto where practitioners scratch and scramble for crumbs from the overall marketing pie. Change is essentially spare change. Plus, executives at minority advertising agencies within the White holding companies are almost indentured servants.
The LGBT pride parade seems fabulously segregated too. Additionally, some advertisers recognize a legitimate audience while others recognize an opportunity to spark interest via borrowed interest. Elliott is right to dub it “the rainbow bandwagon”—and it’s only a matter of time before Skittles incorporates its “Taste the Rainbow” campaign in the selfish hopes of landing a Cannes Lion.
Oh, and although White women are enjoying progress at Cannes, minorities are more apt to be the entertainment or wait staff versus active participants.
Elliott witnessed five top changes on Madison Avenue over 25 years. Minorities witnessed a twisted, discriminatory version of Groundhog Day.