As another Black History Month draws to a close, it’s hard to ignore how the event underscores and symbolizes divertsity in the advertising industry. That is, the majority of work displayed over the past 28 days was contrived, clichéd and created with crumbs. On the flip side, March is Women’s History Month, and it’s a safe bet that advertisers and White advertising agencies will go all out to celebrate—even while battling sexual harassment charges.
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Advertising Age reported on Diet Madison Avenue, an anonymous Instagram account attacking men in advertising who allegedly engage in sexual harassment. It appears to be another example of the power of divertsity, showing how the gender equality movement in adland has gone from revolutionary to radical. The White women’s bandwagon is now a stealth bomber. Why, even Ad Age relaxed its journalistic standards—which used to oppose anonymity from sources—by “interviewing” Diet Madison Avenue creators and accepting anonymous comments from industry executives. Plus, while advertising citizens vehemently protested entities like the original AgencySpy, the critiques for Diet Madison Avenue are posed more as concerns versus complaints. The always self-promotional Kat Gordon declared, “One of two things is happening. Either Diet Madison Avenue knows who the offenders are before agencies do, suggesting a culture-of-fear problem, or agencies know before Diet Madison Avenue and do nothing.” Such black-and-white thinking displays ignorance about sexual harassment and discrimination. After all, the JWT lawsuit starring Gustavo Martinez and Erin Johnson proves it ain’t easy to prove bad behavior has occurred. Playing judge, jury and executioner via social media can be fun and entertaining, but knowing it’s coming from advertising wonks that probably have plenty of skeletons in their own culturally-clueless closets is disturbing.
Inside ‘Diet Madison Avenue’: The Anonymous Instagrammers Who Get Nasty in the Fight Against Alleged Predators
By Lindsay Stein
With those words, the anonymous Instagram account that’s been taking deadly aim at prominent men in the ad industry announces its next intended target. Since January, the account, “Diet Madison Avenue,” has been naming and shaming industry execs it says have engaged in sexual harassment. In the past month, it’s become a twisted parlor game within the industry: Who’s next?
Well, we know who was last: Droga5 chief creative officer Ted Royer, who was let go Thursday, and who was one of three executives named in the account who became the subjects of internal investigations within those agencies, and have since left their jobs.
The others: Martin Agency Chief Creative Officer Joe Alexander and former Wieden & Kennedy London chief strategy officer Paul Colman.
Diet Madison Avenue’s tactics can come off as threatening and crude: It uses graphic language (calling some people “pricks”) and even addressed the wife of one target directly. But the people behind the site, who communicated with Ad Age via Instagram Messenger to keep their anonymity, point out the page is private. And they have posted several times in Stories that it’s not a gossip page—it researches everything it publishes with multiple sources, they say. They also say they collaborate with lawyers, PhD students and professors.
As for the tone of the account, “advertising is snarky and not always palatable” and “plenty of snark and cursing goes on at work,” the people behind it said by Messenger. “We understand that some support us and some don’t. We have always understood that we are one small spoke in a larger wheel of this broader movement.”
The account isn’t afraid to get rough: It called Alexander an “asshole”; it has tweeted at senior leaders asking why they are hiring and promoting sexual predators; it wrote “GTFO” when Colman was let go and tacked on hashtags including #fired #serialpredator. It address agencies by name with “we’re watching you”; it posts emails by victims detailing alleged harassment with names blanked out.
The group is run by a “collective” of 17 men and women who all have various day jobs in advertising, with additional assistance from 42 people on content creation, copy-writing design strategy and website and community management, according to the account. It now has 7,500 followers and counting, they say.
It has also generated a great deal of conflicting emotions in the industry, with many critical of its tactics but appreciative of its mission. If nothing else, it has everybody talking.
Many of those outside of Diet Madison Avenue interviewed for this story asked not to be identified for one of two reasons: They don’t want their words to be taken out of context, or they fear retaliation from the group, which regularly updates its Instagram stories and names not only alleged sexual harassers but people they believe to be complicit, such as HR professionals and other agency executives.
“It’s hard to ignore, but it’s also been hard to embrace,” says one female agency executive of the site. “It’s true that Diet Madison Avenue is creating important dialog around putting an end to sexual harassment and inequality in the workplace. But unfortunately many of us have felt that its tone doesn’t match the sobriety of this topic.”
The group says it gets its information from women who have been harassed in the industry and that the stories it publishes have been “diligently” vetted. They told Ad Age that they make sure to “corroborate and verify the stories of individuals coming forward.”
And they argue that they must operate covertly to protect informants: “Many of them have shared their story with us because we are anonymous and they are trusting us, and we are safeguarding them and their story.”
It’s that anonymity that some feel is doing more harm than good, keeping the accused from confronting their accusers. And then there are those who say their biggest fear is seeing the name of a colleague, friend, boss or mentor pop up in one of the posts for alleged inappropriate behavior.
One agency CEO told Ad Age that the “mere existence of Diet Madison Avenue speaks to the very real issue of sexual harassment. But anonymous attacks with unknown evidence can yield stray bullets that hit innocent people. And once an accusation is launched, no matter what a court may or may not find, it’s game over for that person’s reputation.”
“One of two things is happening,” says Kat Gordon, CEO of The 3% Movement, which aims to bring more diversity to the creativity ranks. “Either Diet Madison Avenue knows who the offenders are before agencies do, suggesting a culture-of-fear problem, or agencies know before Diet Madison Avenue and do nothing.”
All of the agencies the organization has surveyed in its benchmarking survey, says Gordon, had zero-tolerance sexual harassment policies. Clearly, safe reporting and clear consequences are lacking in the industry, she says, and the bigger culture problem needs to be fixed.
“It’s getting people to talk and I think that’s great,” a consultant who wished to remain anonymous tells Ad Age. “They’ve obviously put a lot of pressure on the industry. I don’t think the situation at Droga would’ve happened without them.”
Badger & Winters Chief Creative Officer Madonna Badger, who launched the #WomenNotObjects initiative in 2016, says she believes Diet Madison Avenue is harnessing the power of social media to create change.
“Transparency and candor are crucial pillars of a free and equal world, so no one who is innocent has anything to fear,” she says. “The people who are harassing women and men must be called out in a public forum. Otherwise, how will this behavior end?”
However, Badger does question the lack of transparency on Diet Madison Avenue: “They provide no link to their process. I would like to know their standards.”
Another industry leader who, asking without irony to also remain anonymous, says “the kitschy branding, heavy reliance on anonymous sources, and of course its medium of choice, Instagram Stories, makes this effort feel a lot more In Touch than Washington Post. [There’s] an integrity and a code of ethics lacking that people need in the news now more than ever.”
Another female agency leader called Diet Madison Avenue a “slippery slope,” saying just because someone’s name turns up on the list doesn’t automatically mean they’re guilty. “There’s the risk of witch-hunting,” she says.
Diet Madison Avenue resists that narrative, saying it doesn’t see itself as any different than anonymous advertising networking app Fishbowl, or Twitter or YouTube, where people write comments without using their names.
“When we push against that status quo, we recognize that the status quo will push back,” they said, adding that the industry should make it so that the need for Diet Madison Avenue is irrelevant.
“Create better industry standards, get every agency to sign on to it, put money into it and enforce it.”
Jesse Brody, a partner at Manatt, Phelps and Phillips in the advertising, marketing and media practice, tells Ad Age that it’s not easy for someone to sue for defamation, libel or slander, especially if he or she is a limited-issue public figure such as a known name in advertising. However, Brody says a defamation suit could still be filed against the account if the facts turn out not to be true.
Representatives from Instagram were not immediately available for comment about whether the account is breaking any of its rules.
In the meantime, the account runs on. One female agency exec who has been leery of the site says she doesn’t think anyone wants the account to be shut down, and says she knows people are rooting for it to find its way.
“That just might mean hitting reset, focusing and being even more clear about its methods and intentions,” she says.
Controversy aside, says the group, “disagree with us, be annoyed with us, but talk to each other. … The awareness it’s bringing to this issue is the most important [part].”
This United advertisement salutes the Ebony Power 100 during Black History Month and proclaims, “The diversity of our company and customers makes us stronger.” And being stronger comes in handy when you have to drag customers off of planes.
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
It’s probably not a BHM message, but Advertising Age spotlighted a Gap Instagram post featuring a Black mother breastfeeding her baby, which has gone viral.
This Gap Instagram Post Depicting Breastfeeding Is Going Viral
Post for LoveByGapBody Range has over 35,000 Likes So Far
By Alexandra Jardine
A Gap Instagram post featuring a mother breastfeeding her baby is going viral, with over 35,000 likes so far.
The post, for Love By GapBody sleepshirts, features model Adaora Akubilo feeding her 20-month-old son Arinze. It has attracted comments such as “Thank you Gap for #normalizingbreastfeeding” and even “looks like we have to start shopping at Gap again!!!!”
It’s part of a series of pictures for the range, another of which shows Akubilo carrying her baby in her arms. The caption to the post reads simply “Love your forever favorite. Pima cotton and a secret soft wash make these sleep shirts the ones you’ll want to wear, keep, and love. Tap to shop.”
In response to the social media posts on the images, Gap issued a statement: “We aim for the marketing around Love By GapBody to encourage and empower all women to be the woman they want to be as a friend, partner, wife, mother and voice in today’s society.”
The overwhelming positive response so far follows other attempts by brands to feature breastfeeding, some of which have been unsuccessful. Last year, Dove pulled an ad in the U.K. that featured a breastfeeding baby, after complaints. However, the complaints were more about the ad trying to start a debate about breastfeeding, and suggestions that it was a matter for public comment.
Campaign published a perspective showing neurodiversity is part of the new divertsity. The author opened by stating, “Everyone is talking diversity. Amazing people are redressing the imbalances, which is fantastic. But I have a worry for a small invisible minority.” First of all, everyone is not talking diversity; rather, most are talking divertsity. And while it’s fine to worry about a “small invisible minority,” it’s also way beyond time to acknowledge the humungous invisible minority—i.e., BAME underrepresentation in adland. It seems like whenever typical White advertising executives are asked to consider racial and ethnic minorities, they feign ADHD symptoms.
Meet the invisible minority: Why my autism and neurodiversity are gifts to the industry
Wayne Deakin, former executive creative director of AKQA, on the positive power of neurodiversity.
Everyone is talking diversity. Amazing people are redressing the imbalances, which is fantastic. But I have a worry for a small invisible minority.
I am talking about neurodiverse people.
I should know. I am one.
I’ve been “wired differently” all my life. Of course, I am lucky, as being sociable or doing keynote speaking isn’t an issue. Even those I’ve worked with for years don’t know I have autism.
However, I don’t feel I can be open about it. People are harshly judgemental or will put you in a “box” because they have no clue. Fear and uncertainty cloud people’s view of the benefits that neurodiversity brings. It’s disappointing really that even someone like me, with a successful track record, feels worried about coming out with this.
Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone on the spectrum. However, being autistic has helped me create award-winning work and disruptive innovations that brought crazy financial returns for clients. It has helped me be good at my craft and look sideways at problem-solving.
Others have called them “super powers”. I am not one for superhero outfits – I have a wardrobe full of navy and black T-shirts in a strict order, so Spandex isn’t for me – but they do have a point about this “super powers” thing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve experienced many challenges. I’ve had people try to bully me or twist it to their advantage if it slipped out. I grew up in a pretty tough place, so small-minded fools don’t worry me and I’ve made it a point to stand up to them or stand up for others, but I am aware that I am incredibly privileged. Many aren’t as lucky, or as able. Many don’t have the means to talk about it.
The shame is that adland is a very superficial place. We need to ditch preconceptions and stereotypes and look at the untapped potential that neurodiversity offers.
Corporatisation makes it hard to accept different people because being uniform is just more comfortable and easier to manage on a spreadsheet.
It might appear more productive on paper, but is it more profitable? Do we want a battery-chicken mentality or a free-range one, with all the benefits that would bring?
Not surprisingly, there are neurodiverse people who have had to hide it away, but are now starting to talk about it or are having loved ones speak out. There have been, and are, many neurodiverse people more talented than me, such as Tim Burton, Steve Jobs, Andy Warhol, Daryl Hannah, Bill Gates, Lewis Carroll, Mozart and Stanley Kubrick, to name a few.
But we need more than a few celebrity voices to change things. We need understanding and workplace accommodations, such as headphones to prevent overstimulation and break-out spaces to get away from co-workers and wind down. In most cases, such accommodations are totally manageable. It’s brilliant that Creative Equals’ Creative Equality Standard asks people to “hand raise” and identify that they are neurodiverse so that offices can understand the challenges some can face.
There is also now economic proof that it’s good for business; Harvard and others are talking about its benefits. Have a read of “Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage” in the Harvard Business Review.
It is also obvious when you dig into the various skills that businesses can benefit from:
• Autism spectrum: people have a gift for detail, enhanced perceptual functioning, high levels of concentration, reliability and technical ability.
• Dyslexia: individuals often have strong spatial intelligence, many are 3D and holistic thinkers, with mechanical aptitude and entrepreneurial proclivities.
• ADHD: hyper-focused, creative, inventive, spontaneous and energetic
It’s why leading tech companies such as Apple, SAP, HP, EY, Microsoft and Google are all benefiting from the untapped potential that neurodiverse talent offers. It’s obvious, in my opinion, because real innovation comes from the edges of society and not from the centre, after all.
As acclaimed behavioural expert Dr Temple Grandin said: “What would happen if the autism gene was eliminated from the gene pool? You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socialising and not getting anything done.”
But what of adland?
I hope we can start speaking up, because it affects all genders, races and sexual identities. Let’s challenge the current climate, so we can help the next generation, or our kids, inherit a world of more understanding and kindness.
Can we get chief executives and chief financial officers to start embracing different minds now that there are proven returns?
Maybe we should turn to tech companies to see how beneficial the hiring of different people can be to a creative industry such as ours. But we will also need to examine our interviewing processes to progress beyond the superficial. To steal a line from the Apple ads by the brilliant Lee Clow — “Here’s to the crazy ones… the ones who see things differently”, and all the benefits they can bring.
And here’s to hoping that my speaking out about it will start to help this untapped pool of talent find its voice.
#DiverseMinds (the neurodiversity conference), presented by Creative Equals and The Hobbs Consultancy, takes place on 1 March
Monday, February 26, 2018
The school dining hall served BBQ Ribs, Mac & Cheese, Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Collard Greens, White Rice, Lima Beans and Corn Bread—along with red Kool-Aid and watermelon-flavored water—for BHM at NYU. WTF. Get the FYI at CNN.
Harvard Business Review published a report titled, “Beating the Odds”—an analysis of women of color who reached corporate levels including chair, CEO or C-level executive. The report opened with the following:
Any list of top CEOs reveals a startling lack of diversity. Among the leaders of Fortune 500 companies, for example, just 32 are women; with the recent departure of Ken Chenault from American Express, just three are African-American; and not one is an African-American woman. What’s going on?
Hey, take a look at the advertising industry, where there are less than 100 Black women in executive roles.
The HBR report presented this conclusion:
When African-American women are underrepresented in an organization’s senior leadership roles despite robust academic credentials and work experience, their struggles often suggest a broader problem: a workplace that fails to offer every employee equal access to opportunities for growth. Much of the narrative about women and African-Americans in corporate life focuses on derailment, plateauing, and off-ramping—and that’s doubly true for African-African women. As the women we interviewed demonstrate, that narrative need not be the rule. However, it takes extraordinary ability, perseverance, and support to transcend it. The insights gleaned in our study are important not just for African-Americans and women; they’re essential for any manager who recognizes what research has shown over and over again—that an organization’s diversity is its strength.
In adland, Black women must exhibit super-duper-extraordinary ability, perseverance and support to overcome the divertsity and exclusivity—unless they’re willing to settle for a Chief Diversity Officer position.
Sunday, February 25, 2018
Carl’s Jr. recently hired a new White advertising agency, and the new campaign is nauseating on a number of levels. Yes, the over-the-topless sexism prevalent in past work was always inappropriate—and intolerable in today’s society, where inclusive sensitivity especially relating to females is a growing movement. But like other brands undergoing reform (e.g., Axe), the reactive results are generic and contrived, which flies in the face of basic branding objectives for uniqueness and breakthrough. “The Call of Carl’s” feels culturally clueless too, featuring a bug-eyed Black character and urban-vibe voiceover copy. The burger chain has replaced soft porn with food porn—and shifted from White male to White stale.