Tuesday, July 15, 2008

5706: Double Vision Doesn’t Make You Colorblind.

Admittedly, this essay may be a bit muddled and probably digresses from the original objective. Sorry, it was inspired by fuzzy journalism.

Adweek—yes, Adweek—presented a story on race and culture. Mark Dolliver, one of the few decent writers working for the publication, crafted the piece. “Double Vision: The Race Issue Revisited” is a bulky, research-filled exposition worth scanning, if only for the opinions from Hadji Williams. In the end, however, it matches a lot of recent Adweek content—an information download sans any focused point or perspective. Granted, it’s a report versus an editorial. But once upon a time, Adweek consistently delivered insights with edginess and attitude. Race and culture are certainly hot, emotional topics in the advertising industry. However, you wouldn’t know it from Adweek’s coverage over the years. The enterprise is conspicuously silent and clueless on the cultural tip.

In some sections, it appeared Dolliver tried to draw parallels between Madison Avenue, the advertising it produces and contemporary society in America. There’s an inherent flaw with such observations. Madison Avenue does not reflect contemporary society. For that matter, neither does the advertising we produce.

While contemporary society grows more diverse, Madison Avenue remains stuck in a culture warp. We’re closer to mirroring professional golf and tennis. Like those sports, a couple of minorities have entered the scene and even starred in events. Yet exclusivity—as well as discrimination—still dominates. Let’s not confuse a handful of breakthroughs with the mythical “post-racial” nirvana.

In the big agencies, the majority of minorities continue to occupy “minority roles”—administrative assistants, mailroom attendants, janitorial and security personnel, etc. What other industry literally segregates companies by race and ethnicity? The minority shops remain underpaid and underappreciated. Unrecognized too. There are no level playing fields on any level.

Dolliver pulled a peculiar quote from an industry leader:

David Lubars, chairman, CCO of BBDO North America, suggests advertising content is a pop-culture leader in its inclusiveness. “Advertising does a much better job of showing diversity and reflects the American fabric better than the movies or TV shows,” he says. “You watch any evening of TV commercials, you see a great mix.”

Um, what channel are you watching, David? Spend the night with BET or Univision. Quiet as it’s kept, minority shops are actually discouraged from depicting multicultural casts.

Plus, the larger question looms: Why can’t Madison Avenue recreate its staged commercial diversity in the real world?

America is poised to elect its first Black president. Madison Avenue is struggling mightily to appoint minority vice presidents.

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