Advertising Age spotlighted “Five groundbreaking campaigns that moved the needle on black representation in ads”—presumably to honor Black History Month. Can’t help but wonder if the well-intentioned report displays unconscious revisionist history.
Spotlighting the Michael Jackson Pepsi campaign as groundbreaking for Black representation in advertising is true on certain levels, mostly in regards to crossover appeal and big-budget endorsements. Yet the article failed to mention the campaign was really initiated by the Jacksons, their managers and Entertainment Marketing & Communications International CEO Jay Coleman. Apparently, Coleman first proposed the deal to Coca-Cola. So it’s not like BBDO—Pepsi’s White advertising agency—originally hatched the inclusive innovation. Plus, the campaign is arguably not Pepsi’s most groundbreaking example of Black representation in advertising, as Edward Boyd produced pioneering campaigns that targeted and depicted Blacks about 30 years before the Jacksons arrived for the soft drink brand.
Spotlighting the Michael Jordan-Mars Blackmon Nike campaign—like the Michael Jackson Pepsi campaign—is questionable too. In this case, White advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy tapped “She’s Gotta Have It” and Academy Award Winner Spike Lee. Not sure, but didn’t Lee post the Nike campaign on the SpikeDDB website when first launching his agency?
Don’t mean to overreact, but the Pepsi and Nike campaigns are examples of White advertising agencies hijacking Black culture, which is hardly groundbreaking. And how Ad Age saluted the campaigns is not exactly the best way to celebrate Black History Month.
Spotlighting the “My Black Is Beautiful” campaign is a decent move, but the Ad Age presentation felt clumsy and culturally clueless. The trade journal wrote, “When Procter & Gamble began developing ‘My Black Is Beautiful’ in 2006, exactly what the campaign would do wasn’t fully thought out…” Really? The concept was thought out quite nicely. However, like most Black-focused initiatives, “My Black Is Beautiful” was financed by crumbs. To declare “the program was catapulted to new prominence in 2017 with the video ‘The Talk’ from BBDO” sounds insulting, especially when the White advertising agency likely enjoyed a budget and resources that Black advertising agencies never see. Plus, BBDO needed to “partner” with a Black consultant for the key insight (an insight that is common knowledge for nearly every Black family in America).
Perhaps someday Advertising Age will go beyond spotlighting groundbreaking Black representation in advertising to spotlighting groundbreaking Black representation in advertising agencies.