It’s bad enough that advertising creatives seek to capitalize on the coronavirus, but now media wonks are getting in on the action too…?
Advertising Age published a lengthy report on how Super Bowl LV commercials will be judged on inclusivity—although it’s not clear at all who will serve as judges or even how inclusivity will be defined. The lack of true diversity—beyond divertsity—in Super Bowl commercials relating to casting and creators has been annually documented since at least 2010. For the NFL Championship, adland has built an undisputed discriminatory dynasty.
How Super Bowl 2021 Commercials Will Be Judged On Inclusivity
And what we can learn from Big Game hits and misses
By Jeanine Poggi
From a barefoot Kenyan runner to making light of the crises in Tibet, Super Bowl commercials — indicative of the industry as a whole — haven’t been a beacon of inclusivity. In fact, in some cases, Big Game ads have been outright racist, misogynistic and sexist.
There are the very obvious blunders like Just For Feet’s 1999 spot Groupon’s 2011 and Salesgenie’s 2008 spot which was criticized for the animated animals’ over-the-top accents.
While most Super Bowl commercials don’t go as far as Holiday Inn’s 1997 ad, which compares the hotel’s upgrades to gender affirmation surgery, perhaps, just as problematic has been the widespread absence of any real effort to tell more inclusive stories.
Amid the renewed social justice movement sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers last spring, Super Bowl LV will be closely watched for how well it embraces inclusivity and pushes for accurate representation.
This doesn’t mean brands must lean into social justice messaging in order to honor the movement. Marketers will be judged in 2021 by how they are “prioritizing the use of cultural insights in the content in order to connect with consumers at the heart, thus maximizing corporate growth,” says Aaron Walton, CEO and founder of the agency Walton Isaacson, whose Super Bowl experience has included
“As one can see, the emphasis is on accurate representation and on the prioritization of cultural insights,” Walton adds. “These are filters through which we should be looking at Super Bowl work in 2021. Not simply in terms of inclusive casting — but in terms of how consumers of color and of diverse cultural backgrounds are represented — how their lives and values are reflected. What roles are they given to play and what messages are conveyed?”
But to be sure, at the very basic level, representation in casting has been lackluster.
In Super Bowl 2020, 26 people of color had starring or featured roles in ads, compared to 41 white actors and actresses, according to . This does not include ensemble cast members or those with minor roles in the ad.
There were several ads last year that made strides in diversifying casting, including TurboTax’s and Sabra’s Those ads had cameos from drag queens and transgender actors and actresses, two deaf women, and people of various races and ethnicities.
“Casting is a last opportunity for diversity and inclusion, it is a last chance,” says Jay Kim, president, AAAZA, which stands for Asian American A to Z agency. “It should happen from the beginning of the script.”
The Asian community is also grossly underrepresented in Super Bowl ads, much of which is a factor of the National Football League not speaking to the group and no recognizable Asian players in the league like the National Basketball Association’s Jeremy Lin, he says. According to Ad Age’s archive, there were only three cases of Asian representation in Super Bowl ads last year, and none of those were in lead roles.
And when Asian Americans are cast, Kim says it is usually in stereotypical roles “and we have to raise a red flag and say you can’t do that.” The end result, is often removing Asian representation entirely, he adds.
Walton says brands often “conflate casting with culture” and when they do cast diverse actors and actresses they put them in secondary roles. They also don’t use diverse directors, producers, post houses or agency teams.
If you take a look at the Super Bowl ads that got it wrong, most resorted to stereotypes and clichés as a way to check a box. There are the exaggerated accents, generic gay jokes, sexualization of women or turning them into the nagging wife.
“It’s seems paradoxical, but the more specific a story, the more universal it can be. And yet, most marketers shy away from telling deeply cultural stories, allowing Black consumer life or Latinx consumer life — any ‘marginalized’ groups life to come through in a very specific way,” Walton says. “They are afraid mass audiences won’t understand or relate. They fear backlash. But the reality is, and one can see it in the successful work mentioned, when the work is specific it touches everyone’s heart.”
When looking at LGBTQ+ representation in last year’s game, for example, while there were at least 13 people who identified as LGBTQ+ appearing in commercials. While GLAAD recognized this as the largest representation of the community in the Big Game to date, “the spots really weren’t all that queer,” Walton says. He adds that they mostly stuck to “conventional hetero-normative narratives.”
Lucas Crigler, associate creative director, McCann, says there’s been little true effort made in representing the transgender community. He points to the Pop Tart’s spot last year starring “Queer Eye’s” Jonathan Van Ness. Crigler says while the commercial was fitting for Van Ness’ on-screen person, “it would have been nice to hit a little harder on his pronouns somehow in the spot as perhaps most people only perceive him to be a cis gay man.” Van Ness identifies as non-binary, Crigler notes.
And in TurboTax’s ad there’s a cameo from Trace Lysette and Isis King, two transgender women, who play ballroom judges. “This isn’t horrible, but in my opinion it’s not the best representation of trans women,” Crigler says. “This ‘ballroom’ trope has been overdone as of late and trans people exist outside of the ballroom scene. We have jobs and families just like anyone else.”
GLAAD praised last year’s efforts around LGBTQ+ representation. “For years we were invisible, or if we were included it was poking fun,” says Rich Ferraro, chief communications officer, GLAAD.
There was significant blow-back, for example, following the 2007 Snickers ad, which shows two men overreacting after an accidental kiss, with critics saying at the time that kind of response helps fuel anti-gay bullying.
Ferraro says last year’s spots were praised on social media for including diversity inside the LGBTQ+ community with people like Lil Nas X and Van Ness who is non-binary.
There have been fits and starts when it comes to accurate representation in ads. In particular, 2014 was an important year for such efforts, Walton points out. In 2013, Cheerios introduced Gracie, the daughter of a biracial family, which was well received despite some online haters. In response to the trollers, and introduced a new baby to the family.
Coca-Cola also ran the spot, which featured languages spanning English, Spanish, Keres, Tagalog, Hindi, Senegalese French and Hebrew. In 2018, Coke won plaudits with its that broke ground by very subtly using the gender-neutral pronoun “them” to refer to a non-binary person. “Coca-Cola just told thousands of non-binary people, ‘We see you,’” is .
The 2014 game also saw Microsoft make its Super Bowl debut with an ad that starred former NFL player Steve Gleason, who is battling Lou Gehrig’s disease, using eye-tracking on a Surface Pro tablet to speak.
, is another Super Bowl commercial that gets high marks for inclusivity, says Storm Smith, producer, BBDO LA. “It showed how motivated they were to play to win the game. Their disability didn’t matter. It shows them laughing and having fun and with a competitive nature. That was beautiful. It shows how children with disabilities are like any other children who want to have fun and are gamers,” she says, adding that Microsoft made that specific product more accessible as well.
Pepsi’s 2008 pre-game spot was also significant in the deaf community, Storm says. In the commercial, two deaf men are reenacting in sign language a famous deaf joke: they are in a car trying to find their friend’s house (who is also deaf) but they don’t know where it is. So they honk their horn and look to see which house on the street doesn’t turn on their lights, indicating they didn’t hear the horn.
“This one was really iconic for our community,” Smith says.
Both the Microsoft and Pepsi spots, she says, “show inclusiveness, diverseness and the storytelling is more than just about pointing out we are deaf or have a physical disability. These are not just ‘oh my gosh that’s so sad that person with a disability.’”
And another key point in both of the ads is that these communities were the stars of the spots, not the sidekick. “It is really easy to become a check box,” she says.
Smith notes that is the direction that needs to be enhanced in this year’s Super Bowl.
Is Walmart is taking advantage of a global pandemic to lure customers back? Seems like healthcare organizations should announce where vaccines can be administered to the public—versus a big-box retailer airing a promotional commercial. Will Sam’s Club only provide shots to card-carrying members?
Advertising Age interviewed new Merkle Global Chief Equity Officer Kirt Morris, who assumed his role this month. Of course he did. Morris plans to leverage his expertise with technology, data and project management to drive change. Of course he will. Then again, using technology to peek at Merkle leadership is all the data you need to see Morris has a major project to manage. Of course he does.
Merkle’s Kirt Morris On His New Role As Global Chief Equity Officer
The 13-year veteran of the Dentsu-owned data hub officially took up the post this month
By Lindsay Rittenhouse
Dentsu’s Merkle promoted Kirt Morris to its executive team as global chief equity officer late last year, and he assumed that new role this month.
In the role, Morris oversees diversity, equity and inclusion efforts for Merkle as well as Dentsu’s customer experience management line of business. He reports to Merkle Global CEO Craig Dempster “with a dotted line” to Christena Pyle, as chief equity officer for Dentsu Americas last August, according to the company.
Morris previously was senior director of data management and also advised Merkle’s DE&I team. He first joined the data and analytics firm in 2007, as a project manager, and before that spent time at Ernst & Young and Capgemini.
Ad Age recently caught up with Morris to discuss his new role.
The following interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
What exactly are your responsibilities as global chief equity officer? What does that entail?
I’ll be basically setting the diversity, equity and inclusion strategy for the U.S., making sure we have diversity of people, equitable policies and practices, inclusion throughout our corporate culture.
What’s your first task?
My first task is just learning about the actual business. What I’m thinking for my first 90 to 100 days is to learn and then create a plan to execute for the rest of the year. One of the things I’m looking at is making sure we have retention and recruitment [of diverse people].
Merkle says you’re a 12-year veteran of the company with experience in technology implementation and system integration. [As part of Merkle’s data management group, the company said Morris oversaw end-to-end delivery of CRM platforms for its retail vertical.] How does DE&I come into play in that space?
I’m drawing upon two sets of experiences in this role. My experience in tech, and project management as part of that, is really important. Data is a core part of how we measure ourselves. I’ll also be managing the resources we have to build DE&I within the company. My second experience is that I’m an immigrant and person of color.
And how has it been for you working in this industry as an immigrant and person of color? Did you face any micro-aggressions or overt acts of racism?
Yes, any person of color in this industry will tell you that. I came up through the big consulting firms, Ernst & Young and Capgemini. Throughout my career, one thing I found companies need to do a better job doing is making sure there is representation of all groups at higher levels. That is a main focus for me at Merkle. How do we get women, people of color to break into management levels?
How are you working to do that?
As we’ve seen in the past, the industry has worked at a [slow] pace. The killing of George Floyd in 2020 escalated that approach. One of the things we’re doing is, we have a plan. We are holding ourselves accountable to that plan. Data is obviously a big part of that plan in understanding where we are now and in forecasting where we need to go.
Do these responsibilities fall just on you or do you have a team? A criticism I’ve heard from some chief DE&I officers at other agencies is that oftentimes these efforts, which are enormous, fall solely on their shoulders when you wouldn’t see that in any other division or department.
So, yes. Basically I report to Craig Dempster. I also have a dotted line to the chief equity officer at Dentsu [Pyle]. We have multiple people on the team. I alone can’t do this. So what I’m asking of all our leaders is to find their purpose, something bigger than themselves and make sure everyone is leaning into DE&I. It’s too big of a job for one person.
Let’s say an employee has a DE&I-related issue or question he or she wants to bring up with the company. Can that employee come to you? Or what’s that process look like?
If it’s an employee question, they have to go directly to HR. Then if I need to be included in that conversation, HR will pull me in. At the Dentsu level, we also have a hotline for employees so they can call in and give input that way.
One of the things we’ve heard early on into the social injustice movement is really that we can’t let these conversations, this momentum around improving DE&I slip like we saw it happen in the past. Is that momentum being sustained?
This is a movement, not a moment. What we have done at Merkle, like I said, Craig Dempster is heavily involved. I deal with Craig every two weeks; we meet biweekly. This is top of mind for him, as well. I saw in an article, there are four things companies are doing to sustain momentum. One is having commitment at the very highest level. I meet with global folks at least once a month. No. 2 is data, which I mentioned earlier. Three is getting mid-level management and senior leaders to spend time and money. Craig has added to the budget DE&I. The last pillar is making sure you have specific targeted programs for underrepresented groups. At Merkle, we launched mentorship and sponsorship programs to make sure individuals from underrepresented backgrounds have access to leadership.
Why is mentorship and sponsorship so important?
You need to see to be. Just having me in this role will hopefully show employees everything is possible for them. I think it’s important that mentorship is bidirectional, as well. Executives will learn something from [mentees] by talking to them, learning from that person’s lived experience. On the flip side, employees will get tips of the trade so to speak.
The ANDY Awards appear to be jumping on the kumbaya diversity bandwagon by asking, “Can An Awards Show Change The Face Of Advertising?” Get in line, Messrs. ANDY. The promotional image actually looks like identical faces with different hairdos and accessories. Now that’s diversity!
The One Club published a typo-riddled press release announcing the creation of a new awards category—featuring the Fusion Pencil and Fusion Cube—that “extends its decades-long commitment to diversity and inclusion.” There should be quite a few “alleged” qualifiers throughout the statement.
The F trophies will salute work “that best incorporates underrepresented groups in both creative content and the team that made it.” It’s probably safe to presume the jurors will also integrate underrepresented groups. Which translates to non-Whites in the advertising industry—and The One Club.
A true revolutionary breakthrough would be to place similar standards and criteria on all of the baubles doled out by The One Club. Better yet, rescind the pencils given to White advertising agencies that have faked an inclusive spirit with an exclusive workforce. Although such a move would call out the hypocrisy of many of The One Club’s corporate members. Oops.
The One Club Brings Diversity to Awards With The One Show Fusion Pencil and ADC Fusion Cube
The One Club
Jan 25, 2021
NEW YORK, January 25, 2021 — The One Club for Creativity extends its decades-long commitment to diversity and inclusion with the launch of The One Show Fusion Pencil and ADC Fusion Cube, the advertising and design industry’s first global initiatives to recognize great work that best incorporates underrepresented groups in both creative content and the team that made it.
With the goal of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in both agency/production company staffing and creative work, the new Fusion awards will identify and celebrate great work which also demonstrates how underrepresented groups and DEI issues are utilized both “behind the scenes” -- hiring diverse staff, ensuring equal opportunity, pay and treatment -- and in the creative work itself, as expressed through casting, language, script and narrative.
The Fusion awards have three criteria:
• The work must first meet The One Show standards for excellence in creativity of ideas and quality of execution, or the ADC Annual Awards focus on brilliance in craft, design and innovation.
• Entrants must disclose what percentage of the agency and production company teams directly involved in this work are part of underrepresented groups — including women, racial or ethnic groups, LGBTQ+, and people with cognitive or physical disabilities — and how they implement DEI principles when putting the team together;
• How the work itself addresses factors including racial and ethnic diversity, gender diversity, ageism, cognitive or physical abilities, positive body image and sexual orientation through casting, language, script and narrative.
“Advertising that features racial diversity in front of the camera but not behind the camera is neither cool nor creative,” said Jimmy Smith, chairman/CEO/CCO at Amusement Park Entertainment, Los Angeles and One Club Board member. “The Fusion Pencil and Cube hope to point the way to a better and brighter future. Let’s get it!”
“As a woman of color, I recognize the dramatic impact lack of representation has on individuals and communities,” added One Club Board member Sherina Florence, group creative director, 72andSunny, Los Angeles. “Representation influences how people see themselves, how they translate the opportunities that exist, or in some cases, the opportunities that don’t. The Fusion awards will encourage a more equitable industry and are a step towards redefining standards that have gone unchallenged for much too long.”
One Club Board member Keith Cartwright, president, chief creative officer at Cartwright, Los Angeles said “I’m incredibly excited that we’re creating awards that recognize not just the work advancing diversity and inclusion, but also the diverse people who make it.”
The name Fusion was selected because it represents the act of blending two or more distinct voices, cultures or perspectives to create a unified message, and a stronger new element resulting from the combination.
Dedicated Fusion juries for both The One Show and ADC Annual Awards will be announced shortly.
Once considered a long-term business goal, DEI has become an important, proven core strategy for many of today’s successful businesses and organizations. Studies show when a business makes DEI a priority, every facet of the organization benefits, including the bottom line.
The new awards also encourage brands to use this criteria as a framework for making their own marketing more diverse. They can serve as a global benchmark, representing a new way for brands to demand accountability from their agencies and partners for providing greater diversity in their work and creative teams.
“The industry has a glaring diversity problem, and this initiative is the first one to recognize those who are leading the way and motivate everyone else to get better at it,” said Kevin Swanepoel, CEO, The One Club. “The Fusion Pencil and Cube will not be easy to win, the judging criteria is a high bar that many agencies won’t be able to reach today. But it’s critical that the industry improve its level of diversity in both the work and the teams who create it, and we’ve taken action to drive that change.”
That push is possible due to The One Club’s extraordinary global reach. The One Show and ADC Annual Awards are among the top tier of leading international awards programs for all forms of advertising and design, and annually receive upwards of a combined 27,000 pieces of work entered from over 70 countries.
Entries to The One Show 2021 and historic ADC 100th Annual Awards can be submitted now, with fees increasing after each deadline period. Regular deadlines for both shows are March 12, 2021, extended deadlines are March 19, 2021, and final deadlines are March 26, 2021. Judging will take place online. No physical entries will be accepted this year, eliminating shipping costs for entrants.
The new Fusion Pencil and Cube are the latest example of The One Club’s ongoing global nonprofit commitment to pushing diversity and inclusion forward in advertising and design.
The effort began more than a decade ago when the organization started its annual Where Are All The Black People diversity conference and career fair, and continued with its global Creative Boot Camps and mentorship programs for diverse college students and other young creatives.
Last year, the club launched ONE School, a groundbreaking free portfolio program for Black creatives, and 2nd Skill, which helps address the industry’s ageism problem by providing traditionally-formed creatives with unique UX, UI and Content Strategy training to help them in their second creative career.
Unlike for-profit awards shows such as Cannes and others, The One Club is a non-profit organization that puts revenue generated from awards entries back into the industry in the form of programs under its four pillars: Education, Inclusion & Diversity, Gender Equality and Professional Development.
The One Club for Creativity, producer of The One Show, ADC Annual Awards and Creative Week, is the world's foremost non-profit organization whose mission is to support and celebrate the success of the global creative community. The One Show is a top global awards show for advertising, design and digital marketing, focusing on the creativity of ideas and quality of execution. The global ADC Annual Awards honors creative excellence in craft, design and innovation across all disciplines. Creative Week takes place in New York every May, and is the preeminent festival celebrating the intersection of advertising and the arts.
Joe Anthony of Hero Group is rallying the troops in his battle against DDB Chicago—and all the White advertising agencies that marginalize multicultural marketing enterprises. Anthony’s recruitment efforts may ultimately outperform the DDB U.S. Army campaign… and he’ll wind up doing it with far fewer resources and a significantly smaller production budget. Why, it’s a perfect reflection of how minority shops must perform while impeded by industry inequality.