Closing out BHM 2023 with a fake advertisement from Adland’s holding companies.
The He Gets Us campaign has been addressed by this blog before, mostly to note the hypocrisy of its appearance at sites like adweek.com. After all, declaring, “Jesus fought systems of oppression,” to an industry and audience firmly dedicated to systemic racism seems tone deaf at best and offensive at least.
The advertiser aired a commercial during the Super Bowl too.
Now, what makes this so outrageous? The advertising agency responsible for the Jesus spot also produced the Avocados from Mexico commercial—which ran on the Super Bowl as well—featuring Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
In short, only in Adland can shops hype Jesus Christ and parody Holy Scripture without missing a beat.
Advertising Age published dual reports on the lack of diversity among directors behind the commercials that aired during Super Bowl LVII.
One story highlighted that the spots were crafted by a director pool including only four women and one Black person. In short, the championship game featured more Black quarterbacks than Black directors. Oh, and women outnumbered Blacks by 400 percent—which is pretty reflective of Adland.
The second story spotlighted 17 Black directors to hire for next year’s Super Bowl advertising showcase. While the report was undoubtedly well-intentioned, it also smelled like culturally clueless bullshit. What prompted naming a mere 17? There is surely a greater collection of directorial talent than that; plus, if considering movie directors—a common choice for Super Bowl spots—the available Black options would dramatically increase.
Sorry, but the problem is not the dearth of Black commercial directors—but rather, the dominance of White creative directors.
MultiCultClassics is often occupied with real work. As a result, a handful of events occur without the expected blog commentary. This limited series—Delayed WTF—seeks to make belated amends for the absence of malice.
The BHM 2023 promotion from Pinterest—reportedly inspired by the iconic Green Book—prompted MultiCultClassics to complete this special Black History Month post, which was originally crafted in 2018 (yet was never published).
The real Green Book served as a guide for Black travelers, identifying relatively friendly services and places.
Seems like the advertising industry could use a special version that shows safe spaces for Black professionals. Of course, the Adland Green Book would be a very thin publication.
Advertising Age reported that Heineken is catching heat for not exiting Russia as promised after the Russia-Ukraine war erupted. Gee, Ant-Man can escape the Quantum Realm but not the former Soviet Union?
Campaign US presented a Black History Month Edition of its 5 Minutes with Campaign video series, featuring Black executives’ perspectives on “issues at the intersection of identity, culture, technology, and advertising.” In short, Campaign spent five minutes with Blacks. Perfect.
Advertising Age covered a variety of BHM initiatives from major brands. Don’t mean to disrespect anyone, but the report was assigned to and handled by an intern at the trade publication. So, it’s either another example of BHM receiving low priority status or it’s a nice opportunity for the intern. Or both.
TRG—the White advertising agency formerly known as The Richards Group—doesn’t have any BHM-related social media posts. Not surprising, as the firm probably wants to steer clear of color commentary and controversy. In January, however, TRG posted an MLK Day tribute. It’s unlikely that founder Stan Richards was involved, as he might have deemed the concept “too Black.”
Advertising Age reported WPP CEO Mark Read declared artificial intelligence has already become “fundamental” to the White holding company’s business. This means that art directors, copywriters, and planners can expect to be replaced by AI-generated creative content. Of course, human intelligence is in short supply at WPP. Does anyone not think that Read could be swapped for a chatbot?
Stagwell managed to acknowledge BHM via social media posts—launching an initiative that inspires brands to go beyond celebrating Black history and focus on Black futures. Hard to tell what’s going on here. Is Stagwell seeking to create revenue-generating opportunities by selling clients on promotions like AT&T Black Future Makers or Nike Future Movement? The effort looks as if it’s being delegated to Black ERGs in the White holding company.
Sorry, but the future does not look very different or promising at Stagwell.
Advertising Age published a routine perspective on ageism in Adland, a topic that—oddly enough—never seems to get old.
Some gems from this latest rickety rant include:
• “I was woefully unaware of creative ageism during my agency life at The Richards Group…” Well, sure, it’s not surprising when you’re hanging out at a White advertising agency that used to be run by a guy pushing 90 years old.
• “How does an industry that touts ‘We’re a creative business’ and spends millions on award shows have a culture of treating its creatives so callously?” Hey, you should see how the industry treats people of color.
• “Ageism is a product of holding companies coping with quarterly pressures from Wall Street and diminishing business margins.” It’s too easy to blame holding companies, as ageism in Adland predates the current corporate structure. And semi-ironically, most holding companies were/are commandeered by Old White Guys.
• “A campaign to speak the truth about the business could cut the supply of talent to the business, forcing it to value existing talent.” Perfect—dissuade new talent from pursuing opportunities and maintain the exclusivity. Um, isn’t that the root objective of systemic racism—securing the self-interest of racist power?
Ageism At Ad Agencies—4 Ways Creatives Can Fight Back
It’s time to fix the one-sided love affair between advertising and the talent that sustains it
By Kiran Koshy
When Scandinavian cult members in Ari Aster’s masterpiece “Midsommar” reach age 72, they voluntarily—and with a sense of great honor—hurl themselves off a cliff. If they inadvertently survive, their skulls are smashed with a giant mallet.
Advertising creatives are hurled off a cliff against their wishes—usually by some shadowy figure in finance—when they reach 50. And it’s far worse in the U.S. than in many Asian cultures, where age and the experience that comes with it are revered.
I was woefully unaware of creative ageism during my agency life at The Richards Group, a private agency, but moving to an agency in L.A. was a rude awakening. The Uber driver on my first work trip to LAX was a laid-off creative director still paying off his ArtCenter student loans and with his oldest kid in college. To avoid awkwardness, I said I was in medical equipment sales.
In the years that followed, I noticed older (40 and above) creatives in their prime entering the freelance pool at the agency, like war casualties entering a Red Cross tent, with a slim chance of ever seeing action again. While freelancing paid well, they felt robbed of emotion toward the work, like mercenaries and nomads who didn’t belong anywhere. There was a deep sense of betrayal, with many wishing they’d used their talents elsewhere.
How does an industry that touts “We’re a creative business” and spends millions on award shows have a culture of treating its creatives so callously?
Ageism is a product of holding companies coping with quarterly pressures from Wall Street and diminishing business margins. The easiest way to meet analysts’ expectations is to jettison older people—who are the main expense—not to mention the savings in health care costs for a younger workforce. Capitalism isn’t going to change its DNA for the creative class.
Few speak up about ageism lest they be identified as being old. There’s little being done to address it. There’s an empathy gap within the tribe itself. Younger creatives often subscribe to ageist views themselves. It’s only when they round the corner at 40 that they wake up to the reality that awaits.
As I traveled in Asia, I saw creatives still working well into their 60s and thriving. The reasons weren’t just cultural. Apart from tougher labor laws, there was one huge factor affecting the longevity of creatives: the limited talent supply.
Asia is more STEM-focused with very few art and writing programs relative to population size, which results in a very limited supply of creative talent. Advertising is not on anyone’s career radar. You fall into it by accident.
The U.S., on the other hand, churns out a ton of art, design and writing talent through hundreds of universities and schools. And then there’s the importing of talent.
Once, the only way an ex-pat creative could land a job in the U.S. was by winning a One Show pencil or going through school here. They still had to find an agency to negotiate the nightmare of U.S. immigration for an H1B visa and green card.
That changed when the networks turned Cannes Lions wins into the common currency of the creative world. Suddenly, any creative could pursue the dream of becoming the next David Droga here—the world’s biggest ad market—by winning at Cannes.
U.S. agencies figured out how to use O-1 visas to import talent and started actively recruiting from the vast pool of hot award-winning talent at Cannes. It put ageism on steroids.
While creatives can’t change these dynamics, they are not without strategies to fight them:
Speak the truth, starve the beast
A campaign to speak the truth about the business could cut the supply of talent to the business, forcing it to value existing talent. Art school costs approximately $180,000, portfolio school $90,000—ridiculous tuition considering that the starting pay at agencies is approximately $50,000 and you’re kicked out at age 50.
Not to mention that most creatives are lucky if they get to produce one good thing a year. The business is plagued by burnout, overthink and projects that go nowhere as the focus is on billable hours.
Stemming the glut of talent is a radical thought, but we have a moral imperative to try.
Remake advertising mountain
One talented writer I’ve worked with said, “I don’t want to climb advertising mountain (i.e., chasing creative titles), I just want to write cool shit and make decent money.” He summed up how a majority of creative people feel: They just want to do cool work, enjoy the process and camaraderie and be paid a decent wage.
But the business forces them to climb the mountain, chase titles and money but with no security guarantee. There is no alternate path other than going freelance, and that robs you of the agency socialization that is vital to enjoying the process. My most cherished memories involve the ratty couch at the coffee shop my partner and I shot the shit on. I miss those days the most. And the current model is designed to rob you of that.
Start your own shop
If you love the business and want to die doing it, make your own Utopia for yourself and others—and start early. There are plenty of success stories to learn from, including Highdive, Terri & Sandy and Erich & Kallman.
Embrace the side hustle
Advertising and agency life will give you an understanding of marketing and a cohort of creative people to collaborate with, so use it to create a side hustle that might become your main hustle. Leave the industry by channeling your creativity into something else—before it leaves you.
Too many of my friends are agency creatives who have been tossed aside with little regard. Creative people mature and do get better with age. My 40-year-old self easily kicks my 20-year-old self's ass.
A young creative team had “Neighbor—geriatric millennial in his 40s” in a casting deck I received. It pissed me off and, in some ways, triggered this article. If you’re a creative in your 20s or 30s, I hate to break it to you, but ageism is coming to get you, too. Awards won’t save you.
It’s time to do something about it and fix the one-sided love affair between advertising and the creatives who make it.
Here’s another sign that the apocalypse is upon Adland.
Now it’s possible to use AI to craft creative briefs—coupling perfectly with AI-generated copy and design. But why did the moron behind this hustle produce an advertisement displaying an old typewriter?
It’s also a safe bet that an AI brief will be just as uselessly uninspiring as documents shat out by breathing planners and strategists. And creative teams can expect to be tasked with cobbling together campaign concepts in less time than what was awarded to the hack who printed a templated brief.
Adweek spotlighted a film commemorating the 10th anniversary of Black Lives Matter created by a Black affinity group from Wieden + Kennedy. The story also mentioned projects hatched by other ERGs at the White advertising agency.
As Black Lives Matter Turns 10, Wieden+Kennedy’s We+Black Reflects On a Decade of Change
The agency debuts an emotional film in observance of special anniversary
By Sara Century
July will mark the 10th anniversary of the widespread use of the phrase “Black lives matter.” Initially spoken by Alicia Garza, who, alongside Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, founded the movement of the same name, these words have inspired millions worldwide and continue to fuel the most important protests of our time.
Looking back over a decade of impact, Wieden+Kennedy Portland’s Black affinity group, We+Black, has created a film tribute to this historic anniversary titled We Still Matter. Featuring clips of interviews with W+K employees, the nearly 3-minute short begins with the emotional response they experienced in light of the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Audio clips of news broadcasts announcing the results of the trial are met with sounds of growing resistance and the chant of “Black lives matter” as these W+K employees gaze head-on into the camera. Set to the tune of original music from W+K employee Nukbeatz (David Henry Jr.), participants share personal reactions to cases of police brutality, including the killings of Mike Brown and George Floyd, as well as the incredible acts of protest that occurred as a result.
Three words that changed the world
“The protests that are happening, not just in the U.S. but seeing that it went global, was honestly just the most beautiful thing to see,” one narrator says. “There are Black 10-year-olds in America who have existed in a world where they’ve constantly just been told that they matter. That’s amazing,” another narrator continues.
This is a continuation of W+K’s employee-helmed films created without clients, including “The Myth,” which combated anti-Asian hate by rejecting the expectations of being a “model minority.” Meanwhile, WKNY’s Black ERG, Noir, delved into the complex feelings the BIPOC community has toward Juneteenth in “Juneteenth Thoughts.” This follows an art show in Portland, also titled “We Still Matter,” a week before the video’s release.
In addition to “We Still Matter,” We+Black is working in partnership with Portland’s public transportation system on an OOH campaign that will last beyond Black History Month through the rest of the year, highlighting local Black-owned businesses.
Advertising Age continues its third-annual Honoring Creative Excellence series to commemorate Black History Month. The latest installment presents Dr. Eric Whitaker on creating Project Brotherhood: a Black Men’s Clinic.
Dr. Eric Whitaker On How Black Creativity Can Change Lives
The executive chairman of Zing Health shares his thoughts on the making of Project Brotherhood: a Black Men’s Clinic
By Dr. Eric E. Whitaker
Ad Age is marking Black History Month 2023 with our third-annual Honoring Creative Excellence package. Today, our guest editor JinJa Birkenbeuel turns the spotlight to Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, executive chairman and founder of Zing Health, a physician-led insurance company.
Here, Dr. Whitaker shares his thoughts on the making of Project Brotherhood: a Black Men’s Clinic.
On my first day at work in a Chicago community health center, I saw 16 patients. Physicians in public health clinics are busy, and I struggled to keep even sketchy case notes. Yet when I went back to update my patient charts, it was as if I had seen the same person 16 times. Every one of them had hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes. I had signed up for this duty to research Black men’s health, and I was learning that to make a difference I would have to be creative.
In 1998, the life expectancy for Black men in this South Side neighborhood was said to be 14 years shorter than for the rest of the city, and even today health disparities are stark. Our small, overbooked clinic had to reach out to close the gap—many Black men would not even set foot in a waiting room and show themselves as vulnerable. This health inequity set me on a lifelong, entrepreneurial path to give people longer and better lives. I keep returning to these strategies at Zing Health in organizing and marketing Midwest health plans. At 63rd and Woodlawn, though, I started with free haircuts.
Cook County Hospital, which ran the health center, found seed money to organize a male-friendly space at the front of the building, and to recruit social workers to address what we now call the social determinants of health. One of my patients told me, “Doc, one of the best things you can do for my health is to get me a job.” He was right—employment has a salutary effect on well-being, financially and as a matter of self-worth. A drop-in barbershop on Thursday afternoons could groom Black men for interviews, with social workers on hand to coach them on resumes and online job-hunting tactics. A barbershop is a social center—a place to learn and form relationships. Maybe we could earn enough trust to bring them to the back of the clinic for medical appointments.
Project Brotherhood: a Black Men’s Clinic enlisted Black doctors who could relate to what patients experienced in the emergency room, where pain complaints were minimized or treated as drug-seeking. The physicians also joined our focus groups and client discussions around men’s health and men’s responsibilities, participating not as doctors but as peers who had gone through similar trials. In one group, I was the only one in the room who had not seen a man hit his mother. The group sessions and activities outside the neighborhood helped us connect with young men who didn’t think they would see adulthood, and older men who still didn’t see themselves as adults.
In attracting new patients and engaging them in their well-being, Project Brotherhood was a model program. At medical conferences and on “60 Minutes,” we evangelized about its collective spirit. But with many of its clients on Medicaid or paying what they could, Project Brotherhood was hard to replicate outside of a publicly funded medical center.
Still, my corporate ventures try to attack hard problems with the same energy. As a private insurance plan, Zing Health aims to make care affordable for a population with costly chronic illnesses. But if its members trust the medical system and commit themselves to better health, they make their conditions manageable.
Getting people comfortable with their care is still an issue. Only one in five African Americans in the Medicare program choose a private Medicare Advantage plan; walking them through the details of a chronic special-needs plan can be a three-hour process. So, it’s important to have neighborhood outreach and community health workers to meet people where they are. One-third of our members call us every month—making appointments, arranging transportation, looking for medical advice—and those are healing relationships.
Sometimes you walk down crumbling sidewalks past vacant lots and find a rose growing out of the concrete. Project Brotherhood showed me how Black men’s pain is the source of their renewal. I’m inspired by Black Chicagoans and their ability to transform despair and struggle into beauty and art. Our community faces a lot of morbidity and death, and it makes me want to find solutions. That’s all you can ask of the creative impulse.