All posts by HighJive

Is P&G’s new “My Black Is Beautiful” campaign actually groundbreaking?

by guest contributor HighJive, originally published at MultiCultClassics

From Advertising Age:

The campaign’s goal is to make all black girls and women feel that way regardless of skin tone or origin and, of course, forge a closer relationship between P&G brands and their black consumers in the process.The campaign obviously bears some resemblance to the idea behind a globally lauded effort by one of P&G beauty’s key competitors, Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” from Unilever. The formula for both: Find a group that feels slighted by popular culture, then position your brand(s) squarely on their side.

But there are some key differences in origin, society and company that make the P&G push groundbreaking and potentially powerful in its own way.

Potentially, that is, because quite uncharacteristically for P&G, this thing isn’t fully thought out yet. Ms. Reid took a hiatus from maternity leave to unveil the concept at the National Association of Black Journalists meeting in Las Vegas earlier this month, where it generated keen interest — particularly from black anchorwomen, Ms. Reid said — but so far relatively little coverage.

P&G’s Always and Tampax have established a $50,000 grant, and the company is in talks with women’s organizations to develop a series of community discussions on the issue, with booklets likely to be distributed by Essence, but that’s about it so far.

It’s nice to see Advertising Age attempt to enhance its editorial content with diversity. It’s also disturbing to see the continued cultural cluelessness demonstrated by the supposed industry experts.

For starters, calling P&G’s “My Black Is Beautiful” campaign groundbreaking shows a definite unfamiliarity with minority marketing. While this well-intentioned effort may have broad reach, it’s hardly unique. Additionally, comparing the initiative to Dove’s “Real Beauty” bullshit is inaccurate—particularly since the Dove perspectives remain primarily White. Vaseline recently ran a campaign for its lotions celebrating Black skin (the website appears to have vanished). Hell, virtually every health, beauty and fashion brand targeting Black women—including many P&G products—has adopted a “My Black Is Beautiful” stance at least once in their respective marketing histories. On abstract levels, there are numerous corporations wooing minorities with such tactics. Mickey D’s hypes the “365 Black” campaign, designed to honor Black History past February, and a host of advertisers have created identical year-round propaganda. Other minority segments undoubtedly feature similar semi-patronizing concepts.

That aside, there’s a bigger related story receiving zero press coverage. A few years ago, P&G kicked off plans to distribute more assignments to minority agencies. It’s unclear how successful this scheme has been, although the White agencies maintain political and financial strangleholds on the accounts (e.g., Grey Advertising allegedly produced commercials introducing Pantene’s Black hair care products, despite the fact that a capable minority shop is on Pantene’s agency roster). If they really wish to exhibit diversity innovation, P&G should award total control of any brand to a minority firm. Unfortunately, it looks like “My Black Is Beautiful” does not apply to the mega-advertiser’s minority partners.

Finally, Advertising Age is correct in recognizing race and ethnicity limit diversity discussions. But the truth is, minorities have never charged that it’s just a racial and ethnic thing (minorities, incidentally, is not a term labeling people solely based on their skin color or land of origin). Rather, the issues revolve around the global offenses of discrimination and exclusivity—which go way beyond race and ethnicity. In the end, it’s impossible to hold diversity discussions when all the involved players don’t come to the proverbial roundtable.

Mad Men: racism in advertising – Part 2 of 2

by guest contributor HighJive, originally published at MultiCultClassics

(Continued from yesterday)

Finding fault with Mad Men’s rendering of ethnic minorities in the advertising industry is somewhat impossible because, well, they barely exist. They’re invisible, in a Ralph Ellison style. Series creator Matthew Weiner hit the bull’s-eye in this area.

As historians like Tangerine Toad have recorded, Madison Avenue circa 1960 emitted a very WASPy aroma. Ethnic minorities were segregated then as they are today. Non-WASPs lived on distinctive planets. At the show’s fictional Sterling Cooper headquarters, it was awfully tough locating a Jewish employee to make a prospective Jewish client feel “comfortable”—agency honcho Roger Sterling snickered, “I had to go all the way to the mailroom, but I found one.”

Writers at Forbes observed, “In the 1950s and ‘60s, despite its image as a progressive industry, advertising clearly lagged when it came to diversity. Unfortunately, it still does. Back then, you had white shoe firms with WASPy staffers working for WASPy clients, while, as one of the characters in Mad Men puts it, ‘most of the Jewish guys work for the Jewish firms selling to Jewish people.’ Replace Jewish with African-American and you get a picture of the industry today.” Technically, you can also swap Jewish with Latino, Asian, Native American, Russian, GLBT and essentially every cultural designation on Earth. (Note: the Forbes writers made faulty comparisons that we’ll pick up later.)

The pilot episode saw adman Don Draper probing a Black waiter for cigarette insights. Not sure why Draper conducted the focus group, as his agency would never entertain wooing non-White audiences. Blacks in the next episode were bathroom attendants and sandwich sellers. No sign of Latinos, Asians or Native Americans so far. Too bad the copywriter who took the secretary on an agency tour in the second installment didn’t venture into the mailroom or janitorial closet. Although it’s a safe bet non-White minorities wouldn’t be spotted at those stations either.

It’s unlikely Mad Men will acknowledge executives for Pepsi-Cola—led by men including Edward F. Boyd—pioneered marketing to Black consumers in the 1940s and 1950s. Or the late Vince Cullers of Chicago launched the first Black advertising agency in 1956, while Luis Díaz Albertini founded Spanish Advertising and Marketing Services, the first Latino shop, in 1962. Hell, even Alex Trebek won’t recognize such trivia.

Then and now, race is the taboo topic. In Adweek’s interview with Mal Macdougall, the original Mad Man admitted, “The booze, the sex, the cigarettes, the suits, the haircuts, the harassment, the office politics, the ‘we own the world’ attitude—even the offices—are absolutely dead-on true.” Yet Macdougall neglected mentioning institutionalized apartheid. Why is it easier to joke about sexual advances that bordered on assault?

Mad Men has not blatantly addressed race; however, Weiner knows it’s out there. Adweek published an interview wherein Weiner said, “The men of that period had a different code and a lot of it is sexist and racist and selfish.” Contrary to the contentions of critical adfolks, Weiner has apparently done his homework. We’ll soon discover if he’s comfortable exploring the industry’s biases beyond anti-Semitism. Sadly, if Weiner sticks to telling an authentic Madison Avenue story, race will stay relatively untouched and deeply buried.

Returning to the notions forwarded by the Forbes writers, it’s important to consider certain realities. Contrasting 1960s Jewish firms to 21st century minority shops doesn’t fly. “Most of the Jewish guys work for the Jewish firms selling to Jewish people” is an incorrect statement. Yes, the early Jewish agencies served Jewish clients. But they didn’t direct messages exclusively to Jewish communities. Doyle Dane Bernbach—a Jewish shop with Jewish clients—produced the famous campaign that literally proves it via the headline, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s real Jewish Rye.” The Jewish shops’ success at capturing mass markets inevitably lured broader clientele.

The 1960s creative revolution in the advertising industry brought additional significant changes. Italians and various White minorities joined the party. Don’t mean to sound paranoid, but somewhere along the journey, the WASPy, Jewish, Italian and assorted White people combined forces to control the lion’s share of business. Ethnic minorities like Blacks and Latinos were ghettoized, prohibited from expanding outside their respective pigeonholes.

BBDO Chief Creative Officer David Lubars told Advertising Age, “In no way does [Mad Men] reflect the business today. It really doesn’t. In fact, in some ways it really plays into the stereotype that advertising is full of sleazebags, but if you go into most agencies you see a lot of ethics and a lot of good hard work and people telling truth, so this really plays into the whole kind of side of the industry that I personally don’t see.” Lubars is indisputably right on a host of levels, and blindly wrong on others.

As Bill Green of the popular Make The Logo Bigger blog declared, Mad Men is depressing. In more ways than we might realize.

[Whether they realize it or not, Tom Messner, Tangerine Toad, Hadji Williams, George Parker, Bill Green, Jetpacks and other semi-anonymous blog posters contributed to this essay. Thanks to everyone.]

Mad Men: racism in advertising – Part 1 of 2

by guest contributor HighJive, originally published at MultiCultClassics

Not sure what’s more fascinating: watching the new AMC series Mad Men or seeing genuine adfolks reacting to the show.

The majority of initial criticism came from guys who actually toiled in the era. The comments targeted the authenticity of details, from the number of client meeting participants to the model of typewriters. No way did executives have booze in the office. Presentations should have displayed a sea of layouts. Research reports would never be tossed in the trash. Creative directors didn’t spew such corny lines. Mastermind Matthew Weiner clearly hadn’t done his homework, griped the bona fide Mad Men.


For starters, how reliable are the memories of men who admittedly drank their lunches for decades?

Mad Men, like any other television program, uses creative license to enhance drama. If Weiner had depicted totally accurate images of our business, even PBS and The History Channel would have rejected the concept. Instead, he exaggerated reality, pushed stereotypes and inflated clichés. You know, the tactics still employed by today’s Madison Avenue practitioners. We’re responsible for the blurring between fact and fiction. Why do we get annoyed when outsiders beat us at our own game?

Interestingly enough, there are virtually zero protests over the exclusivity illustrated in Mad Men. Perhaps because we concede someone is finally exposing truth in advertising.

Ladies first.

A modern agency president quoted by Advertising Age remarked Mad Men projected, “A sad but real portrayal of professional women in the 1950s. I found the show mesmerizing mostly because I was haunted by the true reality faced by our mothers, daughters or sisters in the ‘golden era’ of advertising.”

Haunted? Hey, things are pretty scary right now. Granted, White women have greatly benefited from affirmative action—indeed, the segment has reaped the biggest rewards from it. And they definitely have enjoyed the most progress in the advertising industry, arguably taking advantage of being the earliest minority group allowed inside. Yet while 21st century White women are well represented, particularly in account services and media departments, their salaries lag behind the money made by male counterparts. Plus, White women consistently struggle for the power positions.

Regarding the sex object angle, it’s difficult to say. Did the 1960s sexual revolution help alter roles? Was the secretary’s doctor visit and request for birth control pills another symbolic statement from Weiner? We’ll defer to the hardcore feminists on this point. But let’s note that dinosaur sexists like Neil French are being gradually expelled from the current system. Laws to fight discrimination and harassment evolved corporate cultures too, despite the scarcity of publicized charges against Madison Avenue agencies. At the same time, the business continues to feature female professionals and professional females—the latter being the unqualified girlfriends and mistresses of lecherous men with hiring authority.

Adweek interviewed Mal Macdougall, who was a BBDO copywriter on the Lucky Strike account in the 1960s, and he said, “We had never heard the term ‘sexual harassment,’ but it was what took place all the time. The women—with few exceptions they were secretaries, junior writers or ‘young media types’—never, to my knowledge, complained. Married? So what.” Proud to be a Mad Man, no doubt.

Mad Men stars at least one gay character. It’s tough to predict how this minority group will ultimately be represented. But the show does recognize gays were players on Madison Avenue. Since our GLBT expertise is limited, we’ll invite advocates to come out and share their thoughts.

Which brings us to the ethnic minorities—and the completion of this part of the essay.


Borat means Bigot

by guest contributor HighJive, originally published at MultiCultClassics

boratAnyone familiar with the Russian (a.k.a. Cyrillic) alphabet will immediately spot the typo in posters for “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” The letter serving as an “A” in the title figure’s name (see image above) is actually the phonetic equivalent of a “D” in the English alphabet.

The movie ultimately takes advantage of viewers’ unfamiliarity with the Russian alphabet — as well as our collective ignorance on a host of other cultural tips.

Borat’s skyrocketing popularity cannot be denied. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be disturbed by the rave reviews.

Critics have drawn similarities between Borat and MTV’s Jackass. The comparisons are an insult to Jackass. Yes, both entertainment vehicles share a level of crudeness and obscenity. But Borat is rooted in racism. Only a jackass would fail to recognize it.

Forget the proclamations that Borat is an equal opportunity offender targeting everyone and everything with biased barbs. It just ain’t true. There are no gags involving Latinos, Asians, Indians, Muslims, Native Americans and the usual suspects. Borat preys on specific segments in styles ranging from subliminal to slick to sick.

Aside from a cameo appearance by Republican activist Alan Keyes, the Black folks in Borat’s world are prostitutes and dice-rolling punks. It’s interesting that Sacha Baron Cohen forwards this negative vision, given that he’s made a fortune biting hip-hop via his Ali G persona. It’s also interesting that Borat is much more comfortable hanging with homeboys in the hood (and homosexuals!) than with a sweet Jewish couple in a suburban bed & breakfast. Continue reading

Chevrolet Silverado ad: only blacks and whites in “Our Country?”

by guest contributor HighJive, originally posted at MultiCultClassics

Is the new Chevrolet Silverado commercial patriotic — or patronizing and potentially racist? As John Mellencamp belts out his original tune (which he probably spent half an hour to conceive and produce), there are images of Muhammad Ali, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. Oddly enough, few White heroes appear during the anthem, with the exceptions of the obligatory golfing astronaut and Richard Nixon (?!). Chevy even includes references to New Orleans and the World Trade Center.

Yet despite song lyrics proclaiming, “This Is Our Country,” the spot is virtually devoid of Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans or any other minority group. Guess this is not their country.

The ad industry’s mascot of cultural cluelessness

Note from CVK:
I highly encourage you to read Brownstein’s recent op-ed for, in which he quotes his one Black Friend and declares that agencies don’t get enough black and Latino applicants because “inner-city kids love to watch TV commercials — but they have no idea how the commercials are made.” The piece really encapsulates the cluelessness that exists in the advertising industry.

by guest contributor HighJive, originally published at MultiCultClassics

marc brownsteinAdvertising agencies consistently introduce characters that symbolize the cultural cluelessness, insensitivity and even racism so prevalent in the industry. Classic examples include Aunt Jemima, the Frito Bandito, and the Calgon Couple conspiring with their “ancient Chinese secret.” MultiCultClassics is proud to present the latest such character: Marc Brownstein.

Anyone unfamiliar with this new character is cordially encouraged to read the AdAge perspective presented in Essay 1205.

Just to be clear, this commentary is not intended to be a direct attack against Marc Brownstein. After all, it’s highly likely that Brownstein is a decent fellow and upstanding citizen. And he’s probably not a mean-spirited racist. Therefore, let’s avoid being haters regarding the true Marc Brownstein.

Rather, readers can think of Marc Brownstein as a label for actions and attitudes. Based on recent events (many of which have been detailed on this blog over the past months), it seems safe to conclude that every major Madison Avenue shop has a bunch of Marc Brownsteins on staff.

So what exactly is a Marc Brownstein?

When confronting issues of diversity and exclusivity, a Marc Brownstein openly displays passive bias. (Click here to read the MultiCultClassics kickoff essay, which serves up the phenomenon of passive bias.)

For guidance on race-based questions, a Marc Brownstein seeks counsel from a Black friend (who is often the only Black person in the Marc Brownstein social network). Of course, this Black friend will be a class act, unlike the majority of minorities featured on evening news broadcasts and regular installments of The People’s Court and Cops. Plus, the Black friend’s viewpoint will completely represent the opinions of every dark-skinned individual on Earth. Continue reading