Down With Diversity! (from the old AdTex Interactive Blog Archives)

These days, when one ethnic group or another appears slighted in representation or compensation, companies tend to call for “Diversity”. You’ve’ heard the catchphrases: “diversity initiative”, diversity training, diversity program.”

First, let’s get the requisite working definitions out of the way.

From Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary: Diverse: “Differing from one another. Include: “To take in or comprise as part of a whole.”

As king of my own little advertising realm, I hereby decree diversity be put to death and replaced by INCLUSIVENESS. Long live inclusiveness!

Too bad my realm is mostly imaginary. Companies are likely going to continue to do what they’ve seen the others do, because basically, People Are Sheep.

The BizMart Story:

Please indulge me in another one of my true tales. It’s one that will hopefully illustrate the difference between diversity and inclusiveness.

Back in the early 90s, I was a copywriter for a now-defunct (they eventually became OfficeMax) national chain of office-supply superstores called BizMart. Once, we were at a local store, shooting a TV commercial. There were lights, cameras and lots of action around our company spokesperson, baseball legend, Nolan Ryan. I believe there were a couple of paid actors playing store-staff members and some store employees were used as extras. I was moving about with the company “brass” and the creative director, who noted that the gigantic store didn’t look busy enough. There were not enough customers. The call went out to recruit some more already-being-paid employees (read: free talent) from the corporate office (which was only a couple of miles away) to fill in as extras. Then came a discussion about which employees might “look good” in the commercial.

Everyone involved in the discussion just happened to be a white male.

Everyone they recommended happened to be a white male or white female. This was understandable. Most of the people they dealt with daily were so. In the 12-person or so Advertising Department, I was the only non-white for most of the time I worked there (an African American college student briefly worked there, part time).

I surveyed the situation and observed that there was only one notably “ethnic” person in the building and I was likely the only African American. But, when I chimed in with my unsolicited suggestion, I didn’t take the obvious path.

I said, “How about the attractive lady in the wheelchair?”

You would have thought I had “let one rip” in church!

There was silence. Then, after they realized I was still standing there, waiting for an answer, an awkward “pro/con” discussion commenced. The discussion included the possibility of the mobility challenged employee “turning off” some potential customers.

A little background: I had noticed the attractive young white lady, who happened to be mobility challenged, at the corporate office. I didn’t know her name, nor had I ever spoken with her. I didn’t know in what department she worked. Many mornings, we arrived at the same time. What got my attention was her car. I love V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive American muscle. She drove the closest thing to it, in the 90s, a new Monte Carlo SS. Her Chevy had such a wicked-sounding exhaust note.

Meanwhile back at the store, I held my ground and argued my case. I asked, “People in wheelchairs don’t buy office supplies?” “Would customers be repulsed if she were a male war veteran, who lost limbs in Operation Desert Shield? “How do we know she’s not a disabled veteran?” I even played the “man card”. “Ya’ll ain’t noticed how pretty she is?”

The CD, who is a good guy and still a friend, convinced the brass to have someone locate the lady. She agreed to participate and everything was great! I think the company received a bit of praise for the “diversity”. I don’t know if it was relative, but it seemed like, thereafter I started seeing more and more mobility challenged models in retailers’ print ads and commercials.

Is the good part of this story the fact that she was included because of her diversity or difference?

Of course not! She’s not different. The good part is she was included for just that reason.

Personally, I have noticed a trend in advertising and entertainment that seems to actually signal a reduction in inclusiveness. I haven’t done extensive research, or looked at current statistical info. But to me, it looks like more ads with multiple models have fewer black people. I have also glanced at some of the newest ensemble-cast television shows (those that you wouldn’t label “afro-centric”) and there seem to be fewer black cast members.

It’s About Seeing Someone That Could Be You

My beloved sweetheart marvels at my observations and often comments, “Only you would notice that.” I usually tell her that, “It’s all just about seeing someone that looks like you.”

When you were a child, did you ever attend a function with your parents and were the first child there? Remember your excitement when the second child arrived with their parents? Even if the other child was a stranger, you felt more comfortable seeing someone like you. You didn’t have to have something against adults to feel this way.

Some folks know I was once on a NASCAR racing team. The driver, a good friend is a popular, veteran driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and is running a few Sprint Cup races, this season. He still invites my best friend Tim and I to races at Texas Motor Speedway, his “home” track. Years ago, we would roam the garage area and always made a point to visit with then-Truck-Series regular, Bill Lester. Lester was the only African American to race in one of NASCAR’s top-three series. He has started races in all three. There was something interesting that usually happened at the Texas Truck Race. During the pre-race ceremonies, the drivers would ride around the track, standing in the rear of pickup trucks, waving at the crowd of tens of thousand fans. Back the, very few African Americans attended stock car races. So, Bill Lester could always spot us in the crowd. He would point at us, give us a “thumbs up” and laugh. The last time we spoke to Bill Lester in the NASCAR (who, by the way, has a “Diversity Program”) garage, he said something to the effect of “I look forward to the day when this [him being the only black driver] won’t be such a ‘story”. I added, “And you won’t be so easily able pick Tim and I out of that big crowd.”

I bet Bill Lester, an engineer by trade, races for love of the sport and to make a living. I doubt he’s trying to make some kind of statement about race relations in racing. But I also believe it did Bill good to occasionally see some racing fans that looked like him. We had nothing against any of the other drivers, who are mostly white. But, although we were always there to support David Starr (and told everyone within earshot so), it did us good to see a driver that looks like us.

That’s HIStory and He’s Sticking Too It

As youngsters in our community, we were often reminded that “History” is just that “His Story!” Many accounts of events past are told only from the teller’s perspective, sometimes with very little consideration of the actual circumstances. That’s why it’s important to consider different perspectives. My late father served in the army during World War II, My childhood best friend’s dad was a Lieutenant Colonel who also served in WWII. Coming up, they told us stories about the war and their time overseas. (Most of them involved trucks and shipping.) When the movie Saving Private Ryan opened, I recall sitting at dinner in Memphis, with about six co-workers. They were all white and younger than I (I was born in 1962). They had all been drinking and were going on about how “realistic” the film was. Annoyed, I asked them “How do we know how realistic it was?” “Did you notice any African Americans in the movie?” I said, “My father was in Normandy.” So, the first time I watched the film, I found myself looking for one of the fictional characters that could have been my dad or Lt. Col. Brooks. I don’t know if I ever saw one. But I understood all those brave white battlefield soldiers had to get their supplies and ordnance from somewhere. But I reasoned that “Maybe it just wasn’t part of the story Robert Rodat (the film’s writer, who was born in 1953, eight years after WWII ended), Steven Spielberg (born in 1946) or whoever, was trying to tell. It was just “His Story”.  In your spare time, check out a reliable, historic account of the gigantic WWII supply convoy known as Red Ball Express. Then compare what you might have read to the 1952 film of the same name.

Can I SEMA Self In There?

In The BizMart Story, I alluded to my passion for things vehicular. Ours is a member company of SEMA, the gigantic Automotive Aftermarket trade association. As members, we receive SEMA News, their monthly printed publication. The June 2011 issue is approximately 184 pages. On the cover are 19 photos of the candidates for the SEMA Board of directors. They all appear to be white males. For kicks, I paged through the issue to see if anyone inside looked like me. There are approximately 73 photos with discernable people in them. There are about six photos that include persons appearing to be white women. There is a single “ethnic-looking” man in a single ad. He’s in a group shot for a ½-page or so Hankook tire ad. Now, I’m not saying SEMA is a “racist” or “prejudiced” organization. Quite the contrary, when I have attended their huge annual trade show in Las Vegas, I have seen people of innumerable races, cultures, countries, backgrounds and both genders. I’m just saying, “When it comes times to pay our annual SEMA dues, if just subliminally, I might be thinking, “Is this organization really for me?”

The Automotive Aftermarket isn’t the only industry run by mostly white men. But in print, broadcast and digital, need it be so blatantly emphasized? Could the organization benefit from a little more inclusion?

I’m a “big boy “and understand that there might be companies and organizations that simply don’t want my business. My money is effectively no good to them, because they don’t particularly want to be identified with “my demographic.” If they are a private business, that’s their business. I too have choices.

That’s NUDsense

A few years back, there was an email circulating about popular companies that practiced a secret “No Urban Directive” (“NUD”) marketing policy. African Americans were diligently sending the email to each other, but I quickly dismissed it as a hoax. Although, I did ponder the meaning of “Urban.” See, I was raised in what could be described as a lower-middle class, sometime crime-riddled, historically African-American neighborhood. Many of my schoolmates and peers have since migrated to the suburbs and are tax-paying, family folks with six-figure salaries, mortgages, 401ks, and foreign luxury vehicles. Are their dollars any greener than the young man or woman who still lives in “the ‘hood” and makes what we used to call “good money” at the nearby GM plant or gigantic defense contractor. If they’re ordering from you on the internet or from a catalog, does it matter if they’re wearing a Brooks Brothers suit or a hoodie?

My point is, “If you want to sell something to more people (demographic targeting and so-called NUDs aside), you might try to be more inclusive of representatives that might not look like you.” “Diversity Initiatives” are less important, because their purpose is to educate people about the differences.

Many may dispute my subjective assertions in this particular post, but many also may not see the picture from my perspective. Check Advertising Age or other publications that have done industry-specific demographic studies. Or just pick a group of advertising agencies’ websites in your area. Look for staff photos and see how many of them look like your humble blogger.

I can imagine how three white men, a black woman and maybe an Asian guy can leave an agency brainstorming session where they created an ad with ten people in it and neither is a Mexican woman. (Unless the product is one targeted to Mexican women).  I would suggest they get in someone’s SUV and cruise through neighborhoods…a bunch of neighborhoods…where their products might be consumed. Then note what kind of people they see and at least try to include a reasonable cross section in the ads.

I’m far from obsessed with race in the entertainment and marketing industries. But as a nearly 30-year professional practitioner of the latter…and having been black for over fifty years…I tend to notice certain things about both.

So, as some old African American preachers like to say after a one-hour sermon, “I said all that to say this”: smart marketers should look to INCLUSION as the modern model for selling more.

If you know anyone who is looking for a great little interactive agency that knows inclusion, I can recommend one.

Down with diversity and usher in the era of INCLUSION!

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One thought on “Down With Diversity! (from the old AdTex Interactive Blog Archives)

  1. Pingback: Hoodies and Handshakes: Money is the Tie That Binds (from the archives of the old AdTex Interactive Blog) | There's Always Something Good Inside

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