There were 72 nationalities -- including Eskimo -- represented at my high school in Astoria.
Today, in corporate America, diversity is mentioned all the time. There are diversity committees, forums, initiatives, task forces, etc. -- but to what end?
FACING THE TRUTH
I recently attended a fund-raising golf tournament organized by a major corporation. It was a sellout event. We all posed for a group photo at the end of the day, and of the 144 golfers and supporters who attended, only three would be considered minority, including my wife and I. All of the sponsors were agencies and suppliers.
We all talk about a changing America, and the need to accurately reflect the marketplace. Leo Burnett once said: "If you can't turn yourself into your customers, you probably shouldn't be in the ad writing business at all."
WHO ARE THE CONSUMERS?
Can a 50-year-old Caucasian male write a compelling ad for a revolutionary new pantyhose? It would be difficult unless pantyhose was a normal part of his wardrobe. So, try to imagine that same writer trying to turn himself into a 1.5 generation Mexican-American.
If the client and the agency are blind to the fact that today's consumers have changed over the past decade, then there is no need for a diverse staff.
My profile reads 35-to-40-year-old male, married with children, college-educated, high-income and Asian-American. However, most of the advertising I see ignores the Asian part of my profile, and some I even find offensive.
Do I enjoy watching commercials that stereotype Asians? Would those commercials have been aired -- or even produced -- if the agency had a more diverse staff?
SENDING THE RIGHT MESSAGE
If all of us were able to turn ourselves into our consumers, there would be no need for a diverse staff. A 23-year-old Chinese-American copywriter could create a wonderful and memorable ad for Metamucil.
But, the reality is that most of us aren't good at turning ourselves into all of our many consumers.
So, having a diverse workforce is our best chance of doing what Mr. Burnett saw as the basic requirement of being in this business in the first place.
Mr. Kang is president, Kang & Lee. He also serves on American Association of Advertising Agencies' Equal Employment Opportunity Committee and the Ad Council's Ethnic Perspective Committee.