URBAN DECAY

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It's time to take a good, hard look at the state of minority advertising. Why is it that minority advertising is discussed only in terms of billings and research? Why are minority campaigns never recognized based on the quality of the work? Maybe awards shows are biased. Maybe the mainstream ad industry just doesn't get minority advertising. But I don't think so -- those are easy excuses.

The mere fact that minorities are addressed directly in advertising is revolutionary. The creation of separate minority advertising budgets with specific minority messages is a tremendous achievement, and the minority agencies and clients that started this movement deserve a great deal of credit and respect for their vision. But, unfortunately, the fight was so focused on carving out minority budgets that the emphasis was never placed on the work. Which is sad, because the quality of most minority creative work is generations behind that of mainstream advertising.

Minority advertising has not evolved with its audience. Merely skimming the surface of minority culture and adding a logo does not build brands. Minority ads must be held to the same standards and scrutiny as all great work. There have been numerous creative revolutions in the mainstream market, but there has yet to be a hint of a creative revolution on the minority side. If minority advertising is to ever gain respect, agencies need to stop focusing solely on budgets and start focusing on the quality of the work. We must refuse to remain a novelty. We are not just speaking to some faceless crowd labeled "minorities"; we are speaking to people. And people know when they are being talked at and when they are being spoken to. They know when they're being treated with respect and when they're being treated as a checkmark on a politically correct to-do list.

You don't have to be an advertising person or an African American to see that the ads shown here are insulting. Why does Crown Royal attempt to ingratiate itself with a soul brothers reference? The Minute Maid "Here's what I pick" ad speaks for itself. Who approved this work, Huggy Bear or Shaft?

The minority audience is no longer content with just being included. To communicate more effectively, we must move beyond the formulaic and superficial and speak to the essence of a person's beliefs, desires, passions and values. This is how to make our communications relevant and powerful. Powerful enough to build brands. This is where our focus should be. This is the battle we have to fight every day.

Minority agencies, however, are not the only ones that need to question their focus. Most clients still see minority advertising as something they can point to and say, "Look, we're culturally sensitive." Minority advertising can, and should, achieve the same brand-building results as mainstream advertising. But this will happen only if clients expect and demand these results from their agencies. Developing a brand strategy, producing general-market work, and then six months into the campaign deciding "now it's time to work on the minority campaign" is not how great advertising is created.

These goals are far from unattainable. Minorities are leaders in all other aspects of popular culture; music, television, film, sports, art, fashion. Why are we not leading in the advertising arena?