Once registered, you can:

  • - Read additional free articles each month
  • - Comment on articles and featured creative work
  • - Get our curated newsletters delivered to your inbox

By registering you agree to our privacy policy, terms & conditions and to receive occasional emails from Ad Age. You may unsubscribe at any time.

Are you a print subscriber? Activate your account.

Flaccid Promises and Chicken Dinners

When It Comes to Diversity, Madison Avenue Just Selling a Bill of Goods

By Published on .

Never have I been so quick to anger, yet so slow to fulminate against inequitable, unaccountable, exploitative taxation. Seldom do I pause before waging a war for inalienable rights, rather than live in apathetic comfort with human wrongs. Finally, after cogitating, the need to express my Achilles rage, against what's wrong with the advertising industry, ignites me.

Driven by the need to meet quarterly goals, advertising agencies continue to send perverted messages to brainless herds. Being an advertising pied piper is a privilege, and privileges come with certain responsibilities. One responsibility is to leave the world a better place by not practicing multinational slavery. Another responsibility is to ensure equal participation in the advertising business processes from consumers whose tax assessments support the advertising industry. And, given the power of the advertising medium, monkey-see-monkey-do ad agencies should be held to the highest standards of excellence.

A few years ago, the New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR) subpoenaed senior advertising executives to have them answer for their woeful record on diversity hiring. Since then, we've all heard the Madison Avenue propaganda about the advertising industry rolling out the "inclusion" carpet, which amounts to little more than the gimmick of hiring meretricious barkers to scream, "Diversity welcomed!"

Advertising agencies don't want to clear the diversity hurdle. Agencies benefit from the entrenched status quo. How do they? Consumers conspicuously gobble up consumer products without considering corporate hiring accountability.

Every so often, the discriminated class finds the chutzpah to confront employment disenfranchisement. During such times, big companies deploy tried and tested practices:
  • Promise change.
  • Complain about the lack of talent.
  • Set up committees.
  • Throw around a few political tchotchkes.
  • Sponsor a few chicken dinners.
  • Hire a diversity consultant.
  • Hold hiring cattle calls.
  • Hire a few custodians and mailmen.
  • Propagate the progress made.
  • Maintain the good-old-boy system.
If all fails, they start back at play one until they quiet the thunder. The open secret, whispered by senior executives in mahogany and leather corporate corridors, is that this thunder will easily pass.

It's time to start a grassroots storm -- a storm with enough intensity and force to morph into a congressional hurricane. This is not a plea for quotas or tokenism, but one for equal participation.

It's beneficial for advertising agencies to embrace the concept of equal participation. A hodgepodge of backgrounds helps cross-pollinate bigger and better ideas. And, the current U.S. demographic trends project that future consumer markets will be even more diverse.

At some point, senior advertising leadership has to consider the big picture. These myopic leaders should ask, "Are we hiring people who understand and can connect with a diverse population?"

Ironically, consumers subsidize advertising agencies' hiring decisions. Every time consumers purchase products with hard-earned money, a message is sent to continue the status quo.

Unlike national elections with their sad 54% voter participation, consumer voting includes almost 100% of Americans. When you buy Tide or Coke, you cast a vote. Your vote sends a message of approval regarding the product, customer service and the outcomes of corporate hiring decisions.

Every product is "taxed" with an assessment rate to pay for advertising. Traditionally, this tax is around 1.5% to 5% of the suggested retail price. In 2007, more than $753 billion dollars were taxed from consumers.

Less than 1% of this tax was spent on hiring diverse employees, buying minority media or using minority talent in production. More than 10% of this tax was used to subsidize senior executives' overpriced luxury skyboxes at NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL games and luxury golf outings.

Minorities over-index in most consumer-product categories; consequently they contribute a higher percentage to the advertising assessment tax. Despite their over-contribution, a paucity of diversity continues to permeate the advertising industry.

Why does the discriminated class continue to settle for flaccid promises and chicken dinners?

Don't beg the industry to change.

Instead, stop buying products and using services from corporations that refuse to hold advertising agencies accountable for hiring outcomes. Change will only come when consumers change their spending behavior. Advertising agencies will change when the call to change is backed by political power, consequences and accountability.

Get MAD (Make A Difference): Write editors, the NYCCHR, advertising agency senior executives, national advertisers, the 435 U.S. representatives and the 100 U.S. senators. Call on the federal government to begin an investigation into the advertising industry plantation paradigm.

If not you, who?

~ ~ ~
Arthur Leggett is the marketing director for a Chicago-based law firm. He previously worked at JWT Regional Advertising Force, the Cobalt Group and A. Eicoff.
In this article:
Most Popular