Why -- because my skin is light and my politics are centrist-liberal? What a dangerous assumption!
The irony, as regular readers of this page will grasp, is that I am simultaneously young, disabled and crusading for GLBT/Equal Marriage Rights -- all distinctly less-than-majority positions.
Which is precisely why Proctor & Gamble's much-ado "My Black is Beautiful" campaign inspired me to no end. Perhaps, I thought -- I hope, I pray! -- this could become the advertising world's first step toward TRUE Equality: something that goes above and beyond racial, ethnic, gender and even sexual orientation inclusion.
The Disabled, the British, and the Lesser of Evils
Recently, in ruminating the point of this blog and the nature of diversity marketing, my mind -- twitchy as it is -- turned to disability outreach. The disabled hold a privileged position in the annals of American law: While the Americans with Disabilities Act took time to pass, there were never any riots or lynchings or governors stubbornly barring a school door to refuse entry to folks who couldn't walk, see, speak or think like everyone else.
Given that disabilities are evolution's little kick in the shins to a sizeable portion of the global human race, the disabled command a high degree of sympathy (or worse, empathy). If we found ourselves mocked in advertising, the outrage would quite simply drive the offending company off the face of the planet. It's just not cool, unless you're Deuce Bigalow -- in which case at least you're an equal opportunity zinger.
(Note: The exception to this rule is, of course, the British. They get to do whatever they want, for nothing save the Queen is truly sacred beneath the Union Jack. In Season 2: Episode 3 of "Extras," comedian Ricky Gervais essentially pokes fun of kowtowing to the disabled when confronted by the mother of a child with Down's Syndrome. Of course, the Down's Syndrome Association -- if no one else -- decried the belittlement. Now I probably should, too, having picked my jaw up off the floor.)
Thus we come to a question that every disabled person should ask of himself or herself: Would you prefer to be the butt of advertising jokes (as is NOT currently the trend), or to be systematically ignored by most every organization that isn't a 501c(3) (as IS currently the trend)?
Which is the less painful reminder of existing both inside and outside of mainstream America -- and which will do more to change that unfortunate truism? (Accessibility accommodations clearly don't count as "outreach," since they're legally required.)
"My Black, Brown, Green, and Purple"
Targeted marketing outreach to any "group that feels slighted by popular culture," as Advertising Age put it, is a good thing. Najoh Reid, Procter and Gamble's Multicultural Marketing Director who created that behemoth's much-heralded new marketing campaign aimed at black American women, called the initiative "a movement that really begins with conversation." That's great -- I'm all for it!
But let's not fantasize that black women are underrepresented any more or less than any other "slighted" group in the country. The Big Tent's contributors expound upon a spectrum of outreach to black men and women, Asian men and women, Hispanic men and women, gay men and women, even white men and women -- reluctantly, "the voice of the majority."
(Actually, I can't think of a single commercial so far this millennium that has specifically aimed to reach only white folks. I'm not convinced such an ad would accomplish anything. Still, I'm intrigued to wonder what it might look like.)
Yet, when was the last time you saw a newspaper, magazine, or advertisement written in Braille? One might argue that the blind tend to have lower incomes overall than other Americans, so it doesn't make sound business sense to target them. Well, duh -- don't you think they'd have better moneymaking opportunities if companies reached out to them? That's a compellingly self-fulfilling prophecy.
Closed-captioning was a groundbreaking innovation that enabled millions around the world to enjoy filmed entertainment. Still, of all the professional conferences I've been to within the magazine, advertising, and digital media industries, the only time I ever recall seeing an American Sign translator on-hand was when a government official was delivering a keynote.
They, after all, have no choice but to go the extra mile to touch those who can't, for both legal and electoral reasons.
My point, my hope, my prayer is this: incorporating marginalized or underrepresented groups of every kind is a social good to which every marketer, of every ilk, should aspire. But those efforts should go beyond pushing a new product.
Ms. Reid's My Black is Beautiful campaign will be seen as a success if it raises P&G's bottom line. But her company is the world's No. 1 advertiser, so she harbors unique game-changing power: Her highly capable hands could set aflame a trend toward inclusiveness that goes far beyond skin color.