How brands should think about representation of Black women in creative
Does your creative include a Black woman in a meaningful role? Are you depicting an intersectional view of Black female characters? Does the story engender a versatile view of beauty for Black women? These are the questions brands should be asking themselves as they develop campaigns to ensure accurate portrayals of Black women in their messaging, according to a new guide developed by SeeHer and OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.
“Brands spend billions of dollars to influence thought and behavior, and imagine the power of those brands dedicating a portion of their spend to reflect Black stories and people,” says Sheereen Russell, group VP, ad sales, client partnerships and inclusive engagement, OWN. “It's more than selling a product or service, it's about creating a meaningful connection and imprint to shift the cultural narrative.”
As the ad world works to fix years of systemic racism, brands are looking to be more diverse in who they feature in their marketing campaigns and be more inclusive in their storytelling. As they do this, there are certainly questions and blind spots surfacing about the depiction of Black people in ads.
The guide is designed to provide creative teams questions and insights to help empower the creative community (advertisers and those in entertainment) to become more aware of potential blind spots and unconscious biases.
"Storytelling is a powerful tool that can inspire more Black women and girls to embrace the limitless potential they possess within themselves,” said Dr. Knatokie Ford, SeeHer executive advisor who spearheads #WriteHerRight. “It is imperative that critical moments are converted into momentum to catalyze meaningful and lasting change in how Black women are portrayed. Media bears immense potential to shift culture in non-trivial ways by mitigating bias that perpetuates mistreatment, injustice, inequities, and invisibility.”
Other such questions include: Do the Black female characters have any positive and healthy relationships with key people in their lives? Does the story include at least two named Black female characters who have a conversation about something other than their race? Is there a range in body types, skin tones, hair textures and natural hairstyles among the Black female characters?
It also highlights questions to help avoid potential pitfalls: Is the primary Black female character a sidekick or best friend to a white protagonist, and accordingly lacks a storyline of her own? Does the incorporation of a social justice theme make Black female audience members feel burdened more than seen? Does the story overtly or subtly perpetuate colorism—prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone?
“Gone are the days of one size fits all,” says Esi Eggleston Bracey, exec VP and chief operating officer, North American beauty and personal care, Unilever. “What everyone wants in the world is to feel seen, they want products and brands to serve their needs, and choose brands and products with transparency, without being held to a narrow standard of ‘normal.’ Too much of us haven’t been seen.”