Study Finds Super Bowl Ad Creators Overwhelmingly White

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Cyrus Mehri (left) and Laura Blackburne (right) at the Madison Avenue Project press conference today.
Cyrus Mehri (left) and Laura Blackburne (right) at the Madison Avenue Project press conference today.

The Madison Avenue Project held a press conference today to release a study pointing out that the agency creative directors behind this year's Super Bowl commercials were overwhelmingly white. But at least one industry representative said the press-first strategy is doing little to help diversity efforts.

The study comes from Richard Lapchick, director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. It finds that for the 58 spots in which the study was able to identify the creative team, 92% of the creative directors were white males, 7% were white females and one lone creative director was Latino. The Latino was not an agency employee, but the winner of Doritos' consumer contest.

There were actually 67 total spots, though TIDES was not able to find the race and gender of every creative director. In at least one discrepancy, agency founder Guy Barnett was counted as a creative for The Brooklyn Brothers' KGB spot (though one executive familiar with the matter says that the copywriter and art director are two white males). Mr. Barnett declined to comment.

The press conference is the latest move from civil rights lawyer Cyrus Mehri and Laura Blackburne, general counsel for the NAACP. Mr. Mehri's law firm and the NAACP are investigating a class-action suit against the ad industry for discrimination. Since forming the Madison Avenue Project, the team has filed charges against ad companies with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Agency Involvement
While the study highlights the ad industry's longstanding problem with diversity, it is also keeping that discrimination investigation in the headlines. This attention, paired with a lack of dialogue with agency leadership, could hinder real change, said American Association of Advertising Agencies CEO Nancy Hill.

"I think it makes it difficult, especially if agencies aren't invited to have a discussion," Ms. Hill, the only agency representative at the press conference today, said of the project's press-first strategy. "It makes it feel like [the Madison Avenue Project] doesn't want to have a conversation."

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