Opinion: You can’t ask us to think outside the box if you're going to box us in
There's something that really bugs me about American advertising. Something that just doesn’t add up. We pride ourselves on being this huge melting pot of vibrant cultures, different races, and diverse lifestyles—but you just wouldn’t know that if you looked at our advertising. This could be because we often look to the same talent to shoot our ads because they’re a safe bet.
American advertising always seems to have the same criteria and characteristics. It’s the same old white nuclear family model, and if you do spot diverse cast members, they’re usually playing up to a stereotype. Clients who used to work at agencies are using the same talent they’ve always used because they know what the output will be. But why are we afraid to try something different? Why not take this time to bring in directors from a different pool, like younger or unproven talent, to broaden our perspective?
Last year, Adobe released some pretty eye-opening data around diversity within advertising. Crucially, it found that 61 percent of U.S. consumers believe in the importance of diversity in advertising and that they put their trust and money behind that belief. And 38 percent of consumers say they are more likely to trust a brand that shows more diversity in its ads; this figure increases to more than 50 percent in the LGBTQ and African American communities. What’s more, inaccurate representation can lead to customer departure.
Put simply, people want to be able see themselves represented. They want to be able to envision their lives with your product—and if you’re putting out the message that only one type of person uses your products, then you’re cutting off most of your potential revenue streams.
As it currently stands, a large number of U.S. advertisers have an inability to look beyond the American perspective. Agencies tend to create campaigns in the voice of their client—the brand. But the problem doesn’t just lie with the agencies, because brands really do compartmentalize territories. And this handicap means that when they’re putting together their ideas, they’re inadvertently limiting themselves to pre-existing visions for not only how a campaign should look, but who should be shooting it.
So when this campaign brief eventually gets passed onto producers and directors, typically paired with the instruction to “think outside the box,” we cannot do so to the fullest extent. The box has already been closed and sold to the client, who, no matter what anyone else suggests, will want to stay within the agreed limits set.
What’s more, a suggested change in approach often comes with the excuse that radical changes take too long to implement and that there is far more risk involved. But having seen businesses across the globe adapt their strategies and core ways of working in just a handful of days in response to COVID-19, the reasoning that change is too time-intensive no longer stands. It is simply an excuse. Why do we think only American’s can sell American products and stories?
Giving global directors a chance to present their take on America opens up the exciting possibility for brands and agencies to help us discover emerging and established talent with a new slant on the US market. It is the easiest way for us to introduce diverse perspectives to our advertising.
The pandemic has given us all time to reflect on who we are and to really question everything we stand for. There’s no reason why we can’t be more adventurous with our talent and work on changing this perception of American advertising.
Let’s take a fresh look at the box. Let’s not see it as a closed idea but as something that can inspire us. Think back to when you had a toy box. The box would not be confined to its physical limits but inspire endless imagination and creativity. It’s about time we saw things in a different way.
Filmmaking is at the heart of what we do, and that blurs and crosses all lines. Let diverse talent come to America and shoot for American brands, because ... why not? There is no excuse. Moving forward, I think brands and advertising agencies should embrace the fact that we are truly global. People from around the globe do understand the American culture and can add original, diverse and highly impactful perspectives. Give them an opportunity so that we can assimilate that into our culture and help make America a truly global and inclusive place.