Survival Summit

Survival Summit: Agencies have more work to do than brands when it comes to diversity

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God-is Rivera at the Ad Age Survival Summit
God-is Rivera at the Ad Age Survival Summit Credit: Ingrid Bonne Photography

At Wednesday's Ad Age Survival Summit, God-Is Rivera, director of inclusion and cultural resonance at VML, asked people to imagine two different ads featuring families: in one, a person is graduating college, in the other, someone is starting a new job.

"Did anybody think about two gay dads and their adopted twins?" Rivera asked. "Did anybody think about a 50-year-old black woman finally finishing her degree? Did anybody think about a wheelchair-bound person starting a new job? No. I'm willing to bet probably none of you did."

Diversity and inclusion, she said, are largely missing from marketing, which means the ad industry has helped create a default narrative that revolves around Caucasian families. Marketing shapes perceptions, she said, and the industry has "a responsibility to make these perceptions inclusive."

Diverse staffs, she emphasized, will help create the work that showcases different groups. And she called out agencies in particular as having much work to do in this area.

"Most brands that I work with are light years ahead of agencies in inclusion and diversity," Rivera said. Brands look at agencies and say, "'If we can do this, why are you sending in a pitch team of all white men?' For the most part, our brands are waiting on us to get it together."

Rivera also discussed how minorities will become the majority of the U.S. population by 2050, and that they'll want to feel connected with brands. Marketers doing this successfully, she said, include Rihanna's Fenty line, which understands that women with darker skin have a hard time finding foundations for their skin tones.

"We have to be active in undoing [this lack of inclusivity]," she said, "but we also have to be honest and say that a lot of people were complicit [in this]. What we have to do is be doubly vigorous in how we're going to undo this and make it what it needs to be."

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