Ask anyone how they feel about 2016/17 and you’re likely to get one of three responses:
- “Garbage Fire”
- “Literally the Worst”
- *incomprehensible screaming*
Yes, while the President live-Tweets America’s descent into a dystopian dictatorship, as Hollywood is exposed as a sexual predator farm and the values of the Western World crumble in real-time around us, it can be hard to find anything good to focus on.
And yet, somehow, despite all of this negativity: the advertising industry seems to actually be progressing to a place of… well, not benevolence by any means, but not terrible?
I’ve touched on issues of diversity within advertising on my blog many times before, and have addressed most of the issues I’ll be discussing in this blog previously. I’d encourage you to have a little read of some of my older posts should you wish to learn a little more. I’ll try and get through the bulk of this one without retreading old information.
If you’ll cast your mind back to this time last year, the seeds of this upswing towards a more diverse media landscape had definitely started to take root. Old mate Kevin Roberts declared the gender debate ‘over’, which ironically ended his career. His suggestion that women weren’t often found in C-suites as they didn’t have ‘vertical ambition’, and suggested that his agency had ‘never had [a sexual discrimination] problem’ saw him absolutely taken to task and put on immediate (and please imagine my over-the-top use of air-quotes here) ‘leave’.
Roberts’ take could probably not have come at a worse time.
Through the middle of last year and even towards the end of 2015, the industry started to ‘wake up’ to its diversity problem. A survey was released which showed that 42% of women had been sexually harassed, and 30% believed mothers were overlooked for promotions. Numerous articles popped up online decrying the archaic ‘Bondi Hipster’ stereotype which made up a large portion of employees within the media landscape – young white males living in the Inner West/East of Sydney were (and still are!) in charge of creating, overseeing and distributing a disproportionate amount of the country’s advertising and media. The ‘Boys Club’ of the media industry was exposed and shamed.
It could be said that 2017 has been a year of empowerment in the face of adversity. That’s why a quick Google search of women in advertising now turns up articles like:
“37 Women Who Are Disrupting the Status Quo and Championing Gender Diversity in Advertising and Tech”
“RANKED: The 30 most creative women in advertising”
It’s clear that, despite having lots of work to do, the industry seems to making some real headway into a more equal playing field for women. That being said, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just waiting for someone in the industry to drop a ‘Weinstein-level’ accusation on someone and start what I can only assume will be an avalanche of similar harassment claims which will put the gender issue firmly back into the spotlight.
Watch this space, I guess.
Now, while we’re finally making space in the industry for white women… can the same be said for people of colour? A survey of 15 Australian agencies in 2016 uncovered literally one person who identified as Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander. That same survey discovered that 85% of participants – aka 85% of people in these 15 agencies – were caucasian.
2017 might be remembered as the year diversity went mainstream in Australia. There have been ‘diverse’ ads prior to this year, of course; however these have usually been restricted to ads targeting a particular ethnicity, for example. The media industry appears to have caught up to the larger society in recognising that this is simply not enough. This year, Four X beer retired its ‘Four white Guys on a Beach’ trope as the face of its brand. Target and KMart printed catalogues featuring things like a mother wearing a hijab, disabled children and even children with missing limbs.
Target recently came under fire, however, for stocking gendered toys – a blue carry case touted as a ‘medical’ kit, and a pink one labeled ‘beauty’. The MLA, after their well-received Australia Day ad celebrating diversity and a coming-together of different cultures, went and cocked it all up with their religious-themed ad which featured the vegetarian/vegan Hindu God Ganesha chowing down on Australia’s ‘favourite’ meat.
Transgressions such as this beg the question: how seriously are brands REALLY taking diversity? Are businesses paying agencies to paint them as diverse and welcoming, but failing to live that in their everyday work? Are creative departments – which, I remind you, are predominantly full of white men – simply throwing “diverse” concepts at the wall in a brainstorming session to see what sticks?
We might have an answer in the infamous Banjo debacle of last year – wherein a Sri Lankan woman interviewing for a position was turned away as the agency ‘already had two Indian people’ working for them, and that the client ‘might be alarmed by having three brown people attend a meeting’. If agencies and businesses can’t live their own messages and include more diverse voices in the room, it’s no wonder that these mistakes keep being made.
Right, so we’ve covered off women and people of colour, with mixed results. Now, it’s time to tackle a topic very close to my heart: the GaysTM. A great deal of Australian news in 2017 has been dominated by the equal marriage movement – culminating in the much-maligned
plebishite postal plebiscite, which concluded last week. Within a week of its announcement, many within the media industry had pledged to refuse to support the ‘No’ campaign – in fact, 350 names had signed up to the ‘Say No to No’ initiative within a day of it appearing on LinkedIn.
Despite this, obviously, there were some businesses within the media industry willing to let the ‘No’ campaign have its say – most of the national broadcasters allowed the ‘No’ campaign equal airtime, but stressed that any hate speech or false or misleading claims could see the ads deemed unfit for broadcast. Ooh! media, despite changing their logo to a rainbow in support of the ‘Yes’ campaign, allowed its billboards and other media to be used by the ‘No’ side. And at least one advertising agency produced a series of ads for the Coalition for Marriage, featuring concerned parents talking about the safety of children while managing to completely avoid talking about the issue of ‘marriage’ at all.
Interestingly, I can’t seem to be able to find the names of any agency, media company or any such business who actually worked on these ads. I wonder why…
So, where did we land on this one?
I’m encouraged that, overall, it seems like we’re getting better. We’ve absolutely still got some work to do, but we’re on the road to something a little less shit. Let’s cross our fingers and hope that things continue to improve within the media landscape – after all, what the world needs now is, above all, to come together. And we’ve got a very powerful role to play in facilitating that.