Every time a ‘good’ commercial goes ‘bad’, we hit refresh on the conversation about diversity-friendly / inclusion-conscious advertising. By that point, some segment of the public is outraged, Twitter is lit up, the brand is blemished, and the meme-engine ensures the group who felt slighted remembers not to buy the product years later.
Since we have seen this cycle play out so many times with a negative effect, are we finally ready to be more deliberate about our approach to mitigating this risk? And further along the continuum of impact are the moving examples like Heineken that go above the brand to make a meaningful social statement.
What will it take to get there more often?
This question is challenging to the advertising industry due to a few contributing factors: the advertising industry is traditionally a white male dominated industry that caters to, and operates in, fast brain thinking.*
Based on my 24 years working with major corporations on organizational effectiveness, I see the need for more companies to make the macro level commitment that CEOs like Michael Roth has made at IPG. They have launched a deliberate intervention to disrupt the hiring and promotion patterns that the data proves exist.
This level of commitment only works when it is supported by micro-level interventions that holistically change behavior at every departure point. Here are a few questions that lead to those behavior changes:
Are there diverse teams reviewing final output? Where can we find and develop the talent we need? Reviewing the systems and structures where decisions are made allows us to potentially spot disasters before they happen. One important caveat here: when someone raises a red flag, there must be an acknowledgment and willingness to revise the concept. Groupthink can set in and cause us to move forward with an idea that majority of the team is simply in love with.
Develop #diverse talent to negate #groupthink Click To Tweet
Are we being seduced by our own good intentions into over-estimating our ‘#woke-ness’ and skills around inclusion? Providing ongoing training on the necessary skills for those doing the work helps to ensure that they have a broad enough frame of reference to avoid pitfalls. Producing consistently moving and impactful work in inclusive advertising (like the Heineken commercial) will require a higher level of focus and skill than we have seen in the last few years.
Don't overestimate your #wokeness - provide ongoing training to develop #inclusive skills Click To Tweet
Who is holding the agency accountable to do things differently and move the needle on this? Many great initiatives have died on the vine that lacks oversight and accountability. This may be an area where agencies realize that they may not have the specialized skills or body count to do this effectively.
While speaking at this year’s Ad Age Brand Summit, I met many committed professionals who truly want to do the right thing and were struggling with how to do so. There are many other ideas for interventions, but this is a proven approach for managing the talent, operational, and culture shift towards the business outcomes we want.
Allison Manswell is a Cook Ross Consultant and author of Listen In: Crucial Conversations on Race in the Workplace and serves as a thought leader and subject matter expert on race relations and talent management.
* “Fast brain thinking” refers to the two modes our brains operate in – fast thinking and slow thinking. Fast thinking is based on quick, instinctive, and emotional patterns as opposed to slow thinking which is slower, more deliberative, and logical.