'White' Agencies Are 'Biased, Greedy, Stupid'

Writing on TalentZoo as a guest columnist, copywriter, brand consultant and author Hadji Williams brings to light the rampant dismissal among major agencies of multicultural advertising and explains how "ethnic" agencies are brought in by AOR's at the last minute to black/Latino/Asian-ize campaigns only to have them end up looking stupid and perpetuating stereotypes. It's an insightful examination of the practice and one I can admit to engaging in having done my fair share of minimizing the importance of the ethnic portion of a campaign.

It's no secret the U.S. agency business is made up of almost entirely of whites who have no idea what other cultures are like outside their own. That part's not a fault. You live where you live and you know what you know. What's at fault is the apparent disregard for the existence of other cultures and the current practice of multicultural marketing which, according to Burrell Communications' Tom Burrell amounts to treating black people as white people with black skin and Brand Central Station's Mike Bawden calls dysfunctional.

Williams writes, "White agencies hate sharing their AOR status with each other never mind with 'targeted' agencies," which in this cut throat business is not surprising. As much as we'd all like to believe we live in this beautiful thing they call a melting pot, we're not all the same and cultural differences will always exist. It's not easy to embrace that because it boils down to fear. Fear of inability to comfortably relate to a culture other than one's own. Fear of looking stupid in front of one's client or boss when discussing a culture other that your own.

The solution to the vexing problem is not easy but one word provides a starting point: trust. Trust that you are not the smartest person in the room. Trust that other culture's are likely entirely different than anything you know about them. Trust that there are people with knowledge of cultures other than one's own that, rather than stealing one's client's business, can help build that business. Trust. It's an easy word to say. Not so easy to put into practice. But columns like Williams' help put change into motion.

by Steve Hall    Dec- 8-05   Click to Comment   
Topic: Agencies, Brands, Opinion, Trends and Culture   

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Comments



Comments

Oh no, not this guy again. He is preaching this "white agencies are crap" crap everywhere, and making a buck doing it. Never once does he offer any proof of his rants.

I'm not sure who I'm sick of more...him or Sally Hogshead and her childish obnoxiousness.

Please, people, if you're tired of being an agency creative, don't travel the country telling others about what's wrong with the business. I think we probably know.

Posted by: W on December 8, 2005 2:01 PM

Good point, W :-)

Posted by: Steve Hall on December 8, 2005 2:13 PM

you're right, fellas,

let's just keep our heads in the sand, pretend nothing's wrong and get back to business as usual. and when anyone offers up a dissenting point of view backed by 15 years of experience plus documentation, plus a track record, let's write it all off lock, stock 'n' barrell as whiny opportunism, because after all, there can't possibly be any truth to it. Cuz god knows the ad industry is flawless.

Look, I back up what i say with documentation and solutions. In fact, if you read my op-eds, I always give any problem I point out. but god-forbid that we listen to anyone who's not a CEO or who's stroking our collective ego.

Lookit... I spent my time being a good little boy, keeping my mouth shut, making money for clients, cranking out good work, etc. all the while making excuses for everything that I saw that was wrong in this industry ranging from diveristy to band billing practices to bad strategies, etc. but enough's enough.

The stuff that's wrong in this business can actually be fixed--it's not cancer or famine or poverty. This is easy stuff, folks. Some of you need to pull your head out of your sheltered butts, grow up and fix this stuff or at least shut up and quit ganging up on people who want to try and make things better for everyone else.

if you want a lily white industry, fine. some folks don't. You want to build brands AND your portfolio? That can be done at the same time, believe it or not. You want to be a partner with your clients as opposed to a vendor? that can be done, too.

but all of this and more requires change.

here's my challenge: anyone who's sick of what I'm saying--and there's plenty of you as my in-box of hatemail can attest to--there's a really easy way to get rid of me:

Fix. The. Problems.

believe me. I'm not making up what's wrong. I'm just tired of not doing anything about it.

Happy Holidays.

:)

PS: I never said "white agencies are crap."

Posted by: hadji on December 8, 2005 3:01 PM

So Mr Hadji has used the "race" card. Well welcome to the world of advertising as we know it. It happens everywhere, big agencies do it to small, pompous creative directors to junior writers, men (like Mr Neil French) to women, global network agencies to local Indian agencies, etc., etc.
For all his rantings, Mr Hadji forgets that if he has one ounce of self-respect, he would not touch the account and do hack work.
Why is he bent on dividing people into Black, Asian, Hispanic and White?
BBH, the UK based agency, believes that a single great idea can work across cultures, and they have proven it time and again. So has W+K.
Maybe if Mr Hadji saw himself and other as human beings he would come up with better ideas. Humans are the same everywhere. To target them by race is odious. I live in a country with 19 official languages and over a 100 dialects. Each state has it own culture nuances. Try working here.
Also asks people to fix the problem. Here is a start: Learn to punctuate and spell correctly. Even on a message board (yes I am anal). It shows your attention to detail.
Sunil Shibad
Mumbai, India.


Posted by: Sunil Shibad on December 8, 2005 4:09 PM

So Mr Hadji has used the "race" card. Well welcome to the world of advertising as we know it. It happens everywhere, big agencies do it to small, pompous creative directors to junior writers, men (like Mr Neil French) to women, global network agencies to local Indian agencies, etc., etc.
For all his rantings, Mr Hadji forgets that if he has one ounce of self-respect, he would not touch the account and do hack work.
Why is he bent on dividing people into Black, Asian, Hispanic and White?
BBH, the UK-based agency, believes that a single great idea can work across cultures, and they have proven it time and again. So has W+K.
Maybe if Mr Hadji saw himself and other as human beings he would come up with better ideas. Humans are the same everywhere. To target them by race is odious. I live in a country with 19 official languages and over a 100 dialects. Each state has it own cultural nuances. Try working here.
Also he asks people to fix the problem. Here is a start: Learn to punctuate and spell correctly. Even on a message board (yes I am anal). It shows your attention to detail.
Sunil Shibad
Mumbai, India.

PS: Sorry the preview got posted.

Posted by: Sunil Shibad on December 8, 2005 4:14 PM

My first reaction is � will duh, everyone knows that�


Actually all agencies are biased, greedy and periodically stupid. There is no doubt that the majority of ads feed stereotypes - but not just multicultural ones.

What are the hottest 'female' agencies? Females represent over 50% of the purchasing power and absolutely have our own perspective and culture. Does anyone give a shit? You tell me?

Oh, look another ad for mini-vans, tampons, Prozac, and tequila. How I so identify with that beautiful thin, well dressed, white, (yes white) woman who drives a mini-van. She is using a tampon right now, on Prozac (after her first baby), and is slamming down tequilas. She is draped on her successful husband in a low-cut cocktail dress - her hands and gaze placed so we just know she cannot wait to get in the mini-van and blow her husbands �mind�.

Maybe I am just out of it but I have not heard of any 'female' agencies are brought in at the last minute (or at all) to try to give an ad that 'created by someone who understands what it is like to live in America without a penis' (i.e. power).

Therefore, I get it - and agree. Nevertheless, unless the dollars move the agencies will not.


Momentary digression and question. Since ad agencies are targeting consumers as stereotypes, how are they, if they are, successful?


A fantasy � indulge me for a moment.

Agencies will stop advertising to who they (or their researches) think we are: (e.g. Male black, married, between 21-37, college degree, blah, blah, blah) and will start advertising to who we really are (e.g. Bill loves his new bride, is terrified disappointing her, enjoys his nephews but doesn't want kids, takes the train to work everyday wishes he read the WSJ but always ends up staring out the window, wears a suit to work and cares that he looks good. Wants to grow a beard but does not want to look old)

For your consideration �

Agencies hold-debilitating perspectives, are shortsightedly greedy, and periodically dumb as a bricks. And some agencies of the most fun, open-minded business in America today.

Posted by: Pamela on December 8, 2005 4:26 PM

Folks, the issue is the clients. It is they that do not get the "ethnic" opportunity. Just drive around LA or Miami and ask yourself if you wanted to sell something in these cities would you restrict yourself to "white (what ever that really means) advertising." The answer is hell no. So, I must surmise that the clients who give their AOR agency the simplistic "go find an ethnic agency' goal are the losers in all senses.

Posted by: Peter on December 8, 2005 4:46 PM

Wow, did that editorial really need to be given any promotion? Seriously, I've never felt this about my favorite e-newsletter, but shame on Adrants!

First, Mr. Williams, while deriding those who stereotype ethnic groups, advances the most stereotypical and shallow picture of white executives imaginable.

Secondly, for a guy who calls himself a copywriter, he may want to work on proofreading just a bit more ("all together" rather than "altogether," "ethnically agency," "These concepts are concepts are...", etc.)

Lastly, as for "Ethnic folk singing/rapping/convulsively dancing/beating on buckets," Mr. Williams may want to tune into BET or 50 Cent's latest video (http://music.yahoo.com/ar-294445-videos--50-Cent), featuring violence, gangsters, implied murder, and tight shots of women's butts in skimpy swimsuits. I'm glad he aspires to better in ethnic marketing, but I don't see the advertising industry being any more guilty of pandering or demeaning the Black community than any other media (including those controlled by African Americans).

Mr. Williams didn't play the race card; he played the entire deck. That was the most patently offensive thing I've read in quite some time.

BTW, as an "interactive agency" guy, I can attest to the AOR getting months to develop a plan and then thinking at the last minute about how this will get extended online. Then, the little interactive agency gets brought in to quickly execute a badly conceived plan created by someone who "thinks" they know Internet marketing. Of course, I don't get to attribute that kind of short-term thinking to race, so I'll just credit it to idiocy.

Posted by: AF on December 8, 2005 5:16 PM

I like the idea of us working on trust. But is it possible? I htink it is, but it will take time. Like everything else.

And does this mean we pair off clients and customers based on race or gender? I don't know, the instinct is to that's wrong, but maybe it makes all the sense in the world.

Either way, greed strikes me as the bigger problem, rather than lack of trust. Everyone, every agency wants every client for themselves. You must keep growing until you keel over and die. If we took personal, individual-sized portions, we'd be slimmer, more nimble, and there'd be more for everyone to share.

I like capitalism. And I like proving I'm better than the next guy (and definitely the next womyn!!). But maybe that drive can manifest someplace else. I would say something like family, or art but then I'd be branded as ...

Anyways, as a "minority" with more skills than 95% of the industry, but who has a hard enough time getting to pitch, let alone close the deal and execute ... I'm still not bitter or jaded. Just have to work harder. I believe talent always finds a way. Eventually Tiger Woods will appear and smack all these old-school Jim Crow execs in the head with a hammer, err golf club, and show that black/multicultural is the new white/status quo.

but until then, I guess I"ll see you in the mailroom
*sigh*

Posted by: The Assimilated Negro on December 8, 2005 7:14 PM

Oh Boo Hoo.

He's right, but not unique or alone. He's also not so concerned for the soul of this industry or humanity in general that he turns down the work. I can't speak for everyone, but I do this stuff for money. Who hasn't had to dumb down a campaign for a client? Eventually you have to shut up and let a client be a client.

Posted by: Chip on December 8, 2005 10:44 PM

I don't plan on defending myself on every blog because it's a waste of time, but I will do one quick lap here just to make a couple points to close out the year:

(1) Every criticism I have ever made about this industry was first made behind closed doors, "within the family" and always accompanied by solutions--be it a willingness to set up minority internship programs, go out and help recruit minorities,work with AEs on billing issues, management on leadership styles, etc. Whatever problems I identified, I've always offered workable executable effective, and FREE solutions. And as my parents raised me, I always looked in the mirror and worked on myself first.

But in most every case, I was told to shut up get back to work because most folks like things just the way they are. So be it.

(2) The work. those in the know, are fully aware that I have produced more work in my career than most folks twice my age. Do I have a shelf filled with shiny awards (that the average consumer could care less about)? No. Do I have a bunch of goateed slacks fawning over stuff I did 10 years ago? No. Now...Have I made money for every client I've ever worked on? Yes. Has every single agency that I've ever freelanced for offered me a staff postion? Yup. Has every place I've ever worked at tried to hire me back? Yup. Do I have the goods to do this at a high level until I'm 75? Yup. But will I? Nope. Not as long as people are more interested in swinging on those trying to fix the problems than they are in fixing the actual problems themselves.

well i'm done for the year. I'm getting sick of the flood of racist hatemail and garbage on the blogs. you want to disagree, then disagree. but bring something to the party. I've worked at targeted and general market agencies. I've got the pedigree and the work. i know what I'm talking about.

And for the record, a lot of what I write also comes from people who are afraid to speak up because if they did, all the so-called "liberals" in our wonderful industry wouldn't react too kindly to them. And deep down inside, we all know it to be true.

By the way folks: Where I'm from, when you have a problem with someone, you say it to their face. And if you can't do that, you at least sign your name to your public posts.

"Corporate America makes people soft."

Posted by: hadji on December 9, 2005 7:42 PM

Who's more corrupt: a) The greedy, white dominated AOR who doesn't bother to learn about ALL of its target audience? b) The minority agency who preys on client insecurity with stereotypes of their own about their own culture. which is SO different that AOR planners, even those sell-out minorities they've hired, couldn't possibly create a strategy that drives an idea that just might UNIFY people. So we're going to need a completely different strategy, and accompanying creative, to address a fraction of the total business, and the incremental cost doesn't pay out in marketing ROI. But if you don't do it, we'll hold a press conference - we think we can get Jesse or Al. Can you sign here please?

Which is the bigger racket?

Listen to Sunil up above, or go look at Hunt Lascaris's work in South Africa so you might see how people have gotten past this all over the world, except here. Shame on you for feeding an equally cynical machine.

Posted by: Alex on December 11, 2005 5:24 AM

Sorry for my tardy arrival to this party. For anyone still interested, you’re cordially invited to visit the links below. Happy Holidays.

http://multicultclassics.blogspot.com/2005/03/essay-one.html

http://multicultclassics.blogspot.com/2005/12/essay-289.html

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