Diversity in Advertising

Posted on November 21, 2012


Seeking a career in the advertising industry? Don’t let Mad Men put you off, they want you.

There’s always been a huge problem with diversity in the workforce, from the class and gender wars of the 50’s and 60’s to the acknowledged lack of diverse talent in the predominantly white and middle class finance, political and media industries.

Last week, the advertising industry were brought together by the launch of The Ideas Foundation’s Diversity in Advertising film, to challenge what diversity in advertising means and ask a panel of industry leaders how to change an established system that is still recruiting oxbridge graduates into its fold.

With only 5% of the ad industry made up of people from non-white  backgrounds, and 30% of UK consumers being non-white, the question on everyone’s lips was how on earth it has got to this point? As Sean Bailie, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Youth and Crime pointed out, we are in a world where your ethnicity, class or gender shouldn’t pre-determine who you are as a person, the things you like, or your buying choices.

It could be argued that having niche agencies or separate inter agency units set up to specifically target BME audiences is almost being as bad as the black South African in the 80s who had to sit on a separate bench. So when the industry that holds the power in determining mass – and individual – consumption, doesn’t even appropriately reflect the buying public, something’s hugely gone awry.

The Diversity In Advertising’s panel included Jonathan Akwe, Engine; Angela Rutledge, Andrews Aldridge; Trevor Beatty, Beattie McGuinness Bungay; Magnus Djaba, Saatchi & Saatchi and Nicola Mendelsohn, President of the IPA. Chaired by the legendary Sir John Hegarty, Founder, BBH, the overall consensus was that the change needs to come from within. Recruitment and HR teams need to get creative, and the unpaid intern culture needs a serious rethink. Trevor Beattie joked how Leeds has ‘never been so posh’ now that there’s a wave of interns being employed to fill the growing number of creative jobs. But its only interns who are able to be supported by their parents, who can afford to work for free.

Jonathan Akweyue referred to some creative industry apprenticeships that are starting to bring more diversity to the blue chip work force. Fresh from his visit to Livity to meet the Livity & Google Advantage apprentices, he raved about how brands are partnering with organizations to radically change the status quo. Inspired by the experience at Livity when he met 15 brilliant digital natives from opportunity backgrounds, he shared how he really thinks apprenticeships are the future – a way to bring diverse, differently advantaged talent into a once rigid system.

Clever advertising entertains, engages and informs – and the really good stuff not only makes consumers feel good about themselves, but produces brand ambassadors and a sense of loyalty that keeps brands in business. Imagine how much stronger advertising creative could be if the team behind it brought a mixture of knowledge, ideas, cultural references (and code us adults don’t understand) from the multi-cultural, multi-gender, multi-ability generation who because of the situation they have found themselves in, are revolutionizing society, culture, education and economics.

Diversity is the fuel for change that challenges status quo and in the advertising industry offers a deeper connection with audiences. This can only be good for business.

Check out the Ideas Foundation’s 10min DIA film and follow them on twitter for updates.