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Black History Month: three campaigns that made us sit up and watch

In celebration of Black History Month in October, our Diversity and Inclusion team have highlighted ad campaigns that have moved the dial when it comes to race representation in advertising.

Our industry revolves around creating campaigns that resonate with key audiences, yet ‘ensuring diversity’ can feel like a very challenging area.

On the one hand we don’t want to be strategically ‘placing’ diversity as it may seem an act of tokenism, while on the other hand, we may find barriers to change. But by not challenging the creative, we risk perpetuating misinformed stereotypes. That means the decision-making can quickly become uncomfortable and we retreat back into our comfort zones, without redirecting or progressing outdated narratives.

Here are just a few examples of brands that have addressed diversity, providing inspiration for your next campaign. Enjoy!

    –  Claudette Malone, Diversity and Inclusion Champion

Ellie Madgwick, Strategist chose: Dream Crazier by Nike, featuring Serena Williams

Serena Williams, arguably one of the greatest athletes of all time, has been on the receiving end of criticism attached to racist tropes throughout her career. When she was competing in the US Open final in 2018, she disagreed with the umpire about a crucial decision. Showing her frustration (as indeed many men have done before in similar situations) – she was labelled as ‘furious’ and ‘aggressive’ in a slew of opinions from mostly white commentators that perpetuated the ‘angry black woman’ trope.

What I like about Dream Crazier, which premiered at the Superbowl the following year, is that it is, at times, a riposte to her critics (“if they call you crazy, show them what crazy can do”) all whilst celebrating her phenomenal achievements. It’s an emotive response to her critics that seeks to flip that sort of racial stereotyping on its head. Commentators even speculated that she would lose a number of her brand endorsement deals as they would no longer want to be associated with her. The fact that the advert is part of her wildly successful partnership with Nike makes it even better.

Emma Lea, Strategist chose: Diversity at Christmas – The Greatest Gift, Sainsbury’s

 

I was very excited to write a piece about advertising for Black History Month.  Straight away I knew that I wanted to talk to you about the British equivalent of Superbowl TV advertising – Christmas.

In 2016 a few of the nation’s big brands took a step in the right direction in creating more ethnically diverse ads; John Lewis, Sainsbury’s, Boots and Currys PC World to name a few. I personally loved, the Greatest Gift from Sainsbury’s; a charming animated and musical advert featuring a mixed-race family, which was praised for representing a true reflection of modern British families. 

But why was 2016 a turning point? Dare I say the B-word – yep, Brexit?  Perhaps these brands were making a subtle, yet political statement about their values as a business at a time where Britain’s own diverse culture and values were torn apart through the Brexit vote. And your Christmas ad would be the perfect opportunity to give this airtime.

Adam Pett, Senior Account Director chose: Burrell McBain Advertising – Coke adds life, Coca-Cola 

As part of Black History Month I wanted to understand more about the role the advertising industry has played in championing black culture and challenging racial stereotypes.

I was fascinated to learn about Tom Burrell and Emmett McBain who jointly opened Burrell McBain Advertising in 1971 and started pioneering targeted advertising, creating ads that were directed at black people and that featured elements of black culture. Rather than exploit Black Americans, Burrell and McBain aimed to form authentic and respectful relationships with Black audiences.

They achieved great success signing major brands like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola as clients.

Tom Burrell became famous for a phrase that he used to explain to his clients his agency’s different approach: “I had to convince clients to understand that black people are not dark-skinned white people,” Burrell explains.

“Sometimes when you start talking to people about race and differences, implied in that is some kind of subordination, so I had to convince them that you can be different and equal, and that there are cultural differences that should be part of advertising aimed at a black cultural group, such as music.”

I think this carries particular resonance in today’s society where showing people of colour in advertising is not the same as understanding and reflecting their experience.

 

is a Senior Account Manager in the Pharma team and Pegasus’ Diversity and Inclusion Champion. She is a public relations professional with more than 17 years’ communications experience across a variety of roles within the private and public sector in healthcare, public health, wellbeing and major incident emergency response.