At Black Enterprise’s “40 Best Companies for Diversity” conference on Monday, the magazine’s President and CEO Earl “Butch” Graves Jr. declared to a crowd of some 100 HR and diversity execs that the advertising industry is “licensed to practice racism” (according to AdAge). While an unsettling statement, it’s certainly not shocking, given the miniscule number of senior-level black execs represented in agencies across the land. In fact, just last week, 16 top execs from New York ad agencies were subpeonaed to testify for the city’s Commission on Human Rights specifically regarding the ad industry’s pathetic track record when it comes to placing blacks in senior positions.
Good point Butch, and thanks for making a HR folks nervous in their seats for a few minutes.
But his other main gripe–and the one I found curious–was his complaint about the measly number of marketing dollars spent on marketing to blacks. Sure, he does happen to run a magazine that’s lifeline is dependent on advertising aimed at black consumers. But that aside, he’s generally ticked that brands aren’t spending money to advertise to blacks. For example, he cites Chrysler’s 300C: while some 20% of the car’s customers are black, less than 20% of its ad budget is being applied to black marketing.
What struck me as strange is: since when is someone flattered that they are being marketed TO? Personally, when I see an ad on TV that’s geared to a late-twentysomething urban female (that would be, ahem, me) I usually tend to roll my eyes, feeling like a sucker for being seduced, even for a moment, by that tampon, dating service, or, you know–fill in the blank. It’s not like that marketer holds a special place in their heart for me; all they want is my dollar–any dollar that is–whether it be a dollar from a white chick, gay guy, or black father in the burbs.
I understand your frustration, Mr. Graves, for blacks not being represented in the workplace and your personal frustration for ad dollars. But my question to you is: since when do we, as a race, an ethnic, or religious group, look to marketers of all people to validate us? When marketers pick up on fiscally fertile groups like “evangelicals,” “soccer moms,” or “metrosexuals,” should we, as the individuals behind those blanket terms be FLATTERED or INSULTED that we’re now being recognized?