Dr. Pepper once asked ‘What the worst that could happen?’. A question which Pepsi has apparently found the answer to. If you are a citizen of the internet, you will have seen #PepsiGate – I’ll spare you my own description.
I also don’t feel that I have the right to dwell on my personal feelings about this in print – this in itself is a form of appropriation. (If this statement confuses you, then please read up about intersectionality at your earliest convenience). I want to respond as an advertising practitioner, so revelling in others' mistakes isn’t the point.
Twitter bitching aside, what can we do?
Don’t talk about diversity, BE it
This point is not new but we need to make our agencies representative and inclusive in their culture and in their make-up. Representation and inclusion are the only way to kill tokenism and appropriation.
Our advertising should sell products, make emotional connections, delight, persuade and entice, whilst reflecting societal norms. There are times where we should overcorrect too, but this should rarely be the point of the advert. If diversity is the point, you had better know what that point is and why your brand has the right to make it.
Embrace the revolution
NO! NOT THAT REVOLUTION! Put the women’s march down and return the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag to the people immediately. Seriously guys… what have I told you about touching things that aren’t yours?
No, I’m talking about the consumer revolution. If one good thing has come from the recent PR #Fails we’ve witnessed, it’s that advertisers and marketers are being forced to realise the power of consumers saying no to adverts in real time. Ad blockers are on the rise, but we’ve been quite slow to respond. The fact that the whole internet mobilised within hours to get an advert taken off air is a pretty powerful thing.
Don’t let ‘diversity’ become a buzzword
We have arrived at a strange place when it comes to ‘diversity’ in advertising. A lot of excellent, purposeful work has made a legitimate cultural impact and changed minds along the way. BUT, as with all advertising trends, as soon as ‘purpose’ became a buzzword, an avalanche of work was produced that just did not have the right to talk to the subjects it appropriated.
Crucially, we cannot let this get in the way of being better. Hollywood is showing green shoots of change – it’s an outrage that it took until 2017 for Moonlight to break the 11 records that it did, but at least some ground has been made.
Advertisers and marketers are not Hollywood, but arguably our responsibility is greater! We are in charge of the biggest media vehicle in the world. Every single one of us bears the responsibility to make sure that our output is… just that… responsible. It’s easy to be better, we just need to be inclusive and make representative work.
So if the risk of a PR nightmare is ever brought up in a conversation; as a reason to not ‘take a risk’ when you are trying to represent diversity - WITHOUT IT BEING THE POINT OF THE ADVERT - do not let anyone get away with it. Empower yourself with information, educate them and fight.
We have a lot of work to do.
An opinion piece by Elle Graham-Dixon in her capacity as Marketing Society writer. Views expressed here are her own.