Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Jay Richards: Advertising is broken and diversity is the solution

Jay Richards, NDA’s monthly columnist, is the Co-Founder of Imagen (previously DivInc), an agency helping brands collaborate with Gen Z through its pool of over 200,000 Gen Z individuals.

You’re on your flight to your LA, you stand up to stretch your legs and as you make your way through the plane you notice that one of the wings has a mechanical problem and is on fire. You ask yourself, how has no one noticed this? How have we got this far with such a massive glaring problem?

You run to ask for help from the flight attendants because you realise not only is your life in jeopardy but the lives of all the passengers onboard. As you reach the flight attendant they inform you, don’t worry it’s always been like that, it’s just the way it is and could you please return to your seat.

Confused but oddly reassured by their response you head back to your seat and continue your descent into eventual disaster. 

Dramatic right? It might be how my brain is wired but when I was thinking about the current state of our industry, this is the metaphor that came to mind. Advertising, it’s our beautifully flawed and yet powerful industry. We’re all on this flight, heading to the exact same destination but the plane is broken and on fire but we’re all just reassuring each other everything will be ok as we plummet to our doom.

What an opportunity, we can change countries and culture through what we create in ways that Governments and political leaders only wish they could. Whether with humour or brutal honesty we can alter the entire trajectory of a global conversation.

The archetype of a person working within our space is normally middle class and white (mostly male), which is great, if you’re middle class and white. If we could shrink the earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, 70 people would be non-white (source: UNICEF). To put it plainly, we live in a world that is 70% non-white, it’s time for our industry to reflect that world. 

The brutal murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and many others has shone a light on white supremacy like never before. I’m thankful for the open conversations I’ve been having with my white friends about our lived experiences. Of course COVID-19 has played a huge part in humanity having to face it’s racist past as we can no longer ignore the role slavery and systemic racism plays in our everyday lives.

I could write a million words about my thoughts on white supremacy and systemic racism but my mission in this column is to talk about one thing, diversity is good for your bottom line.

It is statistically proven that having a diverse group of people trying to solve a problem, create a campaign or just within a team is good for business. McKinsey reports that “companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity outperformed those in the fourth quartile by 36 percent in profitability.”

If a large percentage of our industry is hiring from the exact same pools of talent then it shouldn’t be a shock to us that we’re creating campaigns, products and services that look like carbon copies of each other.

Let’s just look at this numerically, if you and I were in a room with 100 other people and we needed to choose 10 people to create a campaign to appeal to the other 88, it would be statistically insane to not ensure that our 10 choices were truly diverse in all senses of the term. But this is what we have built, an industry where the minority are leading the charge.

I wish I could say diversity is a nice to have, but it’s a must have, if our industry is to avoid plummeting to it’s untimely demise somewhere over the North Atlantic Ocean. Diversity in our teams leads to diversity of thought which means we build beautiful branding, campaigns, products and services that actually appeal to the entirety of humanity and not a small subsection. 

The archaic concept of hiring from the same universities or hiring folks that all look the same just pours more gasoline onto our burning wings. We’re on fire with a busted wing my friends, it’s time to put the fire out and fix the problems we have, for all our sakes.

It’s time to be the creatives we all claim to be and dream up solutions to solve our collective problem, diversity.