In this week's member guest blog post we caught up with Shez Iqbal, Director of Publisher Partnerships and Global BIPOC Co-Community Leader, Criteo to find out what brands need to know ahead of Black History Month's 100th Anniversary.
Originated in the US in 1926, Black History Month took more than 60 years to materialise in the UK in its current form.
While undoubtedly a move in the right direction for its time, in 2022 the concept of a Black History Month provokes key questions about the state of diversity and inclusion across the UK; shouldn’t Black history be woven into the fabric of British history? Should we really have a set month to celebrate it? Do we celebrate it in the right way?
It’s clear a more nuanced conversation is required, not least when it comes to advertising. To support this, Criteo held a series of talks and panels with leaders from the advertising industry. Here we summarise some of the key takeaways from Criteo’s BIPOC Community panel discussion with Media For All, hosted by Director of Publisher Partnerships, Shez Iqbal.
From The Little Mermaid to James Bond, the conversation about Black representation in blockbuster films is as hot as ever. However, Criteo’s Jessica Luzemo warns brands to be careful about the characters and personalities they create, “so often you see the runner, the athlete, the rapper et cetera, but among these needs to be the astrophysicist, the politician, as well as everyday people.”
Choosing the person who’s not well known gives communities who rarely see themselves represented in the media an important stake in the ground, not to mention the impact on their relationship with the brand whose name accompanies that memory.
“Who doesn’t like seeing someone who looks like them in a movie or on the front cover” quipped Darren Sital-Singh of Studio PI, “but the fact is most crews behind the camera are still predominantly white.”
The importance of representation within the brand cannot be understated. One of the most interesting developments in this space is the number of studies highlighting the improved performance of diverse teams. Simon Haynes of Havas Lyons Group quoted McKinsey research revealing it’s statistically proven outputs are 35% higher on average among businesses that embrace diversity in the decision making process.
Ali Syed of ZoomInfo picked up on the pitch process, which so often fails to make any stipulation about the diversity of the team responding to a brief. “While unseen, I think it’s a really powerful way to drive change in how you operate and ensure every campaign is centred around people who understand the subject matter best.”
Black publishers can be a fantastic help to brands unsure of how to bring their ideas to market when they’re in the planning stages.
As the founder of The Grape Juice, a leading urban news publication, Sam Ajilore reflected on the fact he has yet to be approached by a brand looking for his consultation on how to engage his readership. Rather, he drew from his recent experiences being approached by brands with very grime oriented briefs looking for a “rapping mascot”, where a more granular approach would reveal savvier partnerships with Rihanna or Beyonce, who produce far greater resonance with Black audiences.
Ali Syed raised the important question of profiteering as brands refocus on the Black pound. It’s all too easy to join in the clamour of the moment, but when a brand’s subsequent actions don’t empower Black consumers to improve products based on their needs for instance, a question must be asked about authenticity.
The solution here is in considering if and where a connection can be made the drives meaningful benefit and opportunity for Black communities. “There’s so much potential for brands to more directly connect with consumers and give them the chance to educate the business in a way that positively grows the brand” Ali explained.
One sector which takes full advantage of the opportunity presented by the diversity of thought is pharmaceuticals. As Simon Haynes recounted from his campaign experiences, “they’re acutely aware of the discrepancies in healthcare provision to the degree the conversation about representation simply isn’t needed, it’s the modus operandi.”
Whether its the specialised hair and skin requirements of women from ethnic minority backgrounds or something universally relevant like common cold remedies, representation is woven into every creative; a benchmark for all brands to aspire to.
Finally, it’s one thing to make a host of commitments each year as October comes around, but what matters is how you deliver on them. Sam Ajilore has noticed a trend of companies speaking about their value or what they’ll achieve but in many cases last year’s promises have simply “fallen by the wayside”.
More often than not this the product of myopic thinking at the campaign planning level. To escape the vicious cycle of promise and re-promise, brands should take all of the above into consideration when planning and embed the delivery of real change throughout the organisation, from top to bottom.
Perhaps, as Darren Sital-Singh points out, “the need to talk about it in October takes away from the need to talk about it all through the year.”