A lesson on diversity in advertising... from the 70s

M&C Saatchi smashed its way back on to the political advertising stage last week with its first Conservative ad of this general election campaign. The Tories are currently fundraising to put it on billboards around the country. Meanwhile, the Labour online video that followed, featuring David Cameron debating David Cameron, was fun and spiky, even if it not brilliantly executed. A great backdrop, then, for Sam Delaney’s recently released book, Mad Men & Bad Men, which featured in Campaign last month.

Mad Men & Bad Men is very readable and I’ve enjoyed dipping into it on my journey to and from Campaign Towers. One of the things in it that struck me is how 70s and 80s adland is portrayed as a place where people from all walks of life could excel. It was an industry in which the Delaney brothers, Terence Donovan and Sid Roberson made good. Delaney contrasts that with the 90s, when the mechanic’s son Trevor Beattie didn’t fit the "slick-suited stereotype".

A topic that people have talked to me about more often over the past year is socio-economic diversity. If young creatives have to work for free for an average of 18 months before they get their first proper job, then the industry is limiting its catchment area. And kids from wealthy homes within a short train ride from London are at an even greater advantage than before. Initiatives such as The Ideas Foundation are great, but the industry could be more co-ordinated.

If creatives have to work for free for 18 months before their first job, the industry is limiting its catchment area

Ahead of International Women’s Day last Sunday, there were many events, summits and, dare I say it, afternoon tea parties to highlight gender diversity. This morning, the Advertising Association is holding an event at News UK on the wider issue of diversity in advertising featuring the Paralympian Sophia Warner and McCann London’s chief executive, Zaid Al-Zaidy. That will be followed by another event during Advertising Week Europe.

Among the stats in the AA’s The Whole Picture report last year were that 90 per cent of the industry is white and 70 per cent of ethnic minorities who work in advertising are in support disciplines. That second finding is from 2003, so hopefully outdated, but it’s still shocking. It’s disappointing that fairness and equality aren’t good enough reasons to improve the situation but, as Al-Zaidy says, there is a strong commercial case too.

There is a long way to go on ethnic diversity, but at least things are heading in the right direction (although that’s not an excuse to slow down). Is the same true in terms of people from working-class backgrounds? There is so much to gain by trying harder to widen the net. I hope the AA starts making the case for diversity in all its forms with as much energy and rigour as when promoting the economic value of advertising.


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