Why An Ethnically Diverse Creative Team Won’t Necessarily Win You A Cannes Lion

Why An Ethnically Diverse Creative Team Won’t Necessarily Win You A Cannes Lion

In his latest column, B&T regular and industry contrarian, Robert Strothfeldt from Strothfeldt Consulting, takes on the rather contentious issue of creating more ethnically diverse creative teams and why, he believes, the rewards may be overstated. We’ll let you be the judge…

Robert Strohfeldt
Posted by Robert Strohfeldt

(The views expressed in this opinion piece are the views of the author and not those of B&T.)

Firstly, let’s define creativity in the context of advertising and marketing, as there are many forms of creativity.  In terms of marketing and advertising, creativity encompasses both the artistic and the entrepreneurial. What does a great writer, art director, entrepreneur/salesperson have in common? (Sorry marketers, but you are salespeople. Marketing exists to sell.)

Empathy. And empathy has nothing to do with ethnicity, sex, religion, sexual preference – it cuts across all divides.

Everyone is probably “Trumped Out” by now, but leave out the emotion and look clinically at the whole event (lead up, result and events since) and it provides a fabulous case study on the basics of sales and communications. (A new concept for many – try and think objectively).  Trump wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. It was a huge, gold and diamond encrusted dessert spoon. His father was one of the richest men in the US. He has never had to struggle or go without. He was so far removed from the people he appealed to he may as well have lived on another planet. But he had empathy. He knew instinctively how so many in the US felt and what they wanted – he sold Hope. He also proved once again a basic tenant of advertising – WIIFM, what’s in it for me. And in doing so, stuck to his core message of Make America Great Again. It was an emotive pitch, but emotion will always top logic.  This hasn’t changed since people began walking upright.  I have said many times that Shakespeare is not still widely taught just to torture young minds. The Bard captures the base human emotions that drive us all, be it 1596 or 2016.

“People are different today”.  How many times have you heard that?  Admittedly, it does tend to come from people who weren’t around in the “pre-digital” age. But ours is an industry that doesn’t place a lot of value on experience, so unfortunately too many marketers have only first- hand knowledge of the current environment.  (Anyone who had experience of market research in the 1980s and compared it to the present would know why so many research studies are flawed. The samples, to use a scientific term, are “fucked”).

There is now so much bullshit being said and written about diversity in creative departments. Just recently, the CMO of one of the world’s largest advertisers ranted about seeing too many white males in creative departments. He wanted diversity to ensure creativity. The closest this guy gets to creativity is in his dress sense – “look at me, I must be creative”.

Bob Dylan is a white male from the Rust Belt of the USA. But that did not preclude him from becoming one of the greatest song writer/poets of all time. Put Leonard Cohen and David Bowie in there as well. In Bowie’s case, he joked that he was a “closet heterosexual”.  As well as creative geniuses, they were all white males. (Cohen was from a Jewish middle class family whose maternal grandfather was a Rabbi. Holy fuck. Next time you are protesting outside a Max Brenner store, burn one of his CDs as well!) Their appeal was universal – they didn’t have to be black, gay, female or belong to any minority group to cut across divides and have mass appeal.  If these three guys turned up to meet the enlightened CMO, he would have dismissed them. Never mind much of their work was about unity and support for the down trodden.

They had the ability to touch the hearts of the masses and bring out compassion.

I suppose “Outta Compton”, was more representative? These guys were singing (for want of a better word) “Fuck the Cops”. A far more enlightened and empathetic anthem than “Give Peace a Chance.” (Another out of touch white male – John Lennon).

Harper Lee was a white woman. How dare she write about the trials and tribulations of being a black male in the segregated USA South?  (To Kill a Mocking Bird).

Creativity doesn’t discriminate. People do. Saying a creative department must be made up of the same proportions of females, LGTB and ethnic groups as the community at large is like saying that if a coin is tossed 10 times and doesn’t come up with 5 heads and 5 tails, then there is bias in the coin.

Pick people based on their talents, not quotas.  If you happen to have a white male creative director, judge him by his creative output. (And leadership skills). Positive discrimination is such a croc of shit. It is not the advertising industry’s responsibility to be a warrior for diversity. For so many professional service firms, diversity is nothing more than a merchandising opportunity.

The diversity warriors not only sell to companies the right to use a logo, they run, for a price, workshops on how to ensure diversity.

Pretty bloody simple really. Look at person’s ability, not their sex, sexual preference, skin colour or religion. I am going to stick my neck out here and say the reason why some people from the minority groups don’t make it is they lack broad empathy. They want and expect everyone to think and act like them. We have become so hung up on micro-targeting that many have forgotten that most brands and products must have mass appeal to succeed. And to do this, they need to be able to hone in on what the masses have in common i.e. the things that unite us, not the issues that divide.

I have just returned from a week in Indonesia, a majority Muslim country.  In percentage terms, they have the same number of fanatics that all societies have. But with a population of 250 or so million, though small in percentage, it is many individuals. And with the medias’ “if it bleeds it leads” mentality, we only see the small percentage of ratbags, not the 99% of people who are no different to us. I was there during the recent riots. People I met, both Muslim and Christian, called them “rent-a-crowd”. (Sound familiar?). Except in this instance it was literal.

The overwhelming majority of people in the world all want the same thing – to live in peace with their family. To have a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs.

The people I have seen agitating for diversity have one thing in common – a total lack of empathy. They decry violence and intolerance and do so by burning cars and beating up anyone who even looks like they may disagree with them.

Great creative starts with empathy, empathy that unites. Push the diversity button, which we have been doing in Australia for some time now and we end up with division. Donald Trump didn’t divide America; it was already divided. He used empathy to capitalise on these divisions to achieve his objective.

So, the next time a client has the audacity to criticise your creative department for its lack of diversity, show some of your agency’s best work and ask them to guess the sex, ethnicity and sexual preference of the creators.