The Impact the Lack of Diversity Has on the Advertising Industry

I think over these past few years the topic over the impact the lack of diversity in multiple mediums has on our society has been rapidly becoming more of trending topic, as it should be. This year thus far, for example, the public voiced many concerns and disapproval over the Academy Award’s lack of African American nominees for the Oscars for the second consecutive year. What was made evident was that the lack of diversity didn’t just falter in the nominations, but in the Hollywood industry as a whole; resulting in the shortage of opportunities for minorities to not just be nominated, but justifiably represented. Well what are the impacts of that? Why does it matter? Is it ethical? What are the problems and potential solutions? I think I can answer some of these questions if I focus on the impact the lack of diversity has on a specific and very familiar medium, something the public is exposed to every day from the moment they could begin to comprehend the world around them; advertising.

“In the United States, we are currently experiencing a heightened awareness of the increasing level of contact between diverse ethnic groups…Thus we must consider, for ourselves, for the way we navigate our social interactions, and for the manner in which we conduct business, how to best address the demands of a complex world compose of people from many different ethnic backgrounds,” Interethnic Ideology in Advertising (Chapter 5)
To understand the impact the lack of diversity has on the advertising industry, one should understand the impact the lack of diversity from advertisements have on an individual.
It wasn’t until I took a course titled “Race, Gender and the Media” in college that I realized I had been deprived of seeing my culture represented in the media, in television shows, in books, in movies, and for the focus of this blog post, in advertising. If I were to open a magazine, and flip through the pages I would argue I would get a higher number of Caucasian models than any other kind of person. But why is that a problem? Imagine growing up as a Mexican American girl, who straightened her wavy hair every day, had to shave her legs earlier because the follicles were darker, felt embarrassed when she mixed up Spanish and English, was uncomfortable admitting her grandmother made most of her clothes instead of being bought from the stores, felt judged for wanting to add spices and chile sauces to most of her food, or misunderstood when you aren’t allowed to attend sleepovers; because it wasn’t the societal norm to have thick dark wavy hair, big families, have an accent, value hand-me downs, or take for granted other people’s homes. But why did I get that impression?

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It wasn’t just from my classroom, my friends, but it was visible in the constructed illusion advertisements created that I had been absorbing even subconsciously from the moment I could comprehend the world around me. These are the kind of impacts advertisements can have on an individual, when the advertisement isn’t targeted towards the realities of a diverse society, the feeling of exclusion, segregation, discrimination, favoritism, inequality, and prejudice can occur among minorities because of the unjust representation. The effects concerning the impact from the lack of diversity from advertisements to individuals contributes largely to the impact the lack of diversity within the advertising industries themselves face.

“Advertising has proved to be the last frontier when it comes to reflecting societal changes. “There is a natural hesitancy to speak to where [consumers] are rather than lead them where they should go, because what if they say, ‘no’?” said Mr. Chambers,” in Ad Age’s article Ad Campaign Finally Reflects Diversity

Advertisements don’t just respond to need, they create demand; they do not just solve solutions to a problem a consumer may have, they create a solution to a problem they never even knew existed. As Mr. Chambers said, the advertisement industry has been the last to jump the positive bandwagon of reflection diversity because of the fear of the unknown; the industry has a comfortable niche of being used to ‘creating’ what people should want, where they should go; now the people are independently voicing where they see where advertisements should go too. I would argue majority of the public believes advertisements should have the ethical responsibility of representing our society in a just way, full of diversity, or else there wouldn’t be changes in the industry to begin with. There has been monumental and rapid changes to the radical transformation of the advertising industries to respond to the demand for diversity in their ads, however, while the industry talks about diversity in advertising, they lack diversity in their workforce.

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Which brings forth a very thought provoking question, the ethical theory of consequentialism; the advertisement industry is definitely bringing in more diversity into their ads and campaigns, but is that enough when the internal structure itself doesn’t reflect the diversity that they are trying to convey? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to have a diverse workforce putting together diverse advertisements because it would create more plausible authentic pieces of advertisement? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 582,000 Americans employed in advertising and communications in 2014, less than half are women, 6.6% are black or African American, 5.7% are Asian and 10.5% are Hispanic

“Diversity of thought is powerful. We need to become the industry that embraces a vast array of talent from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, while also making a real effort to recruit people of different cultural experiences, ages, genders, religions, sexual orientations and lifestyles. This will give us the insights and the skills to evolve alongside the massive demographic, technological and social shifts that we’ll see in the coming decades.” Gina Grillo in Advertising Industry Needs Diverse Leadership to Thrive

The advertisement industry is a way to communicate with consumers, the benefits of cultivating diversity internally as much as the attempts to do so externally are higher than any other medium attempting to do the same. There can be an increase in differentiating innovative ideas, various perspectives, and a general better understanding of society as a whole. The impact the advertisement industry can benefit from diversity is a two-way street, for the industry and the people, in both aspects of fairness, ethics and an effective business. I believe it is advertisements ethical responsibility to reflect society appropriately and justly, and if the industries don’t continue to hop on board with the changing demographics of the future, they will get left behind in an unrealistic illusion they have made for themselves.

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