As of May 2022, I’ve been working professionally in the advertising industry for 18 years, and never was my mental health tested more than when the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery occurred, sparking civil unrest in the Summer of 2020.
People had been home for months because of COVID-19 and, for what felt like the first time, were truly able to experience the injustice an entire race of people face daily. Every color, shade, and tone of people took to the streets to make their voices heard. They also started holding brands more accountable during this time.
One after another, brands released messages stating they were with “us” and assured consumers they recognized what a critical time in the nation’s history it was. In addition, they vowed to look inward at their brand’s diversity and inclusion practices and promised to grow their diversity inside and out through their advertising and programs.
During this time, I worked for some of those brands — brands who never showed up for us during any other time in their company’s history. It gave me a critical peek at how ideas and creative thinking surrounding a serious topic move throughout a large organization.
This time, something felt different. Brands seemed to have enormous enthusiasm and energy for reaching out to cultural agencies to help them “get it right” regarding diversity in their advertising, outreach, or internal programs. It was an extraordinary time. Imagine the tremendous conflict my Black co-workers and I faced; hope that things had finally reached a tipping point mixed with outrage, pain, and mistrust. Unfortunately, while navigating that conflict, we also had to deal with those brands demanding multiple rounds of grueling revisions they didn’t know how to get approved internally or were too afraid to implement.
My team members and I worked grueling hours for these brands because we felt our duty was to help push them to show up in significant ways for the culture — to force them to see us as partners. Our commitment was tireless, while it feels theirs was transactional. We loved the energy but it fizzled out fast. In fact, brands were utterly tone-deaf and ended up making our lives hell. It honestly felt we were working FOR them and not WITH them. They said they wanted to help but they did the opposite.
Two years later, we’re here with me asking those and other brands:
1. Are we brave enough yet to get more impactful and creative ideas into market for the benefit of the culture?
2. Why are we not holding these brands accountable?
3. What role do we as Black consumers play in brands not following through on their commitments to the culture?
Let’s talk. I’m asking these questions because I genuinely care, am open and curious, and want to learn how we can best push things forward for the culture that drives everything.
Are we done yet? (Not a chance in hell)