Listen to Dan Wieden Talk About Minorities and Advertising

29 May

“Look in this room. How many black faces do you see?” -Dan Wieden

“Like it or not, in this business I essentially hire a bunch of white, middle-class kids, pay them enormous, enormous sums of money to do what? To create messages to the inner-city kids who create the culture the white kids are trying like hell to emulate. But if you go into the inner city, odds are these kids aren’t even going to see advertising as a possibility, as an opportunity for them. Now that’s fucked up.” -Dan Wieden

Listen to Dan Wieden’s speech yesterday at the AAAA convention. Recently, the AAAA came under fire about the industry’s lack of minorities. I’m really glad that he chose this topic and I appreciate his honesty. It’s refreshing. And I believe he is on the right path. I am so glad someone as famous and as influential as Dan Wieden is reaching out to young kids when there is an opportunity to influence them in a positive way.

Dan Wieden speaks at the AAAA conference

Dan Wieden speaks at the AAAA conference

This topic is a very important one. While some agencies are making efforts–including Arnold’s AMEN program and Wieden + Kennedy’s many partnerships–there is still much to be done.

Everyone always talks about how nice it would be if there were more minorities and how it’s a good thing to do for the industry. I feel like the awareness of this issue has been raised. But if you really want to get more minorities in the industry, the industry as a whole needs to advertise itself as a viable career option.

I remember when I was at Brandcenter years ago, Mark Fenske once said if you end up in advertising, it’s by luck. I think this is still true.

Every once in awhile, I talk to young minority kids in high school who enjoy art and design or English. Whenever I tell them about being an art director or copywriter, they have no idea what it is. And as soon as I explain what it is and what advertising is about, it’s like this light bulb goes off.

As a predominantly white industry, many white students have friends or family members who are in or were once in the industry so they have an inkling of an idea about what advertising is about. For many minorities, this isn’t the case. And this is especially true among Asians.

I think the industry needs to reach out to students way before they reach college. They need to advertise to high school students. By doing so, kids that would otherwise major in fine art or English could then begin considering advertising as a major.

On a personal note, while I would like to see more faces of color in the workplace, I struggle with this, because I don’t see enough minorities in senior or management positions. While I don’t want to go there–and yes, I can see your eyes rolling–it concerns me that yes, we can get minorities in. But then what? Tell them to fend for themselves? How will they get through the glass ceiling?

As a copywriter that happens to be mixed, I try my best to mentor other young minorities. While I don’t think I’m the best person for the job–I’ve been at Arnold Worldwide for almost 5 years and I am still a copywriter, although I have about 8-9 years of copywriting experience–so it’s hard for me to say yes, work your butt off and you will move through the ranks.

Advertising is still traditional. It’s old school trying to become new school–especially now that social media is taking off. And while getting minorities into the industry is important–if you’re a minority reading this–do not expect the color of your skin to give you any unfair advantages. You will have to work hard to prove yourself. Yes, you must show them you have what it takes.

And when the room looks at you like a fucking moron for not knowing some famous American proverb–we can’t see the forest through the trees for example–don’t blame your Korean mother for not teaching you. Do not feel inferior. Do not let anyone make you feel like shit. Take a deep breath and let it go.

And when an ad agency asks you to work on an ad targeting blacks and Hispanics, because you’re a “minority” and then declares you a “minority expert” because you have naturally tan skin, do not get angry. If you seriously feel uncomfortable, tell someone. The same goes for working on a cigarette account. If you feel comfortable, do your job and show them that you’re talented enough and you’re up for the challenge. But make sure you stand up for yourself. Protect your reputation. It is you most valuable asset. Do not march into the client meeting pretending to be a “minority expert.”

After my father died when I was four, my mom always told me, “now you have to work twice as hard.” As I try to move forward in my advertising career, this is still true.

One day, I truly hope to personally know at least 15 Asians in advertising. And one day, I also hope to have a senior-level Asian creative female as a mentor. (I know you’re out there somewhere.)

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