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Will the ad industry ever be truly representative?

Updated: 4 days ago

The advertising industry has done plenty of talking about the need to bolster the proportion of its employees from ethnic minorities. Its businesses are happy to support initiatives and hold events. It has done well to broaden the profiles of the people entering the sector at the start of their careers but the ethnic diversity at senior levels remains stubbornly low. How can the industry move beyond lip service, expand the diversity of its ranks and meaningfully reflect the country at large?

Asad Dhunna, CEO of The Unmistakables, joined Campaign’s diversity roundtable to discuss how industry attitudes have changed over time, and what the future looks like for ethnicity in adland. The following is an excerpt from the roundtable condensed and edited for clarity.

Campaign: How have attitudes to ethnic diversity in this industry changed in the past 10 years?

Asad Dhunna (AD): Things have definitely changed in the 12 years or more that I’ve been in the industry. I think there’s certainly more visibility of black and brown people within the industry. And there’s a lot more conversation around where the blockages are, what that looks like. Compared to other industries that we work with, I’d say adland can fall into a bit of “talking a good game” versus actually doing what it needs to.

[...] I’m hearing a lot around the industry about whether adland is a culture leader or a culture follower. That is the crux of a lot of the issue right now. Do these agencies or do the brands that employ them want to lead culture or are they trying to follow culture?”

The Advertising Association’s All In Census found a higher proportion of black and Asian people than white people said they would consider leaving the industry due to discrimination. Does that surprise you?

AD: What you’ve got to do is think, what’s my three- to five-year theory of change? And what are the systems that I’m prepared to change around the power that I’ve got? So if you’re a brand owner, it’s thinking, “Well, where does diversity inclusion, racial ethnicity equity fit within my brand? And, how am I going to prove that up to the board to say this is important?” When it comes to agencies, a lot of that which has been well documented lately is about the business model of agencies and how they work on selling time. If you went to someone and said “Let me talk about your business model, and how actually harnessing and understanding different people has helped you make more money”, that’s much more interesting.

What does the future look like for ethnic diversity in the advertising industry?

AD: By 2030 what I would love is that, actually, the systems and behaviours feel normalised. It feels like it’s not unusual to have a black or brown person as a CEO of a holding company. It’s not unusual to have people setting up businesses and thriving within it. It’s not unusual to look at a campaign and say that does reflect what it looks like right now. And having worked on the Tesco Ramadan and Eid campaigns over the last couple of years, those have been unusual because they’ve been first. They’ve been praised and they’ve been criticised in equal measure. If we’re living in a country, then we need this industry to step up and be able to be usual.

The full discussion is available to read at Campaign. To learn more about how we’ve been embedding equity, diversity and inclusion in the advertising and creative industries, check out our work with Cannes Lions


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