How the Advertising Industry Can “Give Back”

Adweek’s been highlighting stories of various ad agencies that are using their creative power this holiday season to support good causes. And yes, the advertising industry is filled with people who are very creative, and very compassionate, and interested in making the world a better place.

So creatives in L.A. band together to auction off art they make to support an agency that helps homeless teens.

And W+K Amsterdam creates and promotes limited edition art for sale, under the “Give a F**k” theme, with proceeds going to an organization that helps save refugees’ lives at sea.

I know many people in the ad industry give of their time, talent and money to support social justice in many forms, from homelessness to refugees, to education, hunger and more. Yet, I can’t help but think about the even more powerful impact those in the ad business can have if they apply their compassion and awareness of the need for greater social justice in their day to day efforts.

We have the power to shape attitudes by who and what we show in our advertising. Across all media and brands. It should not be news to see multi-racial families in ads. Or people wearing hijabs or headscarves. Or more people of color in our “mainstream” ads.

You can find examples of all kinds of people in mainstream ads for mainstream products…problem is, they’re almost always tokens in the work. In 2015, there are far too many ads in which you can see the checklist: person of color? person with a disability? Gay? Okay, we’re diverse. What would happen if we ran more “mainstream” ads in which 90% of the people were people of color? That, too, is “mainstream.”

Normalizing people who are not white, or heterosexual, or cis, or yes, even male in positions of authority and power can go a long way toward making our culture more accepting of all the people living amongst us. And valuing all people as equals is a necessary first step toward social justice. What a powerful way for people in advertising to “give back.”

As Pierre Trudeau said, when asked why his first cabinet was comprised equally of men and women, “Because it’s 2015.”

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