I’ve thought about writing about this taboo topic for a while, but refrained because I was being a bit chicken. Two things made me do it. Sir Charles wrote a post about it, and this thread on the BR forums. In writing a reply to that thread, I got a little of out of hand on the word count front, so here we go:
In the last 50 odd years the ethnic makeup of the UK has been in the midst of an unprecedented change (this isn’t unique to the UK, generally after WWII the then colonial powers ‘encouraged’ people out in the colonies to move back to their respective motherships – particularly to help out with the workforce that had been hit by war casualties), this change has led to significant social upheaval as ethnic minorities move up the social ladder as successive generations become more prosperous / better educated. You can look at accounting and medicine as examples of fields where half a century ago, professionals were almost exclusively ‘ethnic British’ where now, as an example – according to unofficial research by the Student BMJ (British Medical Journal) London, Manchester and Birmingham universities have more than 50% of their medical students classed as non-white.
So this social climbing has resulted in today ethnic minorities have more spending power. More than 30% of Britain’s richest 100 are ethnic minorities. So the question is what is adland doing about it? To get a piece of their spending power are agencies really in the minds of these consumers? Do they know what motivates them, what they aspire to, what they value? Can they know this when the vast majority (according to the latest IPA Diversity reports) of agency staff are middle-class and white? (And I’m talking about advertising focused staff – not support roles) And I mean really know them, not just ‘oh I listen to hip-hop/bhangra music / I went to uni with loads of asians/afro-carribeans etc’. Because you don’t fully get afro-carribean culture just because you listen to reggae. Please.
And if agencies are smart enough and self-aware enough (George Parker will say no at this point) to realize that they may not necessarily know this group of consumers well enough, what are they going to do about it? Commission more research? Or maybe think about how to attract these types of people to work for them so they can start to pick their brains about how best to approach them with their comms? In order to do this, agencies have to look at their HR departments and as ‘What are you doing to attract the best people’ because if you are looking for the best – you’ll find them, regardless of where they went to university / where they’re from (this leads onto a larger debate about how agencies approach hiring new blood, which I’ll be writing about on adgrads). Ethnic minorities will have, by 2011 300 billion of disposable income. Surely someone wants a piece of that pie, and is smart enough to try and get themselves equipped to go after it.
I’m not by any means suggesting that agencies are racist in their dealing and practices, only that now a large percentage of the UK’s prosperous are of ethnic minorities, and by definition the communications industry should be going out and communicating with them. That’s my 4p worth.
Race is only a dirty word when you let it become one.