Two years ago, Dan Wieden was supposed to address the 4As Leadership Conference on the “new realities of global brands.” Instead, the Wieden+Kennedy co-founder did something unexpected, but highly in character: He used the forum to take the ad industry to task for its lack of diversity.
Wieden could have said something innocuous like “We need more multiculturalism” or “We need to make more of an effort to diversify our ranks.” But he took a much more direct approach. “I essentially hire a bunch of white, middle-class kids to create messages to the inner city. But if you go into the inner city, odds are these kids aren’t going to see advertising as a possibility, an opportunity for them,” he told the assembled crowd. “Now that’s fucked up.”
The speech put Wieden at the forefront of getting the U.S. ad industry to diversify its talent base. He’s done his best to move diversity and inclusion from a sideline issue to one that he believes should be front-and-center for every agency. “It’s a real issue,” he says. “I’m unclear why we haven’t been better at it. It’s not malicious. It’s just stupid.”
Wieden’s commitment to the problem has been long standing. In 1996, he started Caldera, a non-profit arts and environmental education organization and camp for at-risk youth which now also operates an adult program. Each year, Caldera reaches nearly 10,000 Oregon young people, helping them gain confidence through the power of creativity.
It is also critical that W+K “tries to lead by example,” Wieden says. For instance, the agency made two full-time hires and offered two internships from the Marcus Graham Project’s summer bootcamp, and it granted two summer internships from the Center for Excellence in Advertising at Howard University. At W+K Portland, where Wieden admits it is more difficult to find diverse candidates, the internship program is minority focused and more than 70 percent of minority interns since 2010 have been made into full-time hires.
He may have started the conversation, but Wieden believes, “We need to do more than talk. Conversation needs to turn into outreach, making this thing work. We don’t need a monoculture in this industry.”
Pioneering filmmaker. Social activist. Iconoclast. Knicks fan. Spike Lee has no shortage of monikers. But there’s another role that may be just as important: leading force in the ad industry.
In fact, Lee’s involvement in advertising goes back to the earliest days of his film career. As his first feature She’s Gotta Have It won the Prix de la Jeunesse award at the Cannes Film Festival and became a surprise art-house hit, Lee was approached by Wieden+Kennedy to work on its Nike Air Jordan campaign. It was a natural fit; Mars Blackmon, the character Lee played in the film, loved his Air Jordans more than just about anything else. Nike—and Jordan himself—took a big risk on hiring an unproven filmmaker to direct the high-profile spots. But it paid off—many credit those “gotta be the shoes” ads with boosting Nike into the powerhouse brand it is today.
The ads also helped established the Spike Lee brand, something Lee knew he would have to do to get attention for his work. Receiving the 2011 Lifetime Achievement award at this past summer’s PromaxBDA conference, he told interviewer Charlie Rose: “I can’t define [the Spike Lee brand]. But I knew early on, I’d have to create some kind of persona behind my name because companies weren’t going to spend millions of dollars to promote my films.”
In the mid-’90s, seeking a greater role in the ads he produced, Lee partnered with DDB to create SpikeDDB, a full-service agency concentrating on the urban/ethnic market. “I wanted more creative input,” he told TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles CCO Rob Schwartz in a video on MAD blog. “So that’s why I started my agency SpikeDDB.” The agency has done multicultural work for a range of brands, including McDonald’s, Pepsi and Chevrolet.
“Spike Lee brought real inspiration and insight to me and to all of us at DDB who sought to better understand and engage the urban culture,” says Keith Reinhard, chairman emeritus of DDB Worldwide. “We’re very proud of SpikeDDB and grateful for all the contributions that Spike himself has made to our understanding and to our business…Now if he can just get the Knicks to win their division this year.”