Inside the Ad World’s Diversity Revolution: Monday’s First Things First

A special edition about six weeks of rapid change

Headshot of Jameson Fleming

Welcome to First Things First, Adweek’s daily resource for marketers. We’ll be publishing the content to First Things First on Adweek.com each morning (like this post), but if you prefer that it come straight to your inbox, you can sign up for the email here.

8 Minutes and 46 Seconds Lead to Change Across the United States

Coming out of the Fourth of July holiday, we wanted to deliver a special newsletter this morning looking back at six weeks of rapid change in the industry following the death of George Floyd (to see all of Adweek’s coverage of Diversity and Inclusion, bookmark our landing page for D&I stories). Tomorrow, we’ll be back with a standard edition of First Things First.

Brands Respond to Floyd’s Death and Black Lives Matter

Brands have increasingly inserted themselves into hot-button issues, helping drive society forward on issues like LGTBQ rights, climate change and voting rights, but rarely have they spoken up on the topic of racism. A number of brands ignited conversations by declaring their support for Black Lives Matter, but advocates pleaded for them to do more than just a release statement—they wanted action.

Many immediately did just that, which consumers widely supported. Some brands like PepsiCo and Nike’s Jordan Brand ultimately made nine-figure donations to causes that fight racial injustice. P&G produced a powerful ad imploring white America to help stamp out racism.

As the movement expanded, Americans started putting all facets of society under the microscope to call attention to items that perpetuate systematic racism. HBO Max pulled Gone With the Wind, while networks canceled police shows Cops and Live PD. Brands dumped mascots from the Jim Crow era. PepsiCo took action first, announcing after it would replace Aunt Jemima. Uncle Ben’s, Eskimo Pies and more soon followed. And in the NFL, investors put pressure on brands associated with the Washington Redskins like Nike, FedEx and PepsiCo to force the team to change its offensive name. Shortly after, Nike and FedEx took action to encourage the team to change its name.

Brands have also been putting pressure on Facebook, which has taken little action to stop hate speech from President Donald Trump. What started as a boycott to advertise on the platform by The North Face has morphed into a movement involving hundreds of advertisers, including some of the platform’s biggest spenders.

Agencies Take a Hard Look at Themselves

It started with 600 Black ad professionals penning a letter demanding the industry take 12 steps to make it more equitable (Saturday Morning also penned a powerful letter asking the agency world to protect Black lives). Many agencies immediately started committing to actions in the letter. We spoke with the CEOs of five major holding companies about how they will hold themselves accountable on addressing systematic racism. As agencies released diversity data, it became clear that minorities were underrepresented across the agency networks. At Dentsu Aegis, Black employees made up just 2.5% of management. IPG revealed 2.6% of executives are Black, while just 1.9% of senior leaders at Publicis Groupe are Black (the network released that data, along with seven steps it’s taking to advance diversity and inclusion).

Nathan Young and Bennett D. Bennett, the founders of 600 & Rising, the nonprofit they formed after releasing the letter, found an ally in the 4A’s. In the weeks since the letter, the two have made an immeasurable impact on the agency world from the across the globe to Young’s own agency. French agency Rosapark is reevaluating its name after Young called attention to the shop’s name on Twitter. Young also led a walkout of five staffers at his agency, Minneapolis-based Periscope, after its parent company Quad, did not allow the agency to support #BlackLivesMatter on social media. Later, the entire agency joined the walkout and Quad publicly apologized for slowing the agency’s response.

Get Perspective From Experts

Adweek has published a number of first-person pieces from some of the industries brightest minds to help readers enact change. Here are nine of the most powerful: