Beyond Allyship and Appropriation: An Alternative Future for Advertising and Media

The founders of Ethel's Club, Minorities in Sports Media and Trillfit weigh in

To be Black in America is to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and to love a country that doesn’t always love you back. But it’s our highs and our lows that put the sauce on everything we touch. One does not exist without the other. This is exactly what advertising companies that attempt to use a black Instagram square or African-American vernacular English in a caption get wrong every time. And hiring a Black model for a campaign designed by a monochrome team is no different—it’s just another attempt to impersonate the culture. 

What would advertising and media look like if Black talent were as supported as our culture is embraced? I posed the question to three Black women entrepreneurs who have stayed true to themselves. Their brands properly represent an aspect of Black culture and in turn reflect what a more inclusive future could look like. Advertising companies looking to embrace Black talent and voices need to heed their words of wisdom. 

Naj Austin, founder, Somewhere Good and Ethel’s Club 

Advertising and media want to tap into “underground” Black culture, but they are not a part of it. So they sort of take it and water it down a little bit and then kind of spit it out through the advertising and media flywheel. I think it would be really compelling to give power and money to Black voices and creators and allow them to dream their wildest dreams and create, because when we are allowed to do that, we’re able to create really amazing things. It’s always been important to me to create pathways where Black people can create whatever they want, outside of the white gaze. There would be a lot more agency and a lot more honest reflection of what Black people want to be out in the world. 

Somewhere Good describes itself as “a family of brands centering people of color through community, arts, and culture,” and Ethel’s Club is a social and wellness membership club in New York City that centers people of color.

Shaina Wiel, founder, Minorities in Sports Business Network

I’ve worked in the multicultural advertising space, and you have all these people who come in with all these reports and what they think this target audience is going to want to see, or what’s going to speak to them, without actually hiring the people from that audience or really digging in to what that audience needs. Once the talent actually matters, then the advertising will be authentic. You’ll also definitely start to see a higher ROI, because brands will be able to connect better with all these audiences that they’re trying to reach. And if we want to throw stats in there, there’s Nielsen reports on how Black women are the most loyal consumer base. So imagine having actual Black women on these advertising teams who are able to speak to that audience who is the most loyal consumer base. Imagine what that looks like. 

The Minorities in Sports Business Network and its affiliates are a national invite-only digital hub of 1,000-plus (growing daily) sports professionals. MiS’ goal is to serve as the primary source for diverse men and women in the sports industry to connect, exchange resources, obtain insight, as well as to gain a competitive advantage in their careers.

Heather White, founder, Trillfit

One of the biggest things that we’re seeing right now with advertising and campaigns—post Covid-19, post the uprising due to George Floyd and just racial injustice—is that a lot of brands want to be a part of the conversation. A lot of brands are trying to be a part of the solution and prove that they’re not racist. However, what we’re seeing a ton of is performative allyship, and we’re not really seeing anything of true value. So if organizations that are using their current social platforms actually cared about Black voices and Black talent, hired them on their staff, uplifted them and gave them opportunity and space to build campaigns, they wouldn’t be in situations where they are now, where consumers are calling them out for being inauthentic.

Trillfit bills itself as “Boston’s original hip-hop workout party.”

Click here to read more of this special series: Black Is the Answer. Black Is the Future.