The advertising and marketing fields have been grappling with the issue of diversity for a long time now. Tanner Colby also tackles the issue in an interview with Ad Age magazine, promoting his new book Some of My Best Friends Are Black, which deals with integration across the U.S. It should be noted that Colby, who has also published two previous books about John Belushi and Chris Farley, isn’t black. He was inspired to do the book after he noticed the he didn’t have any African-American friends.
Colby spent nine years as an ad copywriter before he became an author. Research shows that there are barriers to blacks pursuing a career in advertising. Among them, lower pay and the persistent belief that African-American marketers can only specialize in areas that target other African Americans. In other words, it’s a niche.
“I can tolerate it and make money and hang out and figure out what I’m going to do, but for black people to want to be a cultural ambassador in an all-white world, it’s a cultural business, you’re going to run into those difficult questions of who do we cast in this commercial and why. Unless you like being the black person who is comfortable tackling those issues then you’re not going to stay, whereas I don’t have to deal with that as much,” he tells the magazine.
At another point in the interview, he says that minority agencies (“set asides,” he calls them) were created “to keep blacks out of the main industry.”
The advertising world doesn’t just suffer from a lack of diversity, but a cultural segregation that goes beyond race.
“The fallacy of the diversity movement is that they say we’re going to capture all this new diversity, but the only diversity that really works are people who are already acculturated into the industry,” Colby adds.
While he says that the Internet has changed things by moving people through all sorts of websites and topics irrespective of race, the problem of attracting talent and changing the mindset persists. Moreover, evolution needs to happen on all sides — at the big agencies and the multicultural ones. You can read all of the Q&A here.