Temple professor discusses advertising’s diversity issues

Bjorn Henriques, an advertising instructor, spoke about the topic on a Philly Ad Club podcast.

When Bjorn Henriques became an interactive sales manager for Comcast Spotlight in 2016, part of his job was to travel to 11 different sales offices locations.

At his first visits, he’d always ask: “Is everyone here today?” to point out that there weren’t any Black salesperson in any of the offices, said Henriques, an advertising instructor at Temple.

“I realized that there wasn’t any diversity until you got to the positions of assistants or secretarial work and that type of support work,” he said. “It was something that needed to be talked about.” 

In September’s episode of AdCast, a part of Philly Ad Club, a non-profit, trade association for advertising, media, and marketing professionals, Henriques discussed issues of diversity and inclusion in advertising. He created this podcast along with media professionals Melinda Ramos and Gary Shepherd, and the three of them serve on the Philly Ad Club diversity committee.

This problem of lack of representation for people of color goes beyond advertising board rooms, Henriques said. 

Using phrases like Cardi B’s coined term “okurrr,”a replacement of OK, in advertising rubs him the wrong way and makes it come off as insincere, he added.

“A lot of African American culture is pop culture, in terms of influence, you see it bubble up into the mainstream,” Henriques said. “Unless you have people of that culture in the room, working that out, it’s going to come across as inauthentic a lot of the time. In a worst-case scenario, it’s going to come off as offensive.”

Tayyib Smith, a senior member at the Philadelphia creative agency Little Giant Creative, has known Henriques since 2011.

There needs to be changes to the social, political system as a whole, Smith said.

“A lot of times we gather at polite tables and never make changes,” Smith said. “There has to be mandates in order to deconstruct inequality … the hack that’s going to deconstruct inequality has to be man-made and intentional.”

Diversity and inclusion initiatives in advertising speak to financial, social, and political policies that make up the society we live in today, he added.

“It’s really difficult to make any transformative change when you’re just doing things that represent optics, or making white-led institutions look better or feel better, not really creating any type of change,” Smith said. “It kind of speaks to the financial, social and political apartheid state that has more to do with intergenerational policies that created the structure that we work within today.”

Imyah Sommerville, a junior advertising major, said there is an issue with people of color being underrepresented in advertising board rooms.

“I don’t know why the industry is so white-washed,” Sommerville said. “It’s the ideal image when you think of some families and products that people want to see and a lot of times that correlated to being white.”

She added that diversity is something the industry needs to continue working on, but has been improving in recent years.

Henriques said he sees diversity in advertising as a way not only to avoid “backtracking and apologizing” from brands after missteps but as a way to benefit companies as a whole. It will keep Philadelphia’s advertising industry strong, he added. 

“To keep our pool robust and at a certain level and a certain standard, we have to focus efforts on building up the next generation and bring new talent into our industry,” he said.

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