I keep going back to the Super Bowl.
It’s the biggest advertising audience of the year and gives those fortunate enough to create spots a piece of creative for their reels or portfolios that shows they can speak to a massive audience.
This year only four of the 61 ads were directed by women (Bryce Dallas Howard, Nina Meredith, Tatjana Green, and Victoria Rivera). All four women were white. Not one woman of color. From 2017 to now there have only been four female directors directing Super Bowl ads each year, amid proclamations from brands and agencies saying they would do better. Year after year. Meetings are scheduled, panels are created, and nothing has changed.
Above: The spots directed by women that aired during 2021's Super Bowl
It’s 2021, and that sad four has turned into a depressingly plateaued four. Similarly, only five spots were directed by men of color. So that leaves 52 spots by white men. After a year when agencies and brands shouted from the rooftops that they were for change and diversity, we ended up with the exact amount we had just a few years ago.
What happened? Where did this all go wrong? Did they really go through their diversity training? Or did they just approve a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee and move on?
Was Elizabeth Banks really unavailable for any of these comedy pitches this year?
Almost every agency sent out massive press releases touting in-house Diversity Officers and their commitment to change. Is there a threshold at ten diversity spots? Do agencies think the public can’t possibly stomach more than four female directors and five men of color? I’m genuinely asking.
When it comes to the Super Bowl, the most-watched work of the year, maybe they couldn’t trust diversity. They couldn’t trust change. They couldn’t trust broadening the scope of talent. I think there is a perception that if you put diversity in front of the camera, you don’t need to change up who’s behind the camera or handling post. While on-screen diversity can give the illusion of diversity, at the end of the day, nothing has changed, despite the industry singing about their commitment to diversity from the pages of trade magazines.
Above: The spots directed by men of color that aired during 2021's Super Bowl
There were some spots where you just know the director is the perfect choice. Craig Gillespie for Jimmy Johns was perfect, Andreas Nilsson gave TurboTax and Klarna his very unique brand of weird. But can you honestly look at some of these spots and say there is no way Kim Gehrig couldn’t have done an insanely good job with that premise, that budget? That Melina Matsoukas couldn’t have pulled at least ten of these ads off with power and emotion? Was Elizabeth Banks really unavailable for any of these comedy pitches this year? Could you imagine what Indeed would have looked like if Pamela Adlon directed the piece?
It’s time to stop having meetings about diversity and it’s time to make different decisions. It’s literally that easy.
Women accounted for 100% of jobs lost in December 2019. Black and Latina women were disproportionately affected by this job drop. Do you think that bringing the perspective of a single mother with children in the conversation would change how these ads felt? There are women out there with impressive portfolios of work to back up their talent, their ability, but what is it about women that says to the ad industry that they are not worthy, that they would be a risk or unable to handle the job? If you truly feel a spot needs to be directed by a man, why not a man of color? Haven’t you seen Bradford Young’s work? Haven’t you felt it?
We don’t need to save those hires for the poorly-funded, diversity fluff pieces; we can actually hire them for a job with a real budget that will further actual representation in the general market.
At first, I had a theory. The lack of diversity had to be because production was harder this year and hands were constantly tied due to COVID, so agencies and producers wanted to default to the tried-and-true hires. People who had a lifetime of experience so clients would feel comforted by their familiarity.
But then I went to the credits and there were so many random choices that my theory was totally debunked. It wasn’t that brands weren’t taking chances...they just weren’t taking chances on diversity.
Having different points of view and different cultures represented in ads will only enhance the work. It’s time to stop having meetings about diversity and it’s time to make different decisions. It’s literally that easy. Invite diverse directors into the bidding process and just make a different decision.
If you truly feel a spot needs to be directed by a man, why not a man of color? Haven’t you seen Bradford Young’s work? Haven’t you felt it?
We are stuck in a cycle of making change so difficult and feeling so revolutionary when we hire someone diverse, and remarkably talented, to do a job. Hiring competent, brilliant people is not revolutionary. We don’t deserve a pat on the back or recognition for hiring someone diverse. We don’t need to save those hires for the poorly-funded, diversity fluff pieces; we can actually hire them for a job with a real budget that will further actual representation in the general market.
While on-screen diversity can give the illusion of diversity, at the end of the day, nothing has changed, despite the industry singing about their commitment to diversity from the pages of trade magazines.
The one shining light about this year is that there were many more women and minority-owned companies in the mix, and I don’t want to diminish how important that is. As a minority business owner, you have to fight so much harder to get the talent and the opportunities. It truly matters as much as the talent itself.
It’s time to stop talking about change and create it. I’ll even give you a socially distanced pat on the back if it helps, but just fucking do it.