Voices

What creating a campaign about Black people taught me about representation in marketing

The creative lead on the launch campaign for Black Representation in Marketing shares what the campaign taught him about representation in marketing.

San Sharma

Associate Creative Director at Wunderman Thompson UK and creative lead for BRiM

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I’d posted the black square. I’d donated some money. I’d even broken lockdown to kneel down in a mass protest. But what had I done, really, to be an anti-racist ally in my life and work?

On May 4th, when BRiM (Black Representation in Marketing) launches, I’ll be able to say, proudly, that me and my company Wunderman Thompson were a part of constructing and launching an industry-backed initiative that’s all about turning good intentions into meaningful actions:

·       Bringing more Black people into the industry.

·       Removing barriers that privilege white people.

·       Enabling more Black people to thrive in senior positions.

·       Ensuring that Black people are fairly represented in the marketing we produce.

But as the creative lead on the launch campaign for BRiM, my involvement came not without some soul searching.

How could I fairly represent the Black community? How do we create a marketing campaign that doesn’t fall into the same old traps? And how can I ensure Black voices are heard in the creative process?

San Sharma, Associate Creative Director at Wunderman Thompson UK and creative lead for BRiM

While I’m invested in diversity, sitting on our Inclusion Council, and having experienced racism myself as a brown person, frankly, I’m not Black. How could I fairly represent the Black community? How do we create a marketing campaign that doesn’t fall into the same old traps? And how can I ensure Black voices are heard in the creative process?

What is BRiM?

BRiM is an initiative powered by a group of the world’s biggest advertisers and agency partners, leading members of the Black community, and industry diversity, equity and inclusion experts, backed by the Advertising Association.

The first phase of BRiM is the launch of a framework that can be applied by anyone in their day-to-day role, whatever their level, to improve Black representation in the marketing industry.

Launching BRiM 

Working with the ace creative team, Alex Jones and Emily Walker, we came up with the idea to channel the frustration of Black marketers and consumers into a creative expression that drives action.

That expression dramatizes how something’s not working in the marketing industry through a series of disruptive and disrupted marketing assets – buffering videos, glitching imagery, 404 ‘Black representation not found’ error messages.

The idea started with Alex, who talked about his own personal experience, waiting for change. The buffering animated icon that we see in the campaign is frustrating. “Good!” Alex said. “Because it’s frustrating for Black people not to see themselves represented fairly.”

 

I never could have dreamed I would see a campaign like this in my lifetime that reflects someone like me.

BRiM member

Reflecting the Black community

Alex’s wasn’t the only Black voice on the project. It was essential to hear from others – from BRiM’s advisory board, which includes Black industry professionals as well as experts on diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as Wunderman Thompson’s own ‘Roots’ employee resource group.

The advisory board helped us avoid pitfalls in our art direction and messaging. But it was our conversations with the Roots team that built upon the work, and helped it really resonate with the Black community.

Leanne Page, Programme Director at Wunderman Thompson and member of the Roots team, advised us not only to highlight the problems of Black representation, but also the benefits of working with more Black talent – telling authentic stories that unlocks broader and deeper engagement with more of the UK population.

When we presented the campaign to Brim, our efforts to work with the Black community didn’t go unnoticed. “I never could have dreamed I would see a campaign like this in my lifetime that reflects someone like me,” one member told us. “It is obvious to me that Black people were involved.”

Lessons learned

That feedback on our launch campaign meant a lot to us. But it wouldn’t have been possible without the input of Black talent.

For creatives developing campaigns for or about people that don’t look like or share experiences with you, reach out to those communities as early on in your creative process as possible. As the BRiM framework says, “ensure diverse opinions are baked in from the start”.

It was the personal experience of Black talent, the steer from Black industry professionals, and the builds from our own Roots community that helped our launch campaign feel authentic – because it is authentic.

The BRiM initiative and framework launches on Tuesday, May 4th, with the launch campaign appearing in press, out-of-home, digital and social. Visit the Ad Association website to learn more about BRiM and download the BRiM framework here: https://adassoc.org.uk/brim/

Guest Author

San Sharma

Associate Creative Director at Wunderman Thompson UK and creative lead for BRiM,

About

San has 20 years' experience writing for the web. Which sounds impressive until, in his own words, “you learn the first year was spent writing for the Dawson's Creek fan website I built on Geocities in 1999”. Since then San’s written for publications, including Enterprise Nation, for brands, including Microsoft and Samsung, for himself, and anyone who's interested. In 2014, he was discovered in what he suspects was a case of mistaken identity and invited to appear weekly on fledgling TV channel London Live. Presenting its tech news roundup that led to appearances on Sky and BBC News. From 2015 onwards, San’s worked in advertising, initially as a copywriter and now as a Creative Director.