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Minority Owned Advertising Agencies Shut Out on Game Day

Minority owned ad agencies struggle to be included as top contenders for Super Bowl Sunday ad spots.
The big game is Sunday. If you oversleep on Monday, it's best to tell your boss the truth.
The big game is Sunday. If you oversleep on Monday, it's best to tell your boss the truth.TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP - Getty Images

As viewer’s gear up for Super Bowl XLIX most companies have pre-released their advertisements, diverting from the sacred practice of holding them until game day. News broke on Wednesday that ad spots have sold out, costing up to $4.5 million dollars for a 30 second spot. One hundred million viewers are expected to tune in on Sunday.

With the recent success of primetime network shows featuring black actors in leading roles like "Empire" and "How to Get Away With Murder," and the rave reviews for first couple weeks of "The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore," the need for diversity in entertainment has taken center stage. Many are wondering if the advertising industry will be next.

There are only 161 black owned ad agencies in the United States according to the 2007 Survey of Business Owners. While that number has probably increased in the last eight years, there is a definite lack of representation in the ad world. Let’s look at the numbers of the audience in question.

Recent stats from the Census Bureau indicate that America is 77 percent white. Asians were the fastest growing group in the U.S. in 2014, also making up the largest share of recent immigrants. Pew Research Center projects that the Hispanic population will rise to 29% by 2050, making them the largest minority group in the United States. Views on same-sex marriage are rapidly changing with 52% of Americans in support.

Based on the above stats, minority owned ad agencies should have a seat at the table to further reflect America’s demographics and align with a more global outlook. But it’s probably easier said than done.

Ron Campbell, owner and CEO of Campbell Communications points out the most obvious problematic caveat. “People who create the advertising are primarily not black.” Campbell has had over 40 years of experience in advertising and whose company is a member of Multicultural Marketing Resources, a web directory for advertisers to connect with minorities in the advertising industry. “In some cases they say they feel some inclusion is going to help their sales. It’s not that they think these groups aren’t worthwhile consumers, part of it is that they just don’t know how to create an insightful strategy,” said Campbell.

UWG, also known as UniWorld Group, was created by Byron Lewis 47 years ago to counter the lack of diversity in advertising. In 2012, UWG hired Monique Nelson as the CEO, after working for the company since 2007. In 2014, Black Enterprise Magazine listed UWG as the number eight black owned ad company in the U.S. “We’re talking about a changing dynamic that won’t change on a dime,” Nelson said. With 100 million viewers, ad companies have the difficult task of making sure their messages are not only seen but received. They’re also “trying to figure out when is culture important versus when a broader message is most affective,” according to Nelson.

But there are companies that are giving it a try. Toyota’s “To be a dad” campaign profiles four black dads, football players, DeMarcus Ware, LaVar Arrington, Fred Jackson and Kurt Warner.

And the mobile company Mojo created a striking “Apocalypse Now” type ad that shows the end of the world, revealing that a black God caused the turmoil because, get this, his cell phone is dying.

Other black celebrities like Jennifer Hudson and Marshawn Lynch will also appear in Super Bowl ads. Looking ahead to Super Bowl 50, the planning committee for next year’s big show announced that they are extending contracts specifically for businesses owned by women and members of the LGBT community. Nelson is hopeful. "I think it's great. I think there's talent everywhere but we overlook it because it's really easy to do the same old thing."

One can only hope that in a business based on numbers, ad execs will take a look at their target reach, their audience.