Wearing my two hats, one of a champion of progress, the other of an ex-adman, I am appalled. For the current trend in British advertising violates my most cherished principles.
One of them is that any public communication featuring images of people must faithfully reflect the demographic makeup of the whole population. The same principle must also apply to any professional group, be that the board of a bank or the government of the country.
You’ll agree that any violation of this postulate betokens racism, favouring one racial group over others. This, as we know, is the eighth deadly sin, much worse than the other seven.
Admittedly, it took me a while to accept this principle that now seems self-evident. Progress took its time to work its way into my viscera, but now it dominates every humour in my body and soul (this last word shouldn’t be taken literally: every progressive person of any of the 74 known sexes knows that the soul is but a figment of reactionary imagination).
That’s why it’s with great anguish that I have to report being greatly offended by current TV and print advertisements. For they flagrantly violate the sacred principle of proportional demographic representation I hold so dear.
Take black Britons, for example (I hope you realise that I’m using the questionable term ‘black’ for brevity only – ‘British persons of Afro-Caribbean descent’ is morally correct but rhetorically long). They make up 3.4 per cent of the British population.
Thus, 3.4 per cent of any group shown on public media, specifically in advertising, must be black. I not only accept this principle but salute it with both hands.
However, while I don’t have any statistics at my disposal, anyone watching TV will confirm that the actual proportion is higher by an order of magnitude. At least one of every three people shown in commercials seems to be black.
Now, any adman will tell you that a photograph of potential customers should reflect the target audience for the brand. Some brands are specifically aimed at black audiences, and in my time I did quite a few such ads.
Moreover, when I worked in New York, whole agencies existed that specialised in black markets exclusively. I did some freelance work for them because I had a knack for talking to black audiences – why, I don’t have a clue.
However, the other day I caught a commercial for Peter Jones, the department store in Sloane Square that separates Chelsea from Belgravia. Living as we do just down the road, Penelope often shops there, and I sometimes tag along to make sure she doesn’t take too many liberties with the charge card.
I’m not sure that in the 30-odd years I’ve ever seen a black family shopping there, appalling as this fact is. But now I have – in a TV commercial for the store. Why such demographic chicanery?
No advertising agency would aim a campaign for Peter Jones at a black target group. Very few black live in the vicinity, and one doesn’t run into too many black Sloanies.
Hence ads featuring them miss the target audience, which no agency worth its salt ever used to do. Much as it pains me to say this about my former colleagues, they seem to be sacrificing professional integrity for… what exactly? Political correctness? Propaganda? Virtue signalling?
It’s not just this particular campaign. A new arrival in England who knows nothing about the country and wishes to fill that vacuum by watching TV commercials will get a wrong idea about his new country’s demographics.
Blacks and Asians together make up about 10 per cent of the population. Hence, if we stuck to the principle of proportional racial representation, one out of 10 actors and models appearing in ads should come from those groups. The actual percentage is much higher, although it would take serious research to establish the exact numbers.
The same goes for homosexuals. The most reliable study I’ve seen showed that only about 1.4 per cent of Britons favour their own sex. Yet advertising certainly features a much higher percentage. It’s as if the ads were meant to be aspirational, showing life not as it is, but as it’s supposed to be.
The champion of progress in me rejoices; the former adman weeps. Since advertising budgets are tightening up to suffocation, precise targeting becomes even more vital than ever. One has to admit with much chagrin that many of our advertisers pursue – or are forced to pursue – other than merely commercial objectives.
Just to think that in the past advertising was just a way of flogging brands. Now it has to multi-task, to use a fashionable phrase. Long live progress, I say. And if it necessarily includes racism, then so be it — provided it’s the right kind of racism.