The slowdown in corporate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives inspired the theme at this year’s ADCOLOR Conference: “Double Down & Double Up,” representing a call to expand DEI efforts in the advertising industry. And the speakers, nominees, and honorees at this year’s event — held Nov. 9–11, 2023, in L.A. — provided numerous examples of how different experiences, viewpoints and backgrounds expand the reach to audiences.
Since Tiffany R. Warren founded the conference in 2005, ADCOLOR has brought LatinX, Black, Asian, LGTBQ+ and disabled creatives to the forefront of a conversation that had long excluded them. The upbeat and informative event celebrated how far the industry has come, yet reminded attendees of the importance of sharing knowledge and opportunities to ensure that progress continues.
This year’s event was the first since the United States Supreme Court further weakened affirmative action policies in a decision handed down in June. A video highlighting the decision was displayed on video screens as attendees participated in panels and workshops, serving as a constant reminder of what was at stake.
In a panel titled “Men of Color in the C Suite,” Epic Records president Zeke Lewis, Mediahub executive vp/executive director Alejandro Claiborne and Billboard president Mike Van shared insight on what it means to be part of a rare club and the unique responsibility of being a trailblazer in the top job.
“Race and gender manifest differently,” Claiborne noted in response to a question about making space for women on their team. “My job is to advocate, to create a safe space…psychological, socially, physical. When in mixed company, I try to make sure her voice is heard so others know I have her back.” Van also shared that the Billboard executive team is majority women: “The sooner I can work with women on a team, the likelihood of success is very high.”y
As Van noted, the journey to the C-suite will include failures along with successes. “Figure out and understand what you stand for,” he said. “Don’t expect success to be linear.”
ADCOLOR Nominees and Winners
The ADCOLOR 17th annual awards ceremony was held on the final night of the conference, with the black-tie event celebrating creators of inclusive advertising. Below, the winners of Ad of the Year and Most Valuable Partnership honors shared their thoughts on their respective wins.
Ad of the year
Campaign: “The Black Elevation Map”
Client: Black & Abroad
Agency: Performance Art
Honorees: Eric Martin (co-founder/chief creative officer, Black & Abroad) and Kent Johnson (co-founder/chief strategy officer, Black & Abroad)
The Black Elevation Map is a digital app that was created for Black and Abroad, a travel and lifestyle company that focuses on unique experiences for Black travelers. Inspired by the Green Book, a guide for black roadtrippers that highlighted businesses that would welcome them, the app “takes cultural data, including Black population data, historical markers, Black-owned businesses and social media activity, and visualizes it as points of interest on a dynamic, searchable elevation map of the United States.”
How does it feel to win Ad of the Year on your first try?
Eric Martin: It’s exhilarating. Mainly because when we started the work, we had no idea of where we were heading as a business. This was in the prime of the pandemic. There was literally no signals of when this thing would be over. …We just worked with what we had. We spent almost a year putting this together. When we launched it [during] Black History Month 2022, we had no idea where it would go, we just knew we were doing what we could. We were keeping it authentic, and we had an amazing pool of talent that we were able to tap into. An amazing run of businesses that were willing to participate and enlist themselves. And then we had the support of our community.
Why was the message of the ad important to you?
Ken Johnson: I think the Black community was looking for a way to share that information. There had been a consolidated moment. We were sharing lists of our favorite restaurants, etc., but it didn’t seem like it made it accessible if I’m out and about and I want to pull up a map around me that I could patronize immediately. We didn’t see that platform out there, so that was our driving force. We were tapping into the legacy of Victor Green, creator of the Green Book. How do we tap into what he’s done and bring it to our time and make it accessible and familiar for everyone? We all know how to pull up a map on our phones, but if we are able to pull up a map that already has our interests in mind, what would that do for the businesses being impacted?
How was it inspired by the Green Book?
Johnson: The Green Book was a tool for survival. The energy has shifted to how do we in the community make sure these businesses survive. We want to see these businesses around. We want entrepreneurs in our space to be able to make it past those first couple of years that are the hardest. Now we make sure that businesses are able to keep payroll up, reach new audiences. The spirit of survival is still there, [but] the direction is commerce.
Most valuable partnership
WhatsApp and Translation
Honoree: Ghada Soufan, integrated marketing manager, WhatsApp; founder of MENA for ADCOLOR
WhatsApp teamed up with creative agency Translation for Naija Odyssey, a short film in which Greek-Nigerian Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo “tells his origin story of many origins as he reconciles his roots, birthplace and sense of belonging between cross-cultural worlds.” The film derived from an endorsement deal Antetokounmpo signed with WhatsApp last year.
What’s behind the growth of WhatsApp?
WhatsApp connects over 2 billion people around the world, which is really amazing. It has grown so much over the past two years. It really is the utility app that connects diasporas, communities, families, loved ones, friends, academic groups, elementary schools. So it’s been amazing to see the growth, but also the usage standpoint, the utility and the connections it’s provided for our users.
How do you handle that kind of rapid growth?
We handle the growth with excitement. We were excited about telling the story of WhatsApp as a brand. A lot of people use WhatsApp, [and] being able to really deliver [on] its purpose in connecting loved ones and representing marginalized communities, and really being for the people, and delivering features that can help anyone from teenager to a grandma to use it simply and reliably, has been really amazing.
A lot of people leave accessibility out of the DEI conversation.
That’s why we really refocused our audience with that partnership with Translation on people that are dual culture or multihyphenated. They work between the hyphen. For myself, it’s Arab-American, someone else it might be African-American, Nigerian-British. Wherever you are, we provide the closest thing to [a] face-to-face relationship, that intimate connection, through our app.
How does having a diverse team add to the success?
We have one of the most international teams. We truly have representation [and] truly a global diverse team. We have people from India, Brazil, Germany, U.K., U.S., Asia, Nigeria. We look for diversity not just in terms of a Western point of view, we’re a global diverse perspective. We aim to celebrate those people in our work and in how they use the app.