NEW YORK — CoverGirl executive Ukonwa Ojo was struck when the team from an ad agency entered the room to pitch ideas for revamping the cosmetic company’s image. For the first time in Ojo’s more than 20-year career in business, she found herself working with an African-American creative director.
That meeting would ultimately result in a marketing campaign that challenges conventional ideas about beauty. It features celebrity women from a spectrum of races, ages and professions, including Issa Rae of HBO’s Insecure, motorcycle racer Shelina Moreda, celebrity chef Ayesha Curry and dietitian Maye Musk, 69.
“To have an African-American creative director walk in the room and present this to me, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is amazing,’” said Ojo, who is Nigerian-American. “I think we can see the power of the work because of that.”
Diversity in the advertising industry is becoming a higher priority for consumer product companies as they try to reach a new generation of customers with evolving sensibilities on ethnicity, age, gender and sexuality.
Many companies have come to believe having people with a variety of backgrounds in the room can not only produce a smarter marketing campaign, but also help avoid the kind of blunders Kellogg and Dove were recently accused of in today’s politically combustible environment.
Despite efforts by Madison Avenue to ramp up recruiting of minorities, just 7 percent of the 67,000 people working as advertising and promotion managers in the U.S. in 2016 were African-American, less than 5 percent were Hispanic and about 1 percent were of Asian descent, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Women accounted for about 56 percent of managers in the industry.
In the case of CoverGirl’s makeover, which replaced the company’s familiar “Easy, Breezy, Beautiful” tagline with “I Am What I Makeup,” the team from the ad agency Droga5 had two black creative directors, Shannon Washington and Ray Smiling.
Ojo, who before joining CoverGirl was senior global director at Unilever, said her former company “always had the best intentions,” but “as humans we always have the opportunities to make a mistake.” She added: “It can minimize the chances if you have the right people around the table.”
Having more diversity around the table is seen as a safeguard at a time when companies are under pressure to produce lots of video and other marketing content quickly and cheaply for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, often with no time to test everything out on focus groups.