‘Let’s celebrate Black History Month, but let’s do it by taking risks’
Black History Month isn’t just an opportunity to educate people, says Quiet Storm’s Trevor Robinson. It’s an opportunity to promote positive stories, entertain an audience and make some changes.
To mark BHM The Black Farmer is challenging the underrepresentation of Black people in the food industry
Let’s go with Black History Month. Why not? We have Christmas for goodwill and connecting with families, and Valentine’s Day for celebrating love. A month for Black history is a good springboard for addressing issues around racism and discrimination, and to promote some positive stories told from voices that don’t often get heard.
People like Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, The Black Farmer, who persuaded all the big supermarkets to stock his products for Black History Month. Not just that, but he’s got an axe to grind about representation in the food industry, and he’s outspoken, which I see as a good thing. I like that he’s got some people annoyed because he mixes sausages with politics, and I would love other businesses to be a bit more daring.
There will always be some brands that get it wrong – Uber Eats didn’t cover itself in glory when it used a photograph (below) of a black woman eating chicken for its Black History Month promotion – but it’s too easy to call out brands and criticise them for their mistakes, and it’s self-defeating because it makes them too terrified to do anything at any time of the year.
Black History Month is a good opportunity to focus on diversity, but (to state the obvious) the issue is relevant on every day of the year, too. Our ’Create Not Hate’ (CNH) initiative has two anti-racism campaigns lined up for BHM in October – one is an animated film with a dinosaur on the theme of ’make racism extinct’, and the other is a humorous comic strip showing the absurdity of racism with help from a small-minded dog – but we are committed to CNH all year round.
The key to change is to educate the business going forward and demonstrate why diversity is the only way to tap into and understand the vast population out there and make genuine connections. I think we all know by now that, in order to do that, we need a more diverse workforce and to do the basic groundwork. Too often I see ads that are culturally sensitive and think, ’did they run that by a Black person at any point?’
Having a diverse workforce doesn’t mean getting some Black people in so that we can advertise to Black people. It means introducing a clash of people from different cultures and backgrounds as a way to throw up sparks and challenges that make the creative work better.
When I started out, it was the clash between the old school Oxbridge-types and the upstarts like Ridley Scott and Alan Parker who have come from working class backgrounds; they were just there to work hard. Since then we’ve also had an influx of women in the business, making the work more dynamic and bringing an atomic talent explosion. Every era needs that new blood, a new generation to bring a spark, a shift towards a more inventive mindset, and that’s what’s lacking right now.
I’ve made my career on ads for Tango and Haribo (above), not on campaigns targeted at the Black community. Me and my partner Al used to make what our boss at HHCL, Rupert Howell, called “oik advertising”. I knew what he meant, because it wasn’t the typical, stylish, cultured, cast-of-thousands work that the industry loves, but it had a rawness and energy that connected with people and was missing from the high-brow stuff.
I could feel that our colleagues loved our work precisely because it was something they would never make, and the public loved it because it didn’t come from the same tired old factory.
If you want to have creative insights and a different point of view, you need to open up to exciting and unchartered areas. You need to be brave with strategy and creativity. Diversity is about finding new manifestations of cultures and entertaining people with the work.
We can’t have the same old formulas being nudged around, we need fresh blood to upset the apple cart. Like Ikea’s Christmas ad last year, which threw some grime at you that you weren’t expecting, or Nike’s ’Londoner’ (above), which properly delved into different cultures – we need work that is brave enough to change things.
So let’s celebrate Black History Month, but let’s do it by taking risks, creating challenging campaigns and doing the homework first. It’s an opportunity to do more than just educate people, but to promote positive stories, entertain an audience and make some changes.
Trevor Robinson OBE is the executive creative director and founder of Quiet Storm.