SBJ/August 1-7, 2011/Opinion

Madison Avenue needs a Rooney Rule

Lapchick
Madison Avenue ad agencies need a Rooney Rule for future hires in their creative director positions. The rule, which requires NFL teams to interview candidates who are people of color for head coaching and senior management positions, helped transform the NFL from a league that had almost all white head coaches to one where seven of the past 10 Super Bowl teams have employed people of color as head coaches or general managers.

Madison Avenue is still largely at the all-white stage.

Super Bowl ads are a huge draw for advertisers and audiences, and they generate enormous income for the NFL. According to the Nielsen ratings, Super Bowl XLV drew the highest mark in American television history with an estimated 111 million viewers. The game’s diverse audience included more than 51 million women, 12.5 million African-Americans and 10 million Latinos, and 67 percent of NFL players are African-American.

The Super Bowl represents the peak in sports for advertising opportunities. At no other event do the viewers pay almost as much attention to the action off the field as they do to the action on it. Some of the biggest corporations and ad agencies invest $3 million for 30 seconds worth of air time.

The agencies that produce most of the ads are the Madison Avenue giants. Civil rights groups have long held that these agencies discriminate against women and people of color. The NAACP and Mehri & Skalet have formed the Madison Avenue Project to bring attention to this issue. For the last two years, they have asked the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida to study the racial and gender makeup of creative directors responsible for the ads aired during the Super Bowl. Results of the second study were released July 20.

Racial and gender data was available for 58 of the 66 ads aired during the 2011 game. Forty-eight of the ads were produced by major agencies, while the other 18 were either produced in-house by corporate marketing departments or through third parties by contest winners or other nonprofessionals. Only 7 percent of the ads for which data was available featured a creative director of color, but that was better than 2010, when there were none. The gender breakdown of creative directors remained the same as last year, with 94 percent men and 6 percent women.

The report stands in sharp contrast to the NFL, which has steadily improved its racial and gender hiring practices. The league implemented the Rooney Rule for head coaches in 2003, and for senior football operations in 2009. Super Bowl XLV marked the first time in history that an African-American head coach, Mike Tomlin, coached in his second Super Bowl, a feat that only 20 coaches have achieved in NFL history.

“By keeping the spotlight on Madison Avenue’s Super Bowl ads, the industry has made a small step from zero black, Latino or Asian creative directors of Super Bowl ads to four in one year. … [T]he spotlight on the industry must continue so more progress can be achieved in the years ahead,” said Cyrus Mehri, founding partner of Mehri & Skalet.

The study also examined the content of the ads. For years, Super Bowl ads have used gratuitous sexual content. There was more of that in 2011. Ads this year depicted some women in an antagonistic manner portraying men attempting to appease their overbearing girlfriends. Ads from Pepsi, Groupon, Teleflora, Skechers and GoDaddy were among the worst offenders. There were also few people of color featured as main characters in the ads. Of the 66, only eight featured a person of color in the lead role.

If more people of color and women were involved as creative directors, I am confident that some of the most offensive content would be cut.

Richard E. Lapchick (rlapchick@bus.ucf.edu) is the chairman of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program and the director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, which publishes all the racial and gender report cards. Lapchick’s co-authors on the Super Bowl ad report are Djuan Bragg, Wayne Clark, Demetrius Frazier, Aaron J. Gearlds, Tavia Record and Christopher D. Sarpy, all TIDES graduate assistants at UCF.

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