Hella Insecure: Relationships and Media

This post was originally published on The Voice of AAF DC on February 22, 2019.

Left to right: Panelists Aaron Abernathy and Krysten Copeland listen as Shaiday Dancy discusses a Tiffany & Co. ad

Have you stopped to wonder how social media and advertising have come to influence modern-day relationships? Members and guests of Ad 2 DC dissected this age-old question at the Hella Insecure Panel. The event included panelists representing people of color and the LBGT+ community leading an insightful conversation over happy hour bar fare.

The panel, moderated by President of X+PR Xina Eiland, consisted of: public relations and communications pro Mercy Chikowore; Founder & Chief Strategist of KC & Co. Communications Krysten Copeland; creator of Sunflxw Artistry Shaiday Dancy; and pianist and songwriter Aaron Abernathy​​. Their mission was to set things straight about professional and personal relationships in the era of social media.

The panel dug deeper into the effects that mainstream commercials and print ads have on modern-day relationships, much like what we see on the HBO series Insecure. Panelists also discussed the way relationships have changed for better or for worse since the introduction of social media and other technology. After introductions from each panelist, the discussion kicked off with the first question: “How would you describe the relationship between dating, love, pop culture, and media?”

Black Culture and the Creation of Black Twitter

The consensus was that pop culture is Black culture and it has changed the way brands structure their advertising. Panelists agreed that the African-American community has an influence that stretches beyond our own diaspora through fashion, music, and social media. A number of brands look to Black culture for ‘inspirational direction,’ “but there is a thin line between appreciation and appropriation,” as Eiland reminded the crowd. Copeland remarked that “Black culture has been setting trends” but with the introduction of “Black Twitter,” the conversation begins to expand.

“Black Twitter” can be defined as a “collective of active, primarily African-American Twitter users who have created a virtual community that participates in continuous real-time conversations.” Much of the content on Black Twitter surfaces during a crisis that impacts the black community, and on a lighter note, when discussing media content such as TV shows, movies, and award ceremonies from the black perspective. The development of this virtual community has changed the way we manage relationship expectations including the $200 Date Debate, the phenomenon of relationship goals, Tinder meetups, cuffing season, and Netflix and Chill. For many millennials, Black Twitter has given us a new representation of relationships.

Media and Relationship Diversity

The discussion also included recent ads by some of the world’s largest brands. Panelists pointed to Tiffany & Co’s Believe in Love and Gillette’s #MeToo-inspired ads as examples that are either getting relationship diversity right or completely missing the mark. The panelists attributed this new trend of diversity and representation to brands trying to tag onto trending topics and current events. Brands are seeking a creative way to get into the social media conversation, which doesn’t always result in authenticity. Abernathy and Dancy both agreed that your social media platforms are a resume of sorts: They are your public portfolio, regardless of whether you’re a major brand or a small, personal brand.

Ad 2 DC Diversity & Inclusion Chair Iyana Moore (center) with panelists (left to right) Xina Eiland, Mercy Chikowore, Aaron Abernathy, Krysten Copeland, and Shaiday Dancy

Final Thoughts

The panel discussion concluded with a Q&A session. Audience members were excited to ask the panelists how they balance their professional lives with relationships. DJ and WPFW DC radio personality Bobby Rox asked about push and pull media becoming more blurred with the continued development of technology. The group agreed that push media was becoming more prevalent with social media making messages more pervasive than ever.

This diversity event was a great opportunity for young professionals to network and connect with people outside of their normal 9-to-5 circles. The biggest takeaway from the event was that social media is a tool for all types of relationships and we all have the ability to utilize our full power as consumers and professionals to create better, more meaningful content. As Chikowore said: “Being authentic on social media is all about deciding what your purpose is. So, whether you are looking for the Michelle to your Barack or a new job, be mindful and genuine!”

Normalizing Disability in Advertising

This post was originally published on The Voice of AAF DC on December 3, 2018.

December 3 marks the annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). This year’s themes are empowering people with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.

One billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. But if you judged life by the world of advertising, you might conclude that disabled people are a societal rarity. So rare that advertisers feel the need to airbrush able-bodied models to look like amputees. Yes, that really happened.

The ethical responsibility of advertisers — especially during a paradigm shift that places the consumer at the center of media — is to provide content that fulfills the marketing agenda, without alienating, disrespecting, or deceiving any members of the intended or unintended audience. But we all know that every brand doesn’t deliver on that responsibility. Apart from when ads speak specifically about disability, disabled people are overwhelmingly absent from the narrative.

Breaking down barriers

Research conducted by the United Kingdom media agency UM discovered that while consumers wanted to see more people with disabilities in advertising, some 62% of respondents honestly admitted to feeling “uncomfortable” when they did see it. Also, 43% agreed that advertisers who showed people with disabilities risked making the ads “unappealing to people,” while 34% said that people with physical disabilities are “not attractive.” So how can advertisers go about breaking the taboo and being more representative?

The marketing and advertising industries have a chance to help break down social stigmas around disability by making it more visible. To change perceptions and promote progression, ads need to normalize disability — by plugging the rich, everyday lives that disabled people live beyond their disability.

Showing the world as it is

The under-representation of disabled people in advertising is largely due to the lack of diversity in creative roles. If more disabled people were employed as creative directors, copywriters, graphic designers, etc., we’d start to see a natural shift towards a more authentic portrayal.

Representing people with disabilities could be the final frontier in diversifying advertising, with more brands having already moved towards LGBTQ+ inclusion (Coca-Cola’s ‘Pool Boy’) and aiming at different types of families (multicultural and single dads, etc.).

Aside from being the right thing to do, diversity in ads has the potential to generate tangible benefits. Brands are undoubtedly leaving money on the table by not appealing to a wider range of audiences. Striking a chord with consumers is no longer about serving them images of perfection, since social media has helped to change how people view images. People with disabilities, as both recipients and agents of change, can fast-track the process towards truly inclusive advertising.