A new program created by Procter & Gamble aims to broaden the way Black people are portrayed in advertising and entertainment through an increased investment in Black directors, actors, crews and media.
Today, P&G is debuting “Widen The Screen,” a platform that the CPG giant hopes will help identify, hire and foster Black talent while also increasing representation in commercials, films and television. According to P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard, the goal of the program is about “reclaiming the beauty of black life in film.”
“Accurate portrayal of people in advertising, in media, in news, then helps eliminate bias because you learn stereotypes, objectification and denigration,” Pritchard tells Forbes. “And part of what ‘Widen The Screen’ does and why we call it ‘Widen The Screen’ is that the way the Black community is often portrayed is either in struggle or triumph. And there's a lot more in between and around. So this is about portraying the joy and the beauty and the vastness of Black life. And in order to do that, in order to make that happen either through advertising or content, you need to have equal representation within the in the in the creative and media supply chain.”
To create “Widen The Screen,” P&G worked with the advertising agency Grey and Oscar-nominated director Kevin Wilson Jr.
to produce a short film that debuted this past weekend at the 2021 NAACP Image Awards. The film, narrated by the actor Mahershala Ali, depicts three stories—a Black man in a car, a group of Black teenagers in a convenience store and a Black woman with several kids. The scenes show the man in the car driving to a young girl’s birthday party, the teens waiting on their friend to come out of the restroom before paying for their snacks and a dad showing up in a minivan to pick his family.
“If you think you know what happens next, ask yourself why,” Ali says during his voiceover in between scenes. “These are the Black stories we’ve been shown. A narrow view that limits our understanding. But there’s so much more to see.”
In a statement about “Widen The Screen,” Wilson Jr.
says he hopes the film will “reveal the fullness of who we are as Black people.”
"We don't have to be ‘exceptional’ to be respected and valued,” he says. “Our humanity isn't dependent upon us being doctors, lawyers, engineers, or famous. Yes, we are those things, but we also take up many spaces in this world and the love we share should be depicted as well. We are more than the brutality we often see in our depictions in television and film. We are the joy we experience with loved ones and the passion we have for one another."
P&G is partnering with a number of other companies on new initiatives, including Spring Hill—the entertainment company founded by Maverick Carter and LeBron James—to tell the stories of Black boys and what they can achieve in life beyond sports. The company is also teaming up with Saturday Morning, Tribeca Film Festival and dozens of Black creatives to make scripted stories that are told in 8 minutes and 46 seconds—symbolizing the length of time George Floyd was pinned to the ground by a white police officer’s knee before dying last summer in Minneapolis—and, for the third year, with Queen Latifah on the Queen Collective to create a series of four new films with four new directors, also set to premiere during Tribeca.
Pritchard says the new program builds on other initiatives the company has developed over the years to address gender inequalities and inaccurate portrayals of women and girls in media and culture. P&G has also created a range of other campaigns focused on improving the representation of LGBTQ+ people. He says the company is also looking to improve the portrayal of other groups, including the Latinx, Asian American and and Pacific Islanders communities.
“We're looking to make systemic change, and systemic change to eliminate and address bias, address and eliminate racism and inequality particularly in the advertising, and creative and media community,” Pritchard says. “And we have been at this for a while, but this is really a significant expansion of work that we've been doing on systemic change…We like to call it a multiplier effect of equality.”
Beyond these new films, P&G is also working to diversify its media supply chain. Along with programs like the Marcus Graham Project and the One Club for Creativity’s One School Initiative—which aim to help foster Black talent in advertising—P&G is also increasing its investment in Black-owned and operated media companies such as BET, Urban One and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters.
Diversity in marketing is something that advertising agencies are also looking to address. Last year, the trade group 4As collected data from 165 agencies representing more than 40,000 employees and found that Black and African American employees made up just 5.8% of the industry. And of those who identified as Black or African American, 68% were in admin or entry-level roles, 43.5% were in non-management positions, 27.6% were managers or directors and just 4% were vice presidents or higher.
While improving the level of diversity has been area of heightened focus the past few years, a lack of representation is still an industrywide issue. According to a 2021 study by McKinsey, less than 6% of writers, directors and producers of U.S.-produced films are Black. A separate study last year by USC Annenberg found that Black characters only accounted for 15.7% of all film roles in 2019 while just 8 in 1,447 directors identified as Black women between 2007 and 2019. (The Annenberg study also found that 33% of the top 100 films produced in 2019 included no Black girls or Black women in any speaking or named roles.)
Along with mitigating systemic racism through a more diverse and accurate portrayal of people, studies point to a business case for improving representation: McKinsey’s study found that addressing racial inequalities could help the TV and film industry bring in another $10 billion in annual revenues—a that’s 7% more than the current baseline of $148 billion.
According to Pritchard, having accurate portrayals of people increases trust and also increases purchase intent. He mentioned the success that P&G-owned Old Spice has had in appealing to Black men: While the brand created memorable campaigns starring Terry Crews and Isaiah Mustafa, the company learned that Black men preferred a different and “more sophisticated and smooth humor” than the original campaign used. As a result, Old Spice then created new ads with a different tone starring Gabrielle Dennis and Deon Cole called “Men Have Skin, Too.’”
“Frankly, what we've found is when we have better advertising that is more reflected, when we advertise on Black owned and operated (platforms) where we're reaching Black consumers and other consumers, you end up increasing the growth,” Pritchard says. “It actually is is better. It also moves to the point where you start to change your product lineup and be more reflective.”
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