A couple weeks back, the Dallas advertising, production and marketing industries were shaken to their core, when the legendary Stan Richards, founder of The Richards Group, fired himself over the perception that he is a racist. In an internal pitch for Motel 6 he used three words, “It’s Too Black.” A person, who at this writing has remained anonymous, contacted a reporter about the words and within hours, Motel 6, who has been a client since 1986, severed ties. Within days, other clients like The Home Depot, H-E-B, Keurig Dr. Pepper and more, also jumped ship.
Truthfully, does anyone in our advertising or production communities believe Stan is racist with hatred in his heart? The man who, to quote a Home Depot tagline, “Built From Scratch” the most influential, powerful, privately owned advertising agency in the country, the man who wrote “The Peaceable Kingdom: Building a Company without Factionalism, Fiefdoms, Fear and Other Staples of Modern Business …is a racist? Seriously?
Or was he doing what every conscientious ad guy does for his client, trying to keep brand truth and create a campaign that resonates with their client’s demographic?
ANYONE who has worked in advertising knows you have to segment your audience by household income, geography, age, race, etc., and create a campaign message that resonates with that group, whether it is predominately White, Black, Asian, LBGTQ etc.
The intricacy that goes into determining the consumer truth of a brand can take a lot of research and time. At the beginning of TRG relationship with Motel 6, the agency performed multiple focus groups with individuals they knew had previously stayed at Motel 6 but were reticent to state that in front of the other group participants. Finally, a few confessed they stayed there to save money, to be able to afford some gifts for their families with the money they saved, then a few more added similar stories. The consumer truth was unearthed and the iconic campaign with Tom Bodett saying, “We’ll Leave the Light on For You,” was launched. That was 1986 and the branding essence of that campaign was still running last week.
Ask any media department why they buy ads in certain media outlets and they will tell you it’s by segmenting out the demographics they are trying to target to give the client the most bang for their buck. It’s good business to spend the client’s money where their customers are watching.
Segmentation is not racist.
For decades, casting has demanded diversity, always making sure to cast at least one character for each race, and that has now evolved to include LBGTQ representation to encourage inclusivity. Brands are very careful to encourage inclusivity.
But, looking at this anthropologically, we all stereotype. Even babies. Researchers use the big three; age, sex and race. When you think about it, one could argue even identifying different races, is in fact, racist. After all, we are all human with eyes, noses, hands, feet, etc., why distinguish one person from the other? Because from the cavemen days, EVERYONE makes snap generalizations. It’s what humans do.
Is Motel 6 management guilty of making a snap generalization that Stan’s words “It’s too Black” meant he was casting the Black community in a disparaging light? Were they jumping the gun before getting the facts of why he said those words? He clarified that he meant the creative concept was not diverse enough, and it needed to have other races represented.
But that truth was buried, as the fear of being perceived politically incorrect prevailed.
One can only assume the other brands that cancelled the agency, did so out of fear by association, and not for anything done to them specifically or for poor performance by Richards.
Regrettably, fear is driving much these days. Fear of not being politically correct, fear of riots, fear of being fired if you talk to a female co-worker. Fear of not being what group think says you should be.
There isn’t one person reading this who has not, unwittingly or otherwise, thought or uttered a comment that would be perceived as racist. NOT ONE. But that doesn’t mean they are racist. It means they are human. And humans make mistakes, misspeak and are not perfect. Most people are innately decent and have good intentions, no matter how they are perceived.
2020 has been the year from hell for so many. Isn’t it time to forgive more, love more and slow down the judgement? People are trying. It’s a process, not unlike creating an advertising campaign, full of rejections, pain and examination, to get to the truth that will resonate.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if brands forgave Stan, as he has requested, and continued their relationship with TRG? There is so much at stake, not only for the agency and its hard working employees, but also for the auxiliary local businesses that support the creative and production process that these brands depend upon. If just one was brave enough to do this, others would follow.
Stan Richards has given the advertising industry his life, his heart, his discernment and his brilliance. Countless brands have benefitted from him and the talented people at The Richards Group.
He shouldn’t retire in this way, but instead with honor and grace. He certainly deserves that.
And much more.