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What the Ad Industry Can Learn from Black Panther

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INFLUENCER: Dominique Curtis on the top grossing superhero film of all time in the US

What the Ad Industry Can Learn from Black Panther

Two months after its release, Black Panther is still breaking box office records unprecedentedly. It recently sailed pass 'Titanic' to become the third top grossing film of all time in the US. Not to mention, it’s the number one superhero film of all time in America. Marvel flipped the entire movie industry on its head by doing what the advertising industry has yet to do: bring people from different backgrounds to the table. 

As a copywriter and a woman of colour, I couldn’t help but reflect on what made this film legendary and how advertisers can apply those same principles to create more break-through content. These are the truths I found to be self-evident.


Black culture is pop-culture

The Black Panther cast was virtually all black, but the record-breaking dollars spent at the box office were all green. In advertising, diverse commercial casts are often limited to the multicultural audience. It’s almost like you’re either LeBron James, or your influence has no place in the general market. Black Panther is shining proof that the world can handle, relate to, and undoubtedly enjoy content whether the characters look like them or not. In fact, this unique cast in an unconventional story is what makes Black Panther stand out in a predictable and saturated marketplace. 

As black culture continues to dominate the entertainment industry, it’s a no brainer that there’s room for more of it in advertising. However, as we incorporate black culture into our ads, it’s important that we also remember to include black people.


Women kick butt like it’s nothing

One of the many cool things about Black Panther is the female leadership portrayed in the film. Let’s start with the all-female regimen. The colonel isn’t fierce 'for a woman,' she’s just fierce. Furthermore, Wakanda is one of the most technologically advanced societies ever seen in film, and the mastermind behind it all is a young woman. There is no underlying tone of “Anything you can do I can do better.” She’s just better. More refreshingly, the men are not intimidated by the women’s strength. 

While Black Panther is a predominantly African-American film, the women’s leadership provides intersectionality. This approach of creating content relevant to multiple social groups is key as advertising pushes forward in the heart of the women’s movement. As we craft new stories, we must make room for not just some women to shine, but all women. Sometimes, simply casting women in unexpected roles is enough to break the mould. In the same breath, just because we’re targeting women doesn’t mean each ad must be an overt rallying cry.

Where Are the Boss Ladies is a great place to find and recruit women who are already leading the charge in the ad industry. You can also find talented women of colour at People of Craft who are eager to join the creative crusade.


Representation is just as important off the screen

There is a huge difference between 'including' minorities in a story and creating room for them to tell their own story. Not only was the cast of Black Panther virtually all black, but there was also a plethora of African-American power players behind the scenes including: Director Ryan Coogler, screenwriter Joe Robert Cole, and costume designer Ruth E. Carter. When you have inclusion across multiple touch points you get one of the most unique and authentic stories of all time. When you don’t…well…you get Heineken

When there is a writer of colour, commercials like the Heineken spot are less likely to happen. When you have a director of colour the chances get even slimmer. One person can easily be drowned out, but inclusion across the board is the stuff award-winning work is made of. 


Look Harder

Fun fact; African-American and female director, Ava DuVernay was originally asked to direct Black Panther. She turned down the job. Through commitment and persistence, Marvel was able to secure the young and talented Ryan Coogler. Had he done a superhero film before? No. Did he have tons of films under his belt? No. However, the films he did direct were more than stellar. 

The ad industry has to make the same commitment. We must be more unconventional with our talent search. Not sure where to start? Try starting at the beginning of the pipeline with programs like MAIP or the Marcus Graham Project. You can also participate in career fairs at some of the best HBCUs across the nation. 

For entry to mid-level talent, check out conferences like The One Club’s Here Are All the Black People. You can even find some of the brightest industry leaders at the infamous Ad Color Awards.  

Hands still tied? Look to multicultural ad agencies. While everyone else is scratching their heads, they seem to have this thing figured out. 


The world is ready

In fact, the world has been ready. Somehow in Trump’s America, the blackest and quite arguably one of the most women-forward films of all time is the highest grossing superhero film of all time. Let that sink in. Then look around. And ask yourself, are you ready to take a more inclusive approach to content creation? Or are you ready to get left behind?  



Dominique Curtis is a senior copywriter at R/GA 

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R/GA New York, Fri, 04 May 2018 13:18:33 GMT