NEW YORK: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has launched the Madison Avenue Project, aiming to increase rates of employment, pay and promotion among African Americans in US ad agencies, in the face of what it terms "dramatic levels of racial discrimination".

A study published by law firm Mehri & Skalet, which is partnering with the NAACP on the project, found that just 5.3% of professional managers in the ad industry are African American.

It also stated that African American employees are paid around 20% less than their white counterparts, and are most often employed in marketing roles closely related to their ethnicity.

Mehri & Skalet won a landmark class action against Coca-Cola in 2001, and one of the law firm's founders issued a damning verdict of the current condition of the US ad industry.

Speaking at a press conference, Cyrus Mehri said: "Forty-five years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, [advertising] is still a closed society. We're not going to let go until this industry makes a giant step forward."

Nancy Hill, president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said she needed to fully review the study, but change was obviously needed.

Says she: "The numbers speak for themselves. It's disappointing, discouraging, and more has to be done. We will do everything in our power to make progress on this."

Data sourced from Business Week (online); additional content by WARC staff