Brands and agencies need to tackle anti-Black prejudice in the casting process for ads, and so address a widespread problem that demands a new approach throughout the creative supply chain.

Alex Bennett-Grant, the founder/CEO of Amsterdam-based independent creative agency WE ARE Pi, discussed this topic in a session on Lions Live, a digital-content platform run by Cannes Lions (a sister company of WARC).

“Before you shoot your next campaign, it's time to call ‘Time’s Up’ on the ad industry’s dirty secret of racist casting calls,” he said. (For more, WARC subscribers can read an in-depth report here. A video of Bennett-Grant's session can be viewed for free here.)

“It’s the practice of excluding, deleting, and stereotyping Black people in advertising. And it’s been this quiet act of violence endured by so many people, including myself, for so long.”

Elaborating on this topic, he highlighted the findings of a survey among 500 personal contacts in the marketing sector – from agencies, brands and production companies across the globe.

And the results brought stark clarity to the discrimination that is widespread in casting:

  • 94% of respondents “believe the ad industry needs to take action on racist decision-making in the casting process”;
  • 91% considered “racial profiling to be a problem in advertising casting”;
  • 70% agreed that “we need more Black people in advertising in order to represent an inclusive society”;
  • 70% of the panel have seen “people being excluded from a casting because they were Black”;
  • 70% asserted that they did not have “a safe workspace to share and work through questions of race”;
  • 52% of participants that spoke up on behalf of inclusive casting were “shut down or ignored.”
The results reinforced Bennett-Grant's own experience of “anti-Blackness” in a marketing career that spans 15 years. Simultaneously, it “alerted me to the scale of the problem,” he said.

While the movement that is now challenging racial inequality shows there is hunger for systemic change, he noted, marketers have previously failed to translate enthusiastic words into real-world solutions.

“So, it's time for action,” Bennett-Grant said. “Because we can't stand back and expect the advertising industry to change just because we wish it to. No. Each of us needs to take action, big or small.”

Sourced from WARC