Representatives from APG Canada and People of Colour in Advertising and Marketing (POCAM) discuss the necessity of intersectional diversity in Canadian advertising.

On April 24, over 150 industry professionals gathered at The George Brown College Centre for Business, a neutral site, to promote collaboration and commitment to meaningfully push the needle on diversity. 

Canada’s 2021 census counted over 500 cultural origins, 200 places of birth, over 200 mother tongues, and over 1.8 million indigenous peoples. Yet, Canada’s cultural diversity is rarely leveraged as a superpower within the marketing and advertising industry. Instead, “mass minorities” are treated as sub-segments with separate briefs and separate budgets. Even though the combined annual buying power of Chinese and South Asians, two of the largest minority groups in Canada, is $106 BN

While every agency has tried to further its own DEI efforts with creative review boards and Chief Diversity Officers, “Beyond Tropes, Tokenism and Talk,” a BIPOC hackathon jointly organized by the Account Planning Group of Canada (APG) and People of Colour in Advertising and Marketing (POCAM) sought to shift the BIPOC community beyond the casting call.

“The industry has moved gradually, slowly, reluctantly in some cases with resistance,” said Gavin Barrett, co-founder of POCAM. “But the energy on the night of the event was palpable. We moved quickly, passionately, and with renewed vigour. And this is only the beginning.”

Justin Senior, co-founder of POCAM, shared the sentiment, “The hope is that the conversations started here will reverberate, leading to measurable progress and an industry that not only acknowledges but celebrates the multiplicity of Canadian identity.”

Individuals from major agencies and brands like The Trade Desk, OMG, Visionnaire, Publicis Groupe, WPP, IPG Mediabrands, Adapt Media, believeco: partners, Barrett & Welsh, Fuse Create, George Brown Centre for Business and Rise Integrated Sports + Entertainment came together to support and witness presentations from four teams who had been tasked with designing a more inclusive brief, ultimately in service of delivering more authentically inclusive work.

Key takeaways

The reimagined briefs from the hackathon shared these key elements...

Acknowledgement that/of:
Minorities in Canada are the majority

This is perhaps no more obvious than in Toronto where the visible “minority” accounts for 56% of the population. As such, if you’re not talking to diverse Canadians, you are not talking to Canada.

The intersectionality of identities 

ALL Canadians (and their multifaceted identities) need to be intentionally considered in each step of the strategic and creative process. This suggests the addition of a mass niche approach rather than a mass reach-only approach.

Lazy assumptions make diverse audiences an afterthought

We need to demonstrate genuine understanding and empathy to ensure mass minorities are not treated as part of a box-ticking exercise. Their representation needs to be authentic and nuanced otherwise we risk perpetuating exclusion and biases.

While we may identify universal themes like togetherness, value and family, we also need to look for unique ways these themes are lived in different cultures. This means we need to:

  • Make a commitment to ensuring that diverse groups have a voice. Value different perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds so that all Canadians feel seen.
  • Bring in diverse voices early. They should be at the table when strategies are being discussed. 
  • Foster a decolonized approach to strategic and creative thinking by sourcing and sharing inspiration from diverse communities.
  • Go beyond traditional media to reach audiences who actively seek out unique destinations to expand campaign visibility.
It isn’t the brief that needs fixing. It’s the briefing process. 

We need to have better conversations, including those we have within our agencies and with our clients. To do so, we must create safe spaces to ensure we aren’t shying away from brave work and/or being insensitive.

There is no such thing as a neutral brief or briefing

We need to check our own biases, as well as those of our team and client, by considering who is writing and receiving the brief and what kind of privilege they may come with. 

Key tools

In the end, the Media Team emerged victorious due to how deep, tangible, and clear their solution was. However, the APG and POCAM believe the entire industry can benefit from the shared resources and, in doing so, break bad habits that are often the result of rushed timelines, lack of understanding, poor data inputs, and a desire to avoid hard conversations. 

We’ve captured below just two of the tools that were presented on the evening. The full presentations, including all resources, can be downloaded here

For many, the event was nothing short of transformational – instilling a renewed sense of purpose and commitment. 

A blueprint for inclusive briefs

The briefing process is distilled into a blueprint that outlines how to change three key conversations: the client conversation, the strategy conversation, and the creative conversation.


A briefing checklist tool