Honesty is the Best Policy


I am sure everyone has heard this statement delivered by a parent, school teacher or even a minister. It is a simplistic statement that is difficult to adhere too 100% of the time because we all have fell short by exaggerating a fact or blurring fact from fiction. The ad industry has been called out on a few occasions for not being honest, with some brands even being order to stop advertising a particular message. Is it possible for honesty to be the best policy in an industry that is built on convincing consumers by any means necessary? Are advertisers and their ad agencies capable of being honest in everything that they do? I know I am being naïve because the advertising industry is a microcosm of America.

For instance, we now have an African American President and some people have stated that we are now in a post-racial era. Maybe it is not a dishonest statement and is simply people being hopeful or naïve. It is naïve because the facts show that African American males are disproportionately racially profiled, not white males. African Americans are disproportionately unemployed, not white people (unemployment is 9.8%, but many estimates in the black community show unemployment is upward of 20%). And only African American broadcasters are subjected to “no urban dictates”, not general market broadcasters.

Let’s be honest here. And remember that honesty is the best policy. The practice of issuing “no urban dictates” still exist after 23 years since it was exposed. The use of the “No Urban Dictate” policy, as it’s called, occurs when advertisers and their agencies intentionally by-pass urban and Latino stations, supposedly because the advertiser client has dictated that its ads not be placed with those outlets. African-American broadcasters have long said the unspoken policy existed. The issue was first brought to the FCC by the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB) 23 years ago.

You may be aware of the recent issue that involved BMW’s Mini Cooper and its media buying resource, Palisades Media. A representative of Palisades issued an avails request that stated ‘urban formats for radio should not be included’. A letter was issued stating that “she mistakenly did this on her own and not through any directive from Palisades Media personnel, or Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners personnel or MINI personnel. This was a single, isolated incident and we have taken steps to make sure it does not repeat itself in the future in any department of our company.”

Let’s give Palisades and BMW Mini the benefit of the doubt. It could very well be a single, isolated incident. But what provides a shadow of a doubt is that the President of Palisades initial communication was “why are you making such a big deal about this issue”. Now let’s be honest here. What would you think if you heard this statement from the President of a media-buying house? How many clients and media buying organizations do you think actually subscribe to “no urban dictates” but are smart enough not to put it in writing? How many of America’s top 2000 super brands listed in Brandweek have a budget targeted to African Americans? How many super brands do you think target the $900 billion consumer buying power of African Americans with at least a $1 million budget? How many of America’s top 2000 super brands has an African American ad agency partner?

I realize that I am going to take heat for this written communication. I will be vilified in the blogs and magazines for race baiting, shaking down the industry, whining, not taking into consideration that “black folks do not buy luxury items or this product or that” or that black ad agencies are not as good as white ad agencies. Let me keep going here on other comments to anticipate. African American owned broadcasters rates are high. We do not buy hip-hop stations and of course the constant, “we are trying to change with multicultural and diversity programs to reach out.  And if you think I am misguided or paranoid, read the blogs regarding this current BMW Mini Cooper issue. They are as disturbing as the incident itself. Many say that again, African Americans are pulling the race card; or why should a company buy formats where it is “obvious” that the target doesn’t purchase the product; or that the urban stations are likened to a “Rush or Howard Stern” when they are excluded; this is government intrusion; why is it wrong for an advertiser to include or exclude a format; this type of extortion will waste their precious advertising dollars by talking to the wrong people.

New Paradigm Shift- Federal Communications Commissioners Robert McDowell and Jonathan Adelstein asked me to lead an effort to work with the ad instrustry in an effort to eliminate No Urban and No Hispanic Dictates.

The FCC clearly understood that No Urban and No Hispanic Dictates rob Urban and Hispnic broadcasters an average of $200 million in revenues annually.

In fact, the FCC had passed a localism order that effectively addressed the acceptance of No Urban and No Hispanic Dictates dollars by broadcasters. 

During a May  2009 board meeting of the American Association of Advertising Agencies Media Council, a new platform to eliminate No Urban and No Hispanic Dictates was approved by the 4As.

This new paradigm allowed minority broadcasters access and a voice with the CEOs and the executive team of advertising and media buying agencies when there’s evidence of a No Urban or No Hispanic Dictate.

The initial meeting between the Agency CEO and Urban/Hispanic broadcaster is followed up with a second meeting focused on total resolution of the suspected No Urban or No Hispanic Dictate.

Top Down(CEO and executive senior management access) replaces the old No Urban/No Hispanic Dictate model of bottom-up. Minority broadcasters are seeing results with this newly implemented model.

The solution. First be honest that “no urban dictates” still exists. Be honest that the conventional wisdom is “we don’t need to allocate any dollars to African Americans because they will incrementally buy our product anyway”. Second, be smart. African Americans can make the difference for many of America’s top 2000 super brands. There are facts that prove this including the recent Presidential election. Census Bureau data released show the extent to which strong minority-voter turnout in the 2008 election helped President Barack Obama win over swing states and make inroads into Republican strongholds. About five million more people voted for president in November than four years earlier, with minorities accounting for almost the entire increase. About two million more black and Hispanic voters and 600,000 additional Asians went to the polls. While the figures reflect a long-term demographic shift, they also attest to the success of the Democrats’ extensive campaign to register their supporters and get them to the polls. Overall, the 64% turnout was unchanged from four years earlier (U.S. NEWS JULY 21, 2009). What is the relevancy of this to the advertising industry? The Obama Media Team had a relevant brand in President Obama. They had a diverse internal campaign team and they had a diverse group of media consultants. They had a diverse group of endorsers and surrogates. They engaged in a diverse series of events. They had a significant budget targeted to African Americans and Hispanics. And they garnered unprecedented results with a message that resonated and transcended race.

Maybe the BMW Mini Cooper incident was a single, isolated case. Or maybe the representative that issued the avails request was simply being honest. Maybe the thinking was that “we do not want any urban formats because we do not have any relevant creative or a relevant message that can go on urban formats”. We all know that honesty is the best policy. But can any of us handle the truth.

— Sherman Kizart, Managing Director, Kizart Media Partners
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