The adage April showers bring May flowers is fitting these days. And it's not just because it's spring. The phrase is also timely considering where the world is today after enduring many harrowing months of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world has gone through one of the most unpleasant and traumatic events in modern history, there is hope on the horizon for better things to come. As of writing this introduction, nearly 60 million adults in the United States have been fully vaccinated.1 Within a matter of days, vaccinations will be available to all adults in many states. There is talk of schools reopening their doors for in-person classes in the fall and people being able to travel and meet up again in small groups with family and friends. These glimmers of hope are a much-needed injection of optimism at one of the worst periods of time in recent memory. Advertising continues to adapt and make its way amid the pandemic. Advertising & Society Quarterly will continue to assess how the industry grapples with an unsettled economy, lingering political divisions, race-based violence, and calls for more diversity, equity, and inclusion in business and throughout society.
This issue largely focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion. James West's (Northumbria University) original article assesses how corporate advertisers in Black consumer magazines responded to the creation of the US federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. West found that advertisers took opportunities to honor King, and by extension, Black history and the Black consumer market. However, these representations appeared while debates ensued over King's legacy, and thus provide insights into the complexities of corporations using advertisements to address social justice and commemorate important figures in American history.
To continue to meet ASQ's long-term goal of preserving and sharing advertising materials, ASQ asked West to develop a digital collection for this issue featuring 40 years of advertisements and other media texts commemorating the MLK holiday. In upcoming issues this year, the journal will continue to collaborate on developing and publishing digital collections of advertisements for future teaching and research. The goals are to centralize the collection of materials related to particular issues or topics and to save items that might be difficult to access or find in the future.
Kathryn Ellis (Southampton Solent University), an award-winning advertiser and professor, conducted original research focused on women in the advertising workplace in the UK. In particular, Ellis asks an important question about gender inclusivity: Why do many women choose not to pursue, or stay in, creative positions in advertising? Through a series of in-depth interviews and focus groups with women in the UK, Ellis reveals the many contributing factors as to why the industry is losing women interested in creative positions. She also offers advice on how practitioners and educators can do a better job of training, recruiting, and retaining women in creative positions in advertising.
Disability is not usually the first identity that comes up in discussions surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion. Therefore, this issue organized a roundtable of leading academics and practitioners well versed in how advertising intersects with disability. Professors Katie Ellis (Curtin University) and Beth Haller (Towson University) define what is meant by disability and how disabilities have been treated in advertising over time. Practitioners Josh Loebner (Designsensory), Kathleen Hall (Microsoft), and Christina Mallon (Wunderman Thompson and Open Style Lab) share how they have taken disabilities into account in their advertising, marketing, and product development work. Unfortunately, the advertising industry and brands have not given disability enough attention, but Loebner, Hall, and Mallon describe how they have advocated for, and achieved, much-needed change through their roles in advertising. Loebner also shares how his doctoral training has informed his work as a partially blind and visually impaired practitioner. For change to be effective and lasting, he calls for more bridges to be built between academia and the advertising industry.
To continue the discussion about disability and advertising, this issue includes an interview where Loebner talks with Mallon and KR Liu (Google) about how disabilities are taken into account in design work. Loebner, Mallon, and Liu share examples of positive and forwardthinking design work as well as experiences where much more could be done to take disabled people's needs and desires into account. In the end, calls are made for disability to be included in discussions surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion. Moreover, disability should be a top consideration when designing products and developing creative work. There are many opportunities lost to reach and serve as many potential customers as possible when disability is not taken into account.
This issue's Author Meets Critics discussion centered on Emily Contois' (University of Tulsa) book Diners, Dudes, and Diets: How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture (UNC Press, 2020). In meeting with communication scholars, historians, and food studies experts, Contois explores how marketing and advertising can reinforce gender-based stereotypes, reify divisions between men and women, and shape consumption habits for men and women in different ways.2 The representation of food in advertising and marketing is neither gender-neutral nor void of class- and race-based power hierarchies which are found in the broader culture and society.
Sajna Razi (University of Illinois at Chicago) developed a detailed lesson plan about how she uses debates in the classroom. In addition to providing some historical background about debates, Razi explains how incorporating debates in the classroom helps students develop vital critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills. Taking the case study of brands which have used April Fools Day pranks as an example, she provides a framework for using debates in online and in-person classrooms. She also emphasizes how debates, when designed with students' interests in mind, can energize any class and make teaching and learning fun.
This issue includes two new Key Concepts in Advertising articles providing short lectures that define terms useful to analyze advertisements: dramatic realism and discourse. In forthcoming issues, the journal will feature more multimedia-rich Key Concepts articles written by leading scholars and practitioners. The goal is to build a robust collection of lecture-based articles that can be used in the classroom, assigned as videos to watch before classes, or used as reference materials for research.
As spring continues to unfold, attention will be on whether recent sprouts of hope will fully blossom. ASQ remains resolute in its mission of assessing how the advertising industry will continue to try to tackle big societal and cultural issues while seeking to serve as an engine of public discourse and economic growth.
April 4, 2021
1. Audrey Carlsen, Pien Huang, Zach Levitt, and Daniel Wood, "How Is the COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign Going in Your State?" NPR, April 4, 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/healthshots/2021/01/28/960901166/how-is-the-covid-19-vaccination-campaign-going-in-your-state.
2. Participants included Melissa Aronczyk (Rutgers), Sarah Banet-Weiser (London School of Economics), Sarah Elvins (University of Manitoba), and Christina Ward (Feral House Publishing and Master Preserver of Wisconsin).