MEANINGFUL involvement and acknowledgement of blacks in the white-dominated advertising industry, particularly in the creativity stakes, remains a shot in the dark - "a fart against the berg wind", to quote a dismayed black creative.
And this was clearly reflected by the paltry number of darkies that went up to the podium at the Good Hope Centre, Cape Town, to collect the coveted bird-shaped statuettes during this year's 31st Loerie Awards.
Except for Nkwenkwe Nkomo being slapped with a lifetime award, and when a largely black creative team from Ogilvy Johannesburg snatched a Grand Prix - the ultimate Loerie prize - for their Channel O "Young, Gifted and Black" campaign, the impact of blacks in the competition was almost non-existent. The blame cannot be put squarely on the awards organisers but ad agency bosses, the majority of whom are conspicuously white, who rule the roost.
The chief executive of the Loeries, Andrew Human, said the ad industry was self-regulatory - as organisers they cannot dictate that (agencies') submissions must have been tackled by creative teams comprising blacks as a prerequisite before being considered for nomination.
"Our duty is to honour South Africa's creative excellence and talent from the best work submitted by the agencies," said Human. "We judge from what we get and judging is done anonymously."
The finger for lack of black participation in the industry can also be pointed at advertising and marketing tertiary institutions, whose (white) principals are usually former (mostly retired) industry employees or stakeholders.
"It is up to the schools to make sure that the students' racial breakdown is balanced," said Human.
Not surprisingly, black sources pleaded not to have their names mentioned alongside their quotes for fear of being victimised.
An industry insider, a copywriter who has been in the industry for about 12 years, said tertiary institutions did produce many gifted black creatives.
However, he said, these youngsters did not stay for more than two years in one local agency or job-hop in search of a higher financial reward and, amid disappointment, migrate to work as far away as Nigeria, thanks to (subtle) racism still raging within the industry.
A black strategic planner, said black strategic and media planners and buyers, especially in the senior ranks, were extinct in advertising for a number of reasons.
Firstly, he said, the attitude towards their work wanes and dies over time. And this is due to the fact that being a trainee strategic planner, particularly for a fresh black graduate, is downright laborious and tedious as it involves a lot of research and data interpretation/collation. Also, the job pays peanuts.
So they throw in the towel and join marketing companies' training programmes to become assistant brand or marketing managers for better salaries and a less demanding scope of work.
Secondly, he continued, they find that their input towards campaigns is not taken seriously by (white) clients and that fellow white employees expect black hopefuls to share similar sentiments (to think like them) when it comes to branding objectives and imperatives while executing client presentations, for instance.
"Confidence and support from white colleagues is lacking because you're employed to fill the (black) quota, not because you can do the job efficiently," he said. "Essentially, what makes you different stands against you.
"Once gone, this guy will never set foot inside an agency again. It's a case of once bitten, twice shy. Those who really stick it out do so if they are prepared to stomach such crap every day."
Recruitment is another sore point, to an extent that one senior black HR officer is considering leaving her job, citing window-dressing.
"Sometimes a white person is hired without our department having interviewed him when there are qualified black counterparts. When I ask why, I'm told he's experienced and they've worked with him before. So what does one do?"
Back to the Loeries. For the first time in the Loeries' 31 years, the SABC, the awards' main sponsor, introduced the New Voice Award, to recognise innovation in radio commercials penned in vernacular, and TBWA\Hunt/Lascaris clinched gold.
l The writer is a trained copywriter and has worked in the industry for eight years