'It's a matter of opening our eyes,' Black-owned creative agency hopes to change the marketing environment
MONTREAL -- Creative director Ash Phillips and brand strategist Miro LaFlaga seek change and embrace it.
The duo founded Six Cinquieme in 2018 to provide a space where Black creatives could work, as they noticed diverse messages were not as valued as mainstream white ones.
With the COVID-19 pandemic illustrating in devastating detail the need for businesses to go online, the two-person creative team has seen an increase in demand for their services.
Their service is also shining a light on issues in the industry beyond the health crisis.
"One thing that we notice is a lot of agencies internally lack diversity and then that's reflected outwards in the type of work that they produce," said LaFlaga.
The two have worked in the industry since 2016 and notice companies often make clumsy, awkward mistakes in their campaigns that one wouldn't expect in 2021.
For example, when the government of Quebec teamed up with the Montreal Canadiens in 2020 on an ad spot with the tagline "On est tous dans la meme equipe contre la COVID-19," (We are all on the same team against COVID-19).
For minorities in Quebec, however, who are not white, the "team" does not seem to include them based on the ad.
"I wasn't represented in that team, in that ad," said Phillips. "That makes us question who are the people that created that ad? Was their team, the production team, diverse? That's where there's a huge disconnect."
"We have to respond now to diversity and inclusion," said Marjolaine Merisier, who runs the Instagram page Black Owned Montreal. "Consumers are a diverse set of people and they are looking at marketing agencies to include them and represent them."
Merisier said that many of the businesses featured on her site began working for other companies, but left to start their own businesses after not being taken seriously or heard clearly in mainstream industries.
"They have to climb up the corporate ladder, and once they achieve that they find that their voice is found out, and they're not as valuable as the homogenous group they're in front of," she said. "That often is the breaking point to making the decision whether do I want to spend a decade in that space or make the transition of starting my own black-owned company."
Fabiola Geneste is one of those entrepreneurs.
She runs the Haitian cuisine catering company Lakay Lola, and hired Six Cinquieme to build her brand.
"I specifically wanted to work with people from the Black community, and I especially like what they had to bring," said Geneste.
When Geneste spoke about her brand, she said Phillips and LaFlaga already understood the difficulties inherent in being a Black-owned business in Quebec.
"They knew the certain difficulties that I may have already had within the business trying to start a business and the visuals that I was trying to bring forward," said Geneste.
LaFlaga said the blame does not always land in the boardroom or executive level for companies, as the creative teams can play a part in producing campaigns with more or less diverse representations.
"It's easy to blame the companies," said LaFlaga. "The companies have a responsibility too, but the agencies and the creative teams also have a responsibility to play too. We've been on projects, and certain representation was lacking and we brought it up. It's like, 'Yo. We've got to change this. This is not a good look. This is not a representation of the world,' and they would listen to us."
LaFlaga said, often, it's subconscious with companies simply not noticing that their imaging and advertising lacks diversity.
"When you've been brought up in your life and that's all you know, it's sort of subconscious, so that's why it's very important to have different people from different backgrounds to challenge those beliefs or at least open up your spirit to different perspectives," he said. "There's a huge change that's needed in that environment."
The goal, Phillips added, is to develop products to answer everyone's needs, not just those who look like you.
"It's about accessibility," she said.
Phillips pointed out that adding multiple perspectives is straight-up good for business in addition to adding cultural and moral value.
"When we live in our own reality and we're in our own bubble, sometimes we can get lost in that and totally be blind to the realities of others," she said. "It's a matter of opening our eyes and having that mindset to intentionally including others in what we do and seeing that as value instead of an extra chore or step."
For Black entrepreneurs like Geneste, having someone understand her products and culture without having to explain anything made her feel more comfortable promoting her food.
Food, that is throughout Montreal and Quebec, but not as represented as it could be.
"We have these amazing restaurants we have these amazing foods and dishes," she said. "People may be hesitant to go to either a Haitian or Caribbean restaurant because it's the type of food I don't like because I don't know the ingredients, but there's a reason for that."