We all dance. – By @elisaczerwenka

By Elisa Czerwenka


We all dance.


This week at SCA, we had the fantastic opportunity to hear a talk by advertising legend Rosie Arnold. Her speech left me feeling incredibly inspired and more aware than ever about the responsibility we have as creatives to influence culture positively. 


In my past four years at uni and the holidays in between terms, I interned at a couple of different design and advertising agencies. While my main goal was to gain experience, I always tried to do some good beyond what the brief asked me to do. Even if it was the smallest change, I tried my best. I would sometimes succeed, like when I helped rebrand a tights brand and managed to get rid of unrealistically long legs, photoshopped to the extreme, on the packaging. Instead we replaced them with real women in natural poses. Another example was when I had to suggest paper choices to a client, and I only gave recyclable options – the client could focus on aesthetics, while I knew that either choice was an ecological one.


Unfortunately, however, especially as an intern or junior, it’s not always easy to help bring about positive change. In the following, I will tell you about one of my failed attempts to make a difference.


About two years ago I worked for an advertising agency in Berlin. The standard of the work was high, and I learned a lot while being there. Unlike other agencies I had worked for, I finally felt like I was among feminists and people who cared about the stuff they put out there. One day we got a client brief for a radio station. My job as an intern: (a classic intern job) find stock videos of people. They should be dancing, looking like they were having fun. That was all they specified. Easy, I thought. Given the task, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to choose a variety of people. I looked for all sorts of videos. My final collection included young people, older people, different genders, races and people with different looks and weights. I did not discriminate other than what the brief said: people dancing, who looked like they were having fun. If they looked like they had fun, I added them to the deck. When I presented my final selection to the account manager she kindly informed me that I had to get rid of a video of a black guy because we could not run an ad with a black person in Germany. She told me the client had criticised a selection similar to mine previously, therefore I should get rid of anything other than white people. After arguing with her, I showed my choice to the art director. She also told me that I had to get rid of that video but was “allowed” to keep a video of an Asian woman dancing. Although the AD ultimately agreed with my stand, she saw no possibility of keeping the video of the black guy in the deck. I chose to keep it in the deck and brought it forward to the creative directors. And to my disappointment, they immediately said I had to get rid of it.


I wish I could say that I then started arguing. I wish that I could tell a story of how I fought for this video to be kept in the deck, went to the client and kept pushing for it to be in the final ad, then made sure the ad ran. But the reality is that this is the end of my story. I was an intern. And 19. I didn’t know what else I could do. A no meant no. 


The CDs said no and my video never even got to see the eyes of the client. What makes me even sadder is that out of the rest of the videos they also got rid of anything else that was slightly different to an a) white model-type girl in her 20s or b) a white hipster-looking guy. Essentially, we ended up running precisely what you might expect. This made me feel defeated and incredibly disappointed. What else could I do?


But wait, it gets worse. 

The client also decided to run something unexpected. Something bold.

One of the final ads that run was a video of a dancing dog. 


It was easier to run an ad with a dancing dog than an ad with a dancing black person. 

Dear advertising, we have a problem.  




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