Monday, August 18, 2008

A (M)Ad Man Creates a Campaign to Find Missing Children of Color

5 Questions for a (M)ad Man with a Cause: Giving Visibility to Missing Children of Color

With the phenomenon that is the show Mad Men, former ad man Hadji Williams chose an interesting time to put his copyrighting skills to use for a good cause. Fed up with the lack of news coverage for missing children of color, he launched a campaign of his own. It has caused some controversy, but that just proves to the sought-after brand consultant that he’s doing the right thing. I posed five questions – including one about America’s current favorite TV show – to Hadji Williams, and interspersed his replies with some of the artwork of his provocative yet necessary campaign.

Q. Introduce yourself, brother.

Hadji Williams here. I’m an 18-year vet of the advertising/marketing industry. Built my rep as a copywriter/brand consultant. I’ve worked on everything from Mercedes Benz to AT&T to Wrigley’s Gum to… wow, all I can say is if you drive it, ingest it, drink it, there’s a really good chance I sold it to you. I’m also an author of the Knock the Hustle series which gives people an insider’s view of the corporate culture and some of its crazy hustles.

Most recently I helped launch a campaign called “We Want Our Children Back, Too” which is an online effort dedicated to shining light on missing children of color who get almost zero coverage from America’s media. It includes pictures of actual missing children of color with challenging lines like “He had his whole life ahead of him, too” and “Her close-knit community was shaken, too."

Q. What inspired you to create an ad campaign focused on missing children of color?

Well, it was something that always bugged me because I’m from the south and west sides of Chicago – in the’ hood – and I was always amazed by how little support and understanding young victims of crimes in our community received. I had neighbors who lost family members to violence, hit ‘n’ runs, kidnapping, and every case was ignored by the media and not prioritized by law enforcement. We used to say, “White victims make the papers, black victims make the police blotters.”

I really got concerned with the Madeleine McCann case where the media would rather focus on a little white girl from England who went missing in Portugal than pay attention to missing Black, brown and Asian kids right here in the states. I checked with groups like the Center of Missing and Exploited Children, the FBI and other law enforcement sites. Black, Brown and Asian kids account for almost 45 per cent of all missing and kidnapped kids. Yet who gets all the attention?

But alternative sites like Color of Change, Black and Missing, What About Our Daughters, and Missing Minorities were highlighting kids who don’t get enough coverage, and it inspired me to do something I’m good at—create ad campaigns—for something more worthwhile than cars and toothpaste.

Q. Only a cold stone could not sympathize with the family of these kids, but such folks exist. So... has there been any criticism about the way you’ve chosen to go about this? I mean, no way your "Missing White Girl" spoofs is making you friends in all quarters.

Some people have emailed me saying that I’m just another Black person whining about “the white man” or “the system.” I get all kinds and I know the folks over at Black and Missing and the other sites that focus daily on this issue get their share of hate mail, too. All I can say is, when it’s your kid, your community that’s affected, you’re gonna want the whole world to stop ‘til that child comes home.

The white girl spoof actually furthers the point I’m trying to make. I got a bunch of mail from people saying that I shouldn’t be making fun of “people like that.” They meant missing white people. Most people who've seen the white girl and the white boy spoofs got it right away though and showed love. As for the rest, you can't please everybody.

You can’t get right with some people. I’ve gotten complaints for stretching some of the pics in Photoshop. People don’t keep camera-ready/production quality pics of their family members laying around so sometimes you just gotta tweak the pics to make ‘em fit. I say do your own campaign and hook it up the way you want. If you think this isn’t “expensive enough” then spend your own money and get out there and help instead of doing nothing but complain. I complained about what the mainstream media doesn’t do then I got busy to try and help. You’re free to do the same.

Q. So how do folks who want to step up go about it?

Spread the word. The artwork for the campaign is available online for distribution. It could be your kid next. I also encourage folks to know your neighbors. Many missing and exploited kids get snatched up by people from around the way. And keep a couple of media-quality headshots of your loved ones, something that reproduces well online and in papers. Outlets need artwork they don’t have to stretch, lighten or darken to use.

Q. Good advice that hopefully no one reading this will have the need to actually use. But you know I have to ask you this next. As a former ad man -- a Black man at that in an industry that still remains dominated by White men -- what do you think of the show Mad Men?

On the real? Mad Men reps the advertising industry the way Friends repped being a New Yorker or Two and a Half Men reps single parents. Granted, the industry was predominantly white male driven back then and still is now, but say why that is. Are these guys staunch racists? Are they latent bigots? Are they a "product of their environment?" Don't tell me that wouldn't make for better characters than what they have now. There’s drama in explaining that kind of bias. There's humor in that.

As for the rest of the show, it's not even how the industry works. You can do episodes about how you deal with different clients and types of ads and make it exciting and intriguing. Mad Men, in my opinion, is just some half-assed joint cooked up by folks who've either never worked in the industry or weren't allowed to do the show they really wanted to do in order to get it on the air. But leave it to the Emmys to pick some BS--filled show with white folks being loud and self-indulgent and call it "entertainment."

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