A year ago a 6 year old girl called Sara brought my attention to the sorry situation that Christmas imagery is a white wash. No not because of the snow. When you undertake generic Christmas themed online searches the images predominantly show white families. If you took the image search results literally you would think only white people celebrate christmas. Newsflash - not the case.
Fast forward to December 2016 and after chatting it through with Nathalie Gordon and Wren Graham we decided to play our part and launch ChristmasSOwhite. To undertake a photoshoot and create imagery showing a diverse christmas to, firstly, raise awareness of the issue and, secondly, found a body of imagery that could be released to be used by everyone thereby helping to redress the problem.
As fortune would have it through Tolu Farinto we were introduced to Selma Nicholls who has a 6 months old start-up modelling agency specialising in under-represented groups called Looks Like Me. Not only did this mean we had access to diverse modelling talent but also, as she is right at the beginning of the journey, we could help Selma's business get the publicity and hopefully business it deserves. Selma is our fourth co-founder.
We only had 15 days from inception to live - if we went live after the 16th December we would hit Christmas shut down and the campaign would dissolve into the ether. Thanks to the kindness of many (Nishma at Google, Karen at MediaCom, Jonny at AMV BBDO, Ed and Dan at Creature, Mike at DigitasLBi, Bo, Sat and Kayleigh at Edelman, Richard at Saatchi & Saatchi and Mel at Sunshine) and the brilliance of the team (Helen Marsden, Yvadney Davies, Jade To, Alana Mcgowan, Michael Adeyeye) we made it and the campaign went live on the 15th December.
ChristmasSOwhite has received more support than we could ever have dreamed of. Thank you SO much. It also garnered huge amounts of coverage and therefore reached more people than we hoped for. Thanks AJ+, BBC, CNBC, The Metro, The Guardian, The Mail, Huffington Post, The Drum, Upworthy and more. We will be running future SOwhite campaigns to keep on raising awareness and growing the body of diverse imagery available. We're not going to rest.
The initiative also raised a few questions which have been incredibly helpful in shaping it's future. Here are some of the things these questions have helped us to think about as well as a few learnings.
The snowball effect and being ready for it
When Nathalie, Selma, Wren and I founded ChristmasSOwhite we were predominantly aiming it at the marketing and advertising community. We wanted them to think about the campaigns they were creating at Christmas and the need for imagery to be diverse. We also wanted to create photography the marketing community could use at Christmas to make more diverse communications.
However the mainstream media felt it was of interest more widely and they decided to run it and as one picked it up, so did another and another culminating with the campaign appearing in the US, China, Japan and Africa (that we know of). We weren't prepared for this and though we had a Press Release written we were suddenly doing interviews and going on live TV when few of us have had media training. This was daunting (terrifying!). The take away is - be prepared for the best scenario. A great lesson.
The need for speed and the challenges it incurs
Getting ChristmasSOwhite live in 15 days meant it was always going to be a first step. As a team we discussed this and felt it was better to do something positive that we could build from rather than do nothing at all. We've had a few questions around the diversity of the team and models in the imagery. The small team behind ChristmasSOwhite and the models featured in the campaign were diverse regionally, socio-economically and ethnically. For the next initiative we will work with diverse bodies and organisations to further build on this first step. The take away is - always go for it, always learn, always improve.
Never read the comments
This may sound counter-intuitive to my comment on gratefully receiving the questions we were asked BUT if someone wants to properly engage with you, especially when we had a public hashtag and shared our email addresses, they will do. Comments tend to be quick and not thought through whereas the tweets and emails we got were incredibly helpful. A few people did share the comments the news pieces received and - to touch on two briefly - we know White Christmas is about the snow, it was a play on words. And then of course there is John Lewis...
John Lewis's Christmas Ad is brilliant
During every interview we were asked whether the initiative was needed because 'the John Lewis advert featured a black family'. The John Lewis advert featuring a black family is brilliant. It is not enough and the initiative aimed to build/add to this and create more and more diverse imagery. We're hoping that in the future a christmas advert from a high street retailer featuring a black family is NOT news.
Lasting impact is the real aim
ChristmasSOwhite successfully created debate about imagery and marketing at Christmas and of that we're incredibly proud. Debate is not enough as the real problem is the lack of diverse, especially domestic, imagery available for everyone to use. This is true at Christmas and it's also true the remaining 364 days of the year. The real challenge is for everyone to create more imagery helping to redress the balance. We're in talks with a major photography distributer to create a collection of diverse imagery - but that is only the beginning.
To everyone who is an image creator - when choosing models for your shoot please endeavour to reflect the wonderfully diverse society you live in to the best of your ability. You may not get it 100% right first time but every effort gets us closer to a world where Sara searches for images online and sees images that look like her.
If you would like to know more about the SOwhite initiative or have any questions or suggestions please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also see the Storify of the full campaign here.