In one of Procter and Gamble’s most talked about ads, there isn’t a product to be found. No one pours laundry soap into a pristine washing machine, or wipes up a spill with paper towels, or glides a razor across their face.
Instead, through a glance, a flinch, a slow pan of the camera, the nearly 2-minute film—titled “The Look”—shines a light on unconscious bias directed at black men, and the resulting struggles they face.
“The Look” was developed by Saturday Morning, a creative collective that leverages the reach of global brands to shift perceptions on racial bias, injustice, immigration, education, and the environment. The group was founded by leading advertising industry executives Deja Cox, Geoff Edwards, Keith Cartwright, Kwame Taylor-Hayford, and Jayanta Jenkins (BFA ’94).
Saturday Morning formed in the summer of 2016, as names like Alton Sterling and Philando Castile filled the headlines. Troubled by the number of police shootings targeting black men, Cartwright texted Jenkins and Edwards. The three had worked for some of the most powerful and prolific brands, helping them earn billions of dollars in revenue.
Cartwright wondered: could they use the same skills to promote a message of peace?
“For so long, brands have been about consumer acquisition,” Jenkins says. “The messaging hasn’t had much meaning, except ‘two for one’ or ‘this blade is the sharpest.’ When we can take brands like Procter and Gamble, and utilize their massive reach and tell a story of inclusion or unconscious bias or gender or sexuality, we’re going to reach millions of people.”
Soon after, Saturday Morning issued a peace brief, a public letter calling on ad industry leaders to join them. They also created peace briefs—underwear with messages like “Don’t shoot,” “I’m a father,” and “I’m not armed” printed on the band. They distributed the briefs to communities in Chicago where gun violence was happening, in hopes of creating a dialogue between the local black and police communities.
Major brands listened, and reacted. Spotify approached Saturday Morning to develop a Black History Month campaign, which the collective quickly turned into a yearlong celebration recognizing the influence of black artists in music, spanning genres and decades. They partnered with musicians like Pharrell and Janelle Monáe, as well as curators at the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, to highlight key figures and moments in black history and music.
“To isolate a month, it didn’t feel big enough,” Jenkins says. “It didn’t feel celebratory enough. It didn’t feel like it would resonate the way we were thinking.”
Soon after, Procter and Gamble came to them, hoping to build on a previous film, “The Talk.” The film had been praised for portraying black families in ways that were rarely represented on a broader scale, and sparking dialogue about race in America. Yet, the campaign was also criticized for its lack of men, thus perpetuating the stereotype of absent black fathers.
“The Look” follows a black man as elevator doors close in his face and store clerks monitor his movements. In the closing scene the camera pans around a court scene, pausing as he takes his seat at the judge’s bench.
Jenkins says it’s a representation that’s rarely seen in advertising, which is more likely to show black men as athletes and musicians. “The Look,” he says, was the first time he saw his own experience portrayed in a commercial.
“‘The Look,’ for me, was so personal and so visceral,” Jenkins says. “I didn’t have to go very far to figure out how to tell that story with my partners.
“The challenge in the advertising industry, like the entertainment industry, is authenticity. It would have been very easy to tell that story in a way that felt superficial or victim blaming, or blaming others. We have to channel a lot of thoughtfulness in approach when making a piece of communication like that.”
Jenkins and his co-founders continue to meet once a week—although usually on Sunday mornings—and they’re working to expand their reach beyond the advertising world. They’re involved in a few feature films, and hope to eventually build a physical space in Los Angeles that also functions as a community center.
While Saturday Morning is focused on leveraging massive platforms, Jenkins says some battles are waged on a more intimate scale. Throughout his career, Jenkins has worked in leadership positions at global companies, but is often the only African-American in the room. This representation is important when trying to ensure authentic representation in advertising, but he says, it’s also crucial for showing younger employees how to forge their own path.
“I want to champion and create leadership roles for women and people of color—not just bringing in young people,” he says. “I think that the biggest challenge for all industries right now is making sure they’re preparing and grooming young people of color and gender to be leaders, because that’s where the real effectiveness happens.”