As part of our interview series connected to representation in the media, we spoke to Benjy Kusi about why representation in marketing campaigns matters, how TikTok is challenging traditional dynamics, and what needs to change to improve representation moving forward.
Benjy blew up on TikTok in 2021, providing educational and compassionate content around inclusion, self-expression and being kind. With a background in media, working on advertising campaigns for fashion and beauty brands, Benjy now works as a freelance inclusion and wellbeing consultant for organizations. He is also a senior consultant for Hustle Crew, an EDI consultancy, alongside making content.
With an aim to shape the worlds of tech, social media, advertising and beyond to be more inclusive Benjy believes that brands often fail to grasp the potential benefits of creating more representative advertising. But he sees the payoff from creating representative campaigns as threefold: on an individual level, “everyone wants to, but also deserves to, see themselves be acknowledged by the brands and companies they invest their money and time into.” Furthermore from a business perspective, “it makes sense to ensure that your marketing campaigns are representative, as you appeal to the broadest audience possible.” At a more holistic level, “Marketing also helps shape culture. It’s a powerful tool for organizations to take a positive stand if done correctly.”
“Marketing also helps shape culture. It’s a powerful tool for organizations to take a positive stand if done correctly.”
So who is getting representative advertising right? Benjy points to the 2020 Sainsbury’s Christmas ad. “As a Black Brit, I love Christmas - spuds and gravy and fighting over Monopoly - but it always seemed to me that at Christmas time it was predominantly white people featured in ads doing the things that I see my family do year in year out.”
“It can be incredibly isolating when you don’t see yourself represented in campaigns that surround big cultural moments"
“It can be incredibly isolating when you don’t see yourself represented in campaigns that surround big cultural moments. The response to this campaign from some corners was ‘This isn’t what Christmas in the UK looks like’. But for me, it reflected what Christmas looks like every year for my household.”
Despite his start working in the traditional media space, Benjy rose to public prominence on TikTok. For him, social media is helping to level the playing field. “Anybody can pick up their phone, especially on TikTok, and have an impact with their content if people are interested in what they have to say. People who aren’t of a particular demographic, or don’t have a certain level of privileges and resources to make it in traditional media can have an impact on social platforms.”
But, he cautions against presenting social media as uniquely placed to remove the issues of representation and inclusion associated with traditional channels. “Structures of privilege do still replicate themselves in the space of social media and we need to be aware of that. The highest-paid influencers are still white, cis, stereotypically attractive people. The same people who succeed in traditional media are still more likely to succeed on social media and feature in influencer marketing campaigns for example.”
“Structures of privilege do still replicate themselves in the space of social media and we need to be aware of that. The highest-paid influencers are still white, cis, stereotypically attractive people. The same people who succeed in traditional media are still more likely to succeed on social media and feature in influencer marketing campaigns for example.”
For Benjy, one of the biggest barriers to overcoming issues of representation in media is tokenism. “Marginalized communities, communities of color, are not monolithic. If you want to create a representative cast of characters, and you only include one Black person, you’re only reflecting on one type of Black experience. It’s a step in the right direction but ultimately not enough.”
He says the key is authentically reflecting the lived experiences of everyone in society. What also stands out is “an unwillingness to think and operate intersectionality - for example, I can’t remember the last time I saw a Black disabled person in a campaign.”
There’s not one solution to creating more representative media, but Benjy believes it starts with creating more representative teams. “There are so many instances where representation has been done wrong. You just think if there had been a more diverse range of lived experiences in the room working on the project that wouldn’t have happened. It’s ineffective, inauthentic and insincere to claim to want to improve representation in the content you produce if you aren’t being representative in-house.”
Part of Benjy’s work with Hustle Crew focuses on helping young people from underrepresented backgrounds get into the tech and media industries, and thrive within the space. “There is so much talent that companies aren’t currently tapping into, and are missing out on.”
Benjy’s next big project is a new book, ‘Hope This Helps’. It focuses on being kinder to yourself, and how being kind to yourself can ultimately help you become more empathetic and compassionate towards others. With chapters on how to listen to others, and why impact means more than intent, it brings the best of Benjy’s TikTok content into a new format.
Benjy Kusi is an inclusion and wellbeing consultant and content creator from South London. He shares educational content on TikTok (@benjy_lookbook) and helps organizations meet their DEI goals. His mission is to equip and empower others to make a positive difference - in their lives, and the lives of those around them.