“The biggest movement of our time is happening right now”.
Earlier this week, we caught up with Christopher Kenna, CEO and co-founder of diversity driven marketing agency, Brand Advance.
As the first ‘official’ black baby born on the Isle of Man, kenna’s path wasn’t straight towards becoming CEO of his own company.
After a childhood bouncing around in care homes, Kenna joined the army at just 16 years old. While he was posted in Germany he married and had two kids: Kira, who is 19, and Jerome, 15.
During his second tour in Iraq, Kenna was involved in an accident involving an improvised explosive device, leaving him in a coma for eight weeks.
When asked what gave him the inspiration to create Brand Advance, Kenna highlights the importance of his children. His son is mixed race and his daughter is white. This, he says, “led him to the ethos of Brand Advance”.
“I have a black kid and a white kid, and advertising as it stands right now doesn’t speak to them both the same.
“It keyword-blocks words like black and interracial and Muslim, you know, and I’m ‘out’ now and so it also blocks their dad because their dad is gay.
“For me, it just seemed wrong, that they were treated differently. That’s why I set up Brand Advance, to help brands be able to reach my son just as easily as they can already reach my daughter.”
Kenna emphasises the importance of understanding why brands couldn’t reach both his children, saying that the use of keyword-blocking is preventing companies from reaching of millions of people in certain groups.
“And that just seems ridiculous,” he adds. “Everyone’s chasing Gen Z and they haven’t even got a job. Nobody’s chasing grandad and grandma. No one is advertising to them, or even mum and dad depending how old they are, but they’ve paid their mortgages, they’ve worked all their lives and saved a bit of money. They’re the ones with disposable cash.”
According to Kenna, 46% of UK consumer spend comes from those 50 years or older, yet only 4% of advertising is spent on reaching out to them.
Furthermore, there’s an £81bn consumer spend in the UK by the LGTBQ+ community.
Kenna and his team work alongside clients to ensure “their creative will really resonate and be authentic within that demographic.
“They’ll give us some lovely imagery of a man and woman holding hands and say, ‘can we run that across the LGTB media?’. So our job is to help them sort of say, ‘okay, you could, but what are you trying to say? Do you expect people to click it like that?.”
When asked how it felt to see a brand develop and become diverse enough to reach both his son and daughter. Kenna simply replies: “Great!”
He adds: “I’m a marketer and a businessman so, yes, I want to make money. The make-up of Brand Advance makes me happy as well.
“To be able to build a company and leave a legacy like that is you know, I’m a black gay guy. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I know I’m privileged in that not many people with my skin colour get to be CEOs.”
But to know that every pound or dollar stateside that Brand Advance makes actually equates to more money spent within black or LGBT media is clearly a source of pride for Kenna.
“Now the world wants to reach my son a whole lot more than it did four months ago,” he says. “Whether that’s because of Black Lives Matter or COVID or Trump or just the perfect storm of a lot of craziness.
“We’ve all changed how we look at the world. The biggest movement of our time is happening right now.”
Kenna speaks of the challenges Brand Advance has faced and will face in the future. He speaks mostly to the issue of educating brands and marketers about the importance of diversity in their reach.
“You still have to educate on the importance of reaching black people or the importance of reaching LGBT, or why it’s more than a nice ‘to do’,” he explains.
He also notes that encouraging brands to continue with their diversity past certain time frames is a challenge.
“They all want to spend on black or Asian people during Black History Month or they want to spend on LGTBQ+ in Pride Month.
“It’s like saying, we’re still black the other 11 months, or we’re still gay or lesbian. Still, they don’t quite get it, because it isn’t them. It doesn’t affect them, so they don’t see it.
“The hardest part for us, has been continuous education”.
Our chat ended with Kenna emphasising the passion and value of his Brand Advance team, and the uniqueness he brings to the field.
He says. “I’m probably one of the most gobbiest people you’ll ever meet, and I’ve been awarded the privilege of gobbing off at the highest level.
“I get to speak to people passionately and gob off in my Northern accent to them all equally.
“Everything I say isn’t always the right way to do it all the time, but to just think from that side, can sometimes be the change that’s needed.”