Visionary advertising veteran Carol H. Williams received her due recognition with her induction into the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Fame on April 25. Williams is the first black female executive to be given this top industry honor.
She will also receive the David Bell Award for Industry Service, recognizing the extraordinary and unique contributions and service to the advertising community and industry as a whole.
Williams is behind some of advertising’s most iconic campaigns. And it’s no secret that she is cemented in advertising history as ‘the turnaround queen,’ given her precise talent to transform a brand from zero to hero.
She is the brainchild of Secret deodorant’s “strong enough for a man but made for a woman” campaign, which catapulted the deodorant to the No. 1 seller on the market at the time, up from No. 9. Once a declining brand for Procter & Gamble, Williams’ turnaround of Secret became one of P&G’s greatest success stories.
Her “Say Hello to Poppin’ Fresh Dough” campaign for Pillsbury nationally reintroduced the now ubiquitous Pillsbury Dough Boy into American homes and further cemented Williams’ words into the American pop culture cannon.
She founded her namesake agency, Carol H. Williams Advertising, in 1986 after working at Leo Burnett Co. in Chicago as the agency’s first black and female vice president and creative director.
Her understanding of African American consumers mixed with her masterful campaign executions and advertising acumen allowed her to confidently move out of the ad capitals of New York and Chicago to Oakland, California, where she continued to shine as the CEO and chief creative officer of the small multicultural, full-service integrated agency.
Since then, her award-winning agency—which boasts a roster of clients that includes the U.S. Army and Bank of America to Cover Girl and General Motors—has produced campaigns that accurately showcase the point of view of people of color. CHWA is the largest female-owned African American agency in the U.S., with satellite offices in Chicago, Detroit, and New York.Williams at the induction ceremony. (Image: Carol H. Williams Advertising Agency)
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with the ad titan to find out her thoughts on this honor and what has made her stand out and remain a constant in an ever-changing industry. She also dishes on the inspiration behind her famous Secret deodorant slogan, the skills she thinks people of color need to make it in the ad world, and the tremendous buying power of black women.
What was your first reaction when you found out that you will be inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame?
It impacted me in an unbelievable way. Before I knew it I was filled with emotion. An industry recognizing all of your hard work and your struggle and looking beyond all the obvious things and saying, “yes, we recognize that you are one of the best of the best” is the most unbelievable feeling in the world. It is the same kind of thing as winning the Super Bowl or getting a slam dunk. It is the moment that you recognize that you have been respected for what God has endowed you with. We work all our lives and as a result, the reward we get is mostly a paycheck—this is way beyond.
You’re the first black woman advertising executive and creative to receive this honor. What does this mean to you as a woman of color?
It’s a mix of emotions. Of course, I am blessed among women to be able to open the door but it’s bigger than just opening that door. If women of color don’t come behind me it means nothing. There are few women of color that succeed in advertising than about any other industry. The question is why and what do we need to do better in corporate America? And what are women like myself doing to lay a better path for women of color in corporate America?
What inspired you to go into advertising and to create your own agency?
Initially, I went to school thinking I wanted to be a doctor, somehow my path led me to advertising and on that path, I found that I could do and express all the things I love. I could learn the science and express the art.
Advertising is such a wordy industry, it is a problem-solving agency that’s challenging on all levels and I love solving problems. It allowed me to exercise every aspect of my creativity. I love talking and moving humanity. I love engaging with them, I love showing them things to do, how to dress, how to speak, and interact and I love teaching them how to love. I did that all through the communications which I aired. It is an amazing experience.
How has your agency influenced companies and big brands to reach and engage consumers of color?
I’ve immensely enjoyed putting forth and creating strategic platforms to allow clients to understand the huge immense buying power of the African American market and where the commonalities are and where the differences are. Understanding the culture and the utilization of it because culture surrounds us and infuses us; we live in it and out of it every day in terms of who we are and how we interpret it and what’s important to us. And the impact that black females have overall on this culture has to be recognized and valued.
Read why Carol Williams touts the tremendous buying power of black women, on page 2