Vicki Maguire
Nov 29, 2023

Why class is culture and we should celebrate both

By embracing all classes, adland has the chance to become hugely enriched, says Havas London's chief creative officer, Vicki Maguire.

Why class is culture and we should celebrate both
Apart from our first name, Victoria Beckham and I don't have much in common. My career in fashion never took off, for a start. And on top of all the other blindingly obvious differences, our backgrounds aren't the same either.
For a start, though she might claim to have had a working-class upbringing in Netflix's Beckham documentary, when her husband David quickly calls out her bullshit she reluctantly admits that, back in the 1980s, her dad drove her to school in a Rolls-Royce.
My own dad was too busy working as a brickie or running his stall on Leicester market to drive me to school. And anyway, he drove a Commer van with a park bench wired inside it for us kids to sit on.
A braying Tory once told me Thatcher would have loved me because I've "pulled myself up". But why would I want to escape my background? Just because I've done OK, it doesn't mean I have to be middle class now.
To quote my fellow Midlander Caitlin Moran: "The middle classes absorb you and take your life as their victory. You join their team against your will. What that means is that all the things to do with the working class are to have failed, and to be poor, and to not succeed. And that's complete bullshit."
Eton-educated Nicky Haslam's annual "how common" tea towel assumes that we all want to learn and mimic the ways of the upper classes. I'm not sure why you'd want to, though. Things he dismisses as "common" this year include "skinny laaartays", music festivals, podcasts, Zoom meetings (OK, he might have a point there) and Aperol Spritz. I am guilty as charged on all of those, but then so is most of the middle-class ad industry.
Class is culture
To me, class is culture. You are born into a particular class and the customs, aesthetic, vocabulary, humour and tastes are always going to stay with you, but that doesn't mean you need to be limited by them. I'm proud to be working class, but I can still enjoy posh stuff. Likewise, middle- and upper-class people should be able to embrace aspects of working-class culture without turning it into a self-conscious pose.
A new book called The Working Classroom suggests that disadvantaged kids' prospects could improve if we were all taught to recognise the amazing heritage of working-class culture.
Authors Matt Bromley and Andy Griffith suggest that all schools study films like Billy Elliot, Kes and The Big Short plus books by Charles Dickens, George Orwell, Roddy Doyle and Zadie Smith. And songs like Coat of Many Colours by Dolly Parton on poverty, The Eton Rifles by The Jam on class conflict and Ghost Town by The Specials on mass unemployment.
We can embrace our roots without letting them take a stranglehold on our life chances.
The point is to stay open-minded, enjoy what you enjoy, and be confident in expressing your opinions. It's an approach that might help the few working-class kids in the industry to feel less uncomfortable and anxious about being themselves. Too often, they end up feeling excluded from the many opportunities that this industry lays out.
A certain type of taste dominates the industry. But if everyone were happy to learn from each other and not be so afraid to slip up, all our cultures would be hugely enriched. I'm not talking about class tourism – you don't need to live like common people, you just need to be curious about all forms of culture, and to enjoy the fact that there are many, many different ways to live, feel and think.
Actor Stephen Graham is sponsoring a new prize for writers from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, which not only hands out £5,000, but also offers help with script development, finding an agent, getting meetings and generally building a network.
Graham wants to "move our industry forward and give voices a chance to truly be heard".
I'd like to see something similar in the ad industry: perhaps we could set up our own award to recognise underrepresented talent, or even publish our own version of The Working Classroom – a collection of ads and people, all rooted in working-class culture, that have helped make the industry what it is today.
Better still, we could have more working class representation as the norm in our day-to-day working lives. Shockingly, only 16% of the creative industry roles are held by working-class people, which really doesn't make any sense, just as exclusion doesn't make sense for the other poorly represented communities in our industry.
I'm not talking here about diversity for the sake of it, I'm talking about celebrating class and culture across the board. We all have more in common than you might think. I'm sure even Posh Spice and I could find more than our names to bond over – we're both grafters, after all, and by all accounts she likes a laugh.
Vicki Maguire is chief creative officer at Havas London
Campaign UK

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