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Racism in advertising: 50 shocking examples

In the past, using racism in advertising was an acceptable marketing strategy. Today, standards have changed yet it's not too difficult to find traces of racist attitudes in commercials and pictures.

by david-c On March 12, 2011

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19 ans, passionné par la publicité depuis l'enfance, Ad'Times est mon blog destiné a la publicité et au marketing.

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The typical black server – a concept used far too often

Today, we will try to address a serious topic in advertising: racism. In the past, advertising was extremely racist and was almost accepted as rooted in morality. Fortunately in modern times, attitudes have come a long way to counteract this phenomenon in advertising. Nevertheless, there are still traces of this outdated mindset that focuses on cliches and stereotypes. Because racism takes many forms, it can be viewed in several recent ads….

Years of racism: Between slavery and stereotypes.

Roots of racism 

“Why doesn’t your mama wash you with Fairy Soap?”
“My skin is dark but my heart is white”

In France, the abolition of slavery occurred in 1794, but it wasn’t enforced until 1848. Thus many years passed before this mindset was changed in society, leaving lasting impressions on intellects. Prominent cliches and mannerisms of the time period seeped its way into these early advertising campaigns.

Across the Atlantic, abolition occurred in 1868. These additional years strengthened the stereotype of the black servant. In effect, in these advertisements shows the blatant racism against the black population.

“The soap ‘Dirtoff’ makes me white!”
“With Javel S.D.C, you can bleach a negro and it still acts as a soap”

While the context of these ads are appalling, unfortunately for the time period they were considered normal. They were all published at the beginning of the 20th century, as the actual abolition of slavery took years to implement.

Banania’s famous advertisement campaign - France

The black servant: Dominated by the white

The black population’s shift in status took years to change, as ads reinforced the images of those with darker skin being subservient to Caucasian. Clearly these examples show the servers as black and dominated.

At the disposal of the white, rich masters

From a young age

The two campaigns, although decades apart are very similar…

Aunt Jemina: Racially inferior

Profound racism in the 20th century

Mocking the black population as being less wealthy and educated

Aunt Jemima,  figurehead of racism in advertising

Physical distortions

Advertisements played off of racial physical distortions in their campaigns. Focused on blacks, these ads made fun of their physique in a way that enforced cliches. For example, at the time watermelon was typically reserved for blacks as it was cheap, nutrient poor, and…resembling the lips and large skull (very much a stupid illusion).

Picanny Freeze

Large lips and atypical physique

Van Heusen: Already notorious for sexism, the brand illustrates its racism

And now?

In the face of such appalling stereotypes and cliches, one wonders what could possibly be worse. Even though conditions have improved and people are more likely to criticize racism, inappropriate marketing strategies still have found their way into the public domain.

In 1979, Levy’s campaign slogan was “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s.” This advertising agency shows that racist attitudes are still present.

Levy’s, considered of Jewish origin, plays off the stereotypes of people from different ages and ethnicities.

In 2009 L’Oréal was accused of “whitening” Beyonce

4 advertisements that progressively whiten

The Spanish basketball team sparked a scandal with this poster for the Beijing Olympic games.

In 2010, Vaseline released this cream for skim whitening. Some bought the product, while others criticized.

A scandal broke out when a marketing agency used Obama in the advertisement “chocolate in vanilla.” Additionally, an advertisement being replicated in Poland replaced a black man with a white man.

In 2006, Sony released these advertisements promoting its black and white portable PlayStation. It depicts two women battling, yet the scandal concerned the domination of the white over the black woman. It was quickly removed from the public.

No scandal with this photo….

“Need a tip when you are stuck in an awkward situation?” – ” Too easy.”

KFC released this Australian ad in early 2010, and once it hit the Internet Americans cried out against its racist nature – the concept that a bucket of chicken can calm a black crowd, and that the main actor is alone. Again, the ad was withdrawn.

American Apparel stigmatizes this black woman

In 2007, Intel initiated a scandal with the poster on the left, as it insinuated slaves around a white master.

These examples show some of the advertising blunders related to racism. Often unintentional, yet very disastrous for brands. KFC’s reputation still suffers from the advertisement released on the web.

Commercials : Racism is still present

Racism is still present today in advertisements despite its modernity

For Volkswagen, Muslims are terrorists (especially since 9/11)

In bad taste, and consequentially banned from the airwaves.

“Appearances can be deceiving” –  SERIOUSLY?

In 1960, the Chinese did not have spoons…

Coloreia Italiana – Racism against Caucasians

Clearly all these examples show that racism in advertising is nothing new. Traces of slavery are slowly starting to disappear from the media due to campaigns directed against racism.

Yet some advertisers, desperate to cut through the clutter, aim to be provocative at all cost and are quick to play the race card. Some people take offense over very little, and this amplifies the “bad” reputation. Today, sometimes the term “racism” is common place, but society still needs to consider whether an advisement is offensive.

Conversely, some brands play off stereotypes, and sometimes it is successful:

“Not just anybody could be in this advertisement.”  Ironic humor Eram, whose clients struggle against  sexism (A form of racism)

Article originally published on Ad’Times by D

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