Re: race in commercials

Dorothy J. Cattle (cattledj@WFU.EDU)
Fri, 8 Dec 1995 08:58:53 -0500

On Thu, 7 Dec 1995, Martin Cohen wrote:

> Heather Marie wrote:
> >I am not sure who posted it earlier, but the facts are that advertising
> >is to make money.

This is wrongly attributed and is opposite the posted view of
Heather Marie. The observation was made by Elaine Hills who was making a
clear argument about advertisers exploiting our rather superficial, wanna
be culture. She also posed some questions about background possibly
affecting one's perception of race in commercials.

> I know the man in TV advertising production who first used African American
> actors in a national ad campaign. He is a friend of the family,
> from the leftist-secular-Jewish tradition...He had one heck of a time
> getting his approve of this great leap.

Not surprising at all. Those clients wanted to make money through
advertising, not waves, moral statements, etc. They certainly didn't
want to set off a real or imagined majority backlash against their
products or companies.

> of course, unlike most sit-coms to this day, African Americans were
> presented with dignity as full members of our society.

Not sure if I'd recognize a commercial as "presenting" minorities "with
dignity as full members of our society". A commercial is commercial.
They were presented to sell a product; they were probably professional
actors following a script. Perhaps you just meant blatant old stereotypes
were avoided... You give details about this person being a
family friend and having a certain background, but no details about the
timeframe or the product/company. "Full" members = consumers with $$$
to spend on the product, perhaps?

Money was not the object. He could have done it the easy way with white actors.
> Martin Cohen

If your friend was successful in advertising, then money had to be the
object, although he could've personally been motivated by other ideas.
It may have been easier to do with white actors, but that doesn't mean
doing it with minority actors meant that the commercialism of ads was
eliminated. Probably what can be said is your friend broadened the pool
of actors selected for selling products. That's good economically for
minority actors and it broadened the "picture of people" associated with
products, TV time, etc. But the companies hiring the ad agencies want
exposure for their product and to increase sales of it. If using
minorities or women or cartoon characters will accomplish those things,
then that's what you'll see.

Along similar lines, notice that the John Madden/ACE Hardware ads no
longer say ACE is the place with the helpful hardware man. He now says
helpful hardware folks.


Dorothy J. Cattle
Wake Forest University