Re: race in advertising

Richard L. Warms (RW04@SWT.EDU)
Fri, 8 Dec 1995 11:31:03 -0600

I'd like to comment a little about race and advertising. It seems to me that
there is lots going on here. Let me try a brief analysis of the Bennetton
(spelling?) adds in the US.

All commercial advertising is set withing the context of capitalist
relations. Its purpose is to increase revenues and all other intentions are
subbordinate to that one. There are however lots of tactics that can be used
and race is one of them. It is not, however used in a consistant way.

The Bennetton adds are made "deep" by their use of race, so they will serve
as an example.

There are at least three reasons for the use of race in these adds:

1) graphic: One of the main things the adds are trying to drive home is a
vivid sense of color. Color is mentioned in their slogan "United Colors Of.."
and the adds are visually very bright. On one level, different colors of
people are used to emphasize the abstract notion of color and create very
vivid, bright, memorable images.

2) race, multicultural: On one level the words and pictures have a kind of
"feel good" message about race. The key word is "united" and the pictures show
people of many different races. I note however, that what is being marketed is
the feeling. The actual product is very expensive and is purchased in this
country by the upper-middle and middle class, overwhelmingly made up of "white"
people. Bennetton is not actually marketing to a multi-cultural audience.
They are marketing the feel of multiculturalism to a largely white audience.

3) race, racist/sexual: the adds are very sensual, and "united" of course can
have more than one connotation (remember the old fly United poster with the two
geese). The adds often show physical contact between whites and blacks and
imply issues of sex, and sometimes domination. For a great many in America
these are really hot topics. The adds are designed to poke at the racism that
underlies American society. A great many people who buy the product would be
uncomfortable, to say the least, at the thought of a person of another race
joining their family.

Thus, the feel-good multiculturalism of one
message is opposed to the issues of racial tension, sexuality, and domination
of the other message. The result of this is memorable imagery and frequent
controversey. The effect of both is to keep the trade name in the public
eye... and that increases sales. It also provides fun for the analysts.

Best regards,

Rich Warms