Last semester, I took Culture, Race & Media and for our final, we were asked to create something for our industry that related back to the class. I made a pocket guide for agencies filled with tips on how to add more diversity into their work.
Don't Let Your Commercials Look Like A Health Textbook
don’t let your
look like a
the ultimate pocket guide for agencies
presented by Cheryl Faux
don’t let your commercials look like a
presented by Cheryl Faux
I know what you’re thinking, “There’s no way my
commercial will look like a health textbook.
I’m cool, my agency’s cooler, and even my client’s cool.”
This is not to make you feel uncomfortable or say that your
work is racist. This is a proactive measure I created because
times are changing and if agencies can’t keep up, people will
continue to hate advertising.
And I want a job when I graduate so...
Remember your high school years?
Sitting in health class wishing you were at home playing
Mario Kart on your ‘64 (or pong – depending on age). Now
think to your textbook. The teens all throughout the book
smiling and laughing with one another even though the page
they’re on was about Gonorrhea or teen pregnancy.
Now think about those teens races. This might be a little
tough, but think about it. Probably a bunch of white boys and
girls with the token minorities. It’ll usually be 1 or 2 –
sometimes 3 if you had a progressive book.
And whether they were African American, Asian, or Latino
they all served the same purpose, to make sure the book was
inclusive and connected with minority students.
Now think back to all the commercials you’ve seen –
maybe even created – with the 1 or 2 minorities purely there
to make up for the lack of diversity.
This pocket guide will help you never make that mistake.
this is not
an expert guide. I’m just a regular ‘ol
college student with a passion for proper
representation for minorities.
a serious guide meant to educate agency
folks on a major issue that’s commonly
The conventional story about minorities in advertising goes
something like this:
In the bad old days, before the civil rights movement,
minorities seldom appeared in mainstream media
advertising. But the 1960s brought awareness and
sensitivity, as well as desegregation.
Since then, minorities have taken their place alongside
whites in the integrated world of advertising.
A lot of those ads used to better connect minorities with
brands were filled with stereotypes to really send the
message to consumers that they were being spoken to.
For example, the ads on the right were created by Burrell for
McDonald’s in the 60’s and 70’s. For most people, this was
the first time they were seeing themselves in advertising.
Back in that time, most blacks were happy to be recognized
as thinking human beings after over 300 years of being
caricatured as non-people.
For minorities who had been so invisible for so many years,
to look and say “I see myself on that screen” was extremely
Despite the amazing strides and progress we’ve made to stay
away from stereotypes, it seems that we’ve moved backward.
Currently, a lot of ads are featuring minorities as visual
‘diversity’. The exact opposite of a racial stereotype, visual
diversity is when a commercial white washes a person of
color. There’s a difference between portraying a culture and a
stereotype– there’s also a difference between
genuinely showing an individual’s personality and treated
people of color as white people with no distinct culture (think
The reason there’s such a big rush to include more minorities in
ads is because of what the Selig Center for Economic Growth is
calling ‘The Multicultural Economy’.
In the days when “Mammy” Aunt Jemima was selling pancakes,
advertisers were aiming for the “general market” (code for
white consumers). That’s because at the time, white consumers
held most of the buying power in the country.
As the nation’s demographics shifted and grew over the past
couple years, so did that exchange of power.
• In 2014, the Hispanic market was larger than the
economy of all but 15 countries in the world at $1.3 trillion1
• Black buying power has seen an 86% increase since 2000 and
accounts for 8.7% of the nation’s total2
• Asian buying power is expected to grow to $1 trillion in 20193
1-3. Selin Center for Economic Growth: http://news.uga.edu/releases/article/multicultural-econo-
Ever see a schoolyard filled with white, Asian and black teens
playing? Or middle aged white and Latino men drinking beer
and watching the Super Bowl on their black neighbor's couch?
Or Asians and Latinos dancing the night away in a hip-hop
club? Today, all it takes is a television.
Ads, TV shows and movies are now recognizing the new cultural
mainstream that prizes diversity, a recognition that we are fast
approaching a day when the minority becomes the majority.
The Make Love campaign by Gap is a great example of showing
different cultures and people mixing in an authentic way.
"Going forward, all
going to be
because in most
will no longer
Danny Allen, managing director at SENSIS
Danny Allen, managing director at SENSIS, a
multicultural agency in Los Angeles said, “Going
forward, all advertising is going to be multicultural by
definition, because in most states, majority ethnic
populations will no longer exist.”
That means at some point no single race or
culture will be the majority.
That’s huge news, but if you were to turn on your TV,
you wouldn’t even guess it because of the lack of equal
White people have the greatest chance of any ethnic
group of seeing themselves at work, the grocery store,
church, on the street, at the doctor’s office, etc.
Without representation of all races, genders, sexes,
sexualities, body types, etc., there are stories that we are
missing. Without equal representation, there are people
who are not feeling heard or seen.
In a nation and world as diverse and complex as ours,
the last thing we want is to lose the stories of a large
portion of our people.
And I think that’s why I initially started this pocket
guide. To jump start the conversation and help agencies
move in the right direction to make sure voices and sto-
ries are accurately being portrayed.
1. think about
2. producer’s intent
Hegemony describes the dominance of a culturally
diverse society by a ruling class, who manipulates the
culture of the society. The beliefs, perceptions, and
values of the ruling class are imposed and accepted.
In the Hunger Games, the Capitol, the ruling class, have
imposed their belief that the games is good on all the other
districts, despite how much people hate it. It wasn’t until
Katniss decided there should be no Victors if there can’t be
two that she really started to fight hegemony.
In a world where more and more people are getting
educated on these type of systems and how it affects their
life, making sure your work isn’t supporting hegemonic
standards is very important.
Because it’s much easier to scrap a concept vs a commercial
that tanks because people hate it, steps 1 and 2 are critical in
the early stages of building a campaign.
Time and time and time and time and time and time
again, there seems to be a brand apologizing for having
offensive work. Sometimes I feel bad for them because I
know they didn’t mean any harm, but I have a
background in advertising, so my ‘lens’ on ads is
different from the general public.
Everyone in the world has a lens. Depending on
where you live, your status, race, gender, age, etc., your
lens on the world is going to be unique from others.
I’m a 21 year old African American woman raised in
Georgia from a single parent household studying
advertising. I have friends with the same exact
background as me, but they don’t study advertising. Just
that one simple difference makes me look at the world,
and ads, differently.
Because of lenses, you have to worry about how you
would interpret your ad vs how society will interpret
your ads. In semiotics, this is called the Producer’s
In semiotics, language is a system of signs – words,
images, sounds, etc. – that function within a language to
help us communicate. There are the signs you visually,
the signs the producer’s want you to see, and the signs
you and/or culture sees.
While you and your co-workers think an idea is great,
it could very well have racist tones. To combat this, try
analyzing your work from a variety of different lenses.
4. think niche3. casting, casting,
Once you’ve got a concept – and you made sure it
doesn’t support negative hegemonic standards and/or
your intent matches up with culture – it’s time to move
on to production.
Everyone knows humans are visual creatures. That’s
why commercials are so important when it comes to.
And to make a great commercial, you need great talent.
Whether you’re shooing a toilet paper or a Nike
commercial casting will always be critical in your
story. With the right talent, you can connect and move
a crowd. With the wrong talent (or poor decisions after
hiring great talent), you can offend and alienate
As I mentioned in ‘The Present’, one of the biggest
issues with commercials today is visual diversity. People
of color being white washed and given no distinct
When you’re casting minorities, pick the ones that are
proud of who they are and want to help you in your
mission. Pick the one that will tell you something’s
offensive or gives suggestions on how they should act.
If for whatever reason you’re not ‘up-to-date’ on how a
certain group acts or looks, you might want to consider
having real casting calls and bringing in a couple of
people who actually live the life you want to portray in
Following casting, a suggestion to help you pick, dress,
and direct talent is to think niche.
When I saw niche, I don’t mean race, ethnicity, or even
age. I’m talking interests and personalities.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of niche targeting because
when you know what niche you’re going after all you
have to do is invest time and energy in that group to
really understand who they are and how they want to be
Below are just a couple of niche lifestyles you may not
have thought about.
DIY Fashion Fiend
#Knittaz (not real)
Fit and Photogenic
5. review & then
Did anyone second guess
your initial idea?
Is it supporting or fighting
Are there any stereotypes?
Did you interpret how others
may view it?
Did someone with a different
lens look at it?
As I mentioned in Step 2, it’s very common for an
agency’s ‘innocent joke’ or ‘parody’ get lost in
translation from concept to when consumers interact
with it. And that’s why it’s so incredibly important to
get your work reviewed.
And I’m not talking about the traditional review process
where you pass it to your supervisor. I mean a quality
control process dedicated to making sure it’s culturally
acceptable with proper representation.
Above is a Bloomingdale’s ad that caught a lot of flack
for insinuating that it’s OK to drug people without their
Perhaps if the team (which I’m assuming is male) asked
someone with a different lens in life (a female) to look
at it they would have said, “wait a minute, I don’t know
about this” and the issue would have never arisen.