Stereotyping: African American Women in Ads

Monday, October 24, 2011

How it is.  From Kiss My Black Ads.
Role: African American Woman 18-25. Quirky, fun, attractive, interesting, natural, fresh face, but unique, hip, cool style.
This is taken from a collection of different print and commercial castings I've gone on in the past few years.  The role and look is always the same, but only the name of the product changes.  Why is that?
Somewhere inside an office on Madison Avenue in the magical land of advertising, a character was born.  I like to call her the"aspirational African American woman" also known as the "token".  She is brown skinned to light skinned with shoulder length curly or wavy hair.  She is funny and approachable.  She is urban, yet also suburban. She is your every black girl. 
I know you've seen her smile.  She's been on your tv screen and all over magazines selling everything from healthy cereals to feminine products to alcohol.  She's the sister of the "aspirational Black male" and cousin to Token Morning-News Anchor/Meteorologist.  Although each aspirational AA woman is "unique", they really are all the same.  She and others like her are interchangeable. 
Advertisers created this woman as an attempt to satisfy diversity, while also not alienating the non-minority consumer. The problem is that she has become a standard not only in mainstream advertising, but in Black ads too.  I've gone to a casting for a black haircare product and the role was specifically worded as "aspirational female". 

How it should be

The African American woman comes in all shades and sizes, so I don't understand why ads limit us to this one look.  It's not encouraging and very misleading. (Side note: A large percentage of the African American women in advertising have had their hair manipulated to look naturally curly.  Why fake the funk?)
I want to see ads with a variety of Black women with different hues, hairstyles, and backgrounds.  I want to see women that have looks that are inspiring and still achievable.  I want ads that are actually meant for me and not some advertisers idea of who I am.
Time to sound off. Do you think advertisers really have the minority consumer in mind when they create campaigns? 



Inked for Keeps said...

Personally, I do not feel that advertisers have the minority consumer in mind when they most create campaigns. It's funny the images that they portray in these ads. I totally understand what you are saying in this post. There are many times that I flip through magazines, some of which are supposed to be more tailored to the AA woman, and see the same generic look portrayed. No real diversity. Unfortunately, I dont see this changing in the near future. Its a sad truth.

Adia said...

Jeez. So funny that you post this now. I just did a print shoot where I looked - pretty much - just like that cartoon woman at the top of your post. When I came out with the soft, cream-colored shirt, the client said, "That's the character."

It would be great if more ads featured a variety of black women, but until we get more of us in gatekeeper positions in advertising and marketing, it'll be difficult.

Miz B said...

Wow! Thank you for speaking out on this issue. I frequently visit your blog and appreciate your awareness to industry issues! I've modeled for over 10 years and this has been an ongoing problem. There's another casting call type that disturbs me as well...they call it "ambiguous" which means oh she looks a little black or ethnic but not ALL the way!! The problem is advertisers believe its cool or hip to black, they're treating a culture like a trend wich is a slap in the face. Thanks again for bringing awareness!

Gigi said...

I like the "ideal Gucci" ad! I think the ideal differs depending on which part of the world one is in. There's no denying that Denise Huxtable represents the ideal in just about every continent. I now live in France and I'd say that while many will still go for the generic look, many prefer someone like Grace Jones (who was and still is considered one of the sexiest women around here).

My personal observation here is that the darkness or fairness of the skin is not an issue (both in marketing and in real life). One could be dark as night and it wouldn't matter one bit. But the ideal of flowing hair (be it straight or à la Lisa Bonet) is still definitely preferred!