Non-white people are increasingly being featured in advertisements and a principled interest in “diversity” is not the only, or likely even the main motivation.
In this series, I share some ideas about why and how people of color are included in advertising aimed primarily at whites. This post is about the inclusion of people of color in ads to invoke the idea of “color,” “flavor,” or “personality.”
Consider, this ad for Absolute Vodka Peach (“Find Your Flavor”) includes two white and two brown people, plus a set of silhouettes.
Holly F. and Lafin T.J. sent in three Life cereal box covers. Notice that “regular” Life has white people on the cover, while cinnamon and maple and brown sugar flavors have people of color on their covers:
In this pro-diversity ad, spice is literally used to represent diversity (via MultiCultClassics). (Just a bit misguided too: Just a teaspoon or less of color, please.)
This ad for Samba Colore by Swatch also uses a model of color:
“Welcome to the Color Factory.” These two ads for a color photo printer and a color printer cartridge both use models of color alongside white models in order to express how “colorful” their product is.
Bri sent in these four images (three from Gap and one from United Colors of Benneton). Each Gap ad is advertising a different product, with an emphasis on how many colors they come in (bottom right corner). They all, also, feature models of color. Here’s just one of them:
And, of course, the United Colors of Benneton is famous for its use of models of color in its ads, blending quite purposefully the idea of clothing colors and skin colors:
Finally Joshua B. sent in this photo of two french fry holders, one with a black and one with a white woman, reading “never a dull moment, only tasty,” and “Is it wrong to think Arby’s all the time.” The black woman, then, is presented alongside the ideas of excitement and flavor:
Last week the internet chuckled at the visual below. It shows that, since Godzilla made his first movie appearance in 1954, he has tripled in size.
Kris Holt, at PolicyMic, suggests that his enlargement is in response to growing skylines. She writes:
As time has passed, buildings have grown ever taller too. If Godzilla had stayed the same height throughout its entire existence, it would be much less imposing on a modern cityscape.
This seems plausible. Buildings have gotten taller and so, to preserve the original feel, Godzilla would have to grow too.
But rising buildings can’t be the only explanation. According to this graphic, the tallest building at the time of Gozilla’s debut was the Empire State Building, rising to 381 meters. The tallest building in the world today is (still) the Burj Khalifa. At 828 meters, it’s more than twice as tall as the Empire State Building, but it’s far from three times as tall, or 1,143 meters.
Is there an alternate explanation? Here’s one hypothesis.
In 1971, the average American was exposed to about 500 advertisements per day. Today, because of the internet, they are exposed to over 5,000. Every. Day.
Media critic Sut Jhally argues that the flood of advertising has forced marketers to shift strategies. Specifically, he says
So overwhelming has the commercial takeover of culture become, that it has now become a problem for advertisers who now worry about clutter and noise. That is, how do you make your ads stand out from the commercial impressions that people are exposed to.
One strategy has been to ratchet up shock value. “You need to get eyeballs. You need to be loud,” said Kevin Kay, Spike’s programming chief.
So, to increase shock value, everything is being made more extreme. Compared to the early ’90s, before the internet was a fixture in most homes and businesses, advertising — and I’m guessing media in general — has gotten more extreme in lots of ways. Things are sexier, more violent, more gorgeous, more satirical, and weirder.
Ads are always selling more than just a product. They’re selling a fantasy. In this case, buy Ballantine Ale and you’ll get this:
The this is this ad from 1954 is what interests me. I see same-sex friendship. These are presumably two heterosexual married couples — though some would disagree — but the ad isn’t about love, marriage, or sex. The ad is about the friendship that each spouse finds with their same-sex counterpart. The two couples come together not for platonic cross-sex companionship, in other words, but same-sex friendship.
For much of American history, the idea that men and women could be friends made little sense. This was not for the reason we tend to think this today (that is, sexual temptation), but because men and women were believed to be psychologically different. Differences between the sexes were believed to make cross-sex friendship impossible and pointless. You wouldn’t have anything in common and couldn’t understand one another. Women needed men for marriage, domestic divisions of labor, and children — and vice versa — but true friendship was reserved for someone of the same sex.
We certainly don’t need to return to that type of thinking — even if it was adorable — but I do appreciate the way this ad is committed to the idea that simple friendship is fantastic.
This is a Pink Lady: 15 oz. gin, 4 dashes of grenadine, and an egg white.
According to Shanna Farrell, the Pink Lady was popularized in the ’50s. Women were believed to have “dainty palates,” and so cocktails for women were designed to disguise any taste of alcohol. In the ’70s, the Pink Lady was surpassed by the Lemon Drop and, in the ’80s, the Cosmopolitan.
Farrell asks “What does it mean to drink like a woman” today? Anecdotally, she finds that bartenders consistently expect her to order something “juicy or sweet” — “It’s pink; you’ll like it” — and respond with a favorable nod when she orders something “spirit forward.”
This is typical for America today: women are expected to perform femininity, but when they perform masculinity, they are admired and rewarded. This is because we still put greater value on men and the things we associate with them.
This phenomenon of valuing masculinity over femininity — what we call “androcentrism” — may be changing how women drink, since everyone likes that nod of approval. Farrell reports that “women account for the fastest-growing segment of worldwide whiskey consumers.” Well hello, Hilary.
I wonder how men will respond to women’s incursion into the whiskey market. Traditionally we’ve seen male flight. As an activity, occupation, or product is increasingly associated with women, men leave. In a society where women keep infiltrating more and more of men’s domains, this is a bad long-term strategy for maintaining dominance (see, for example, the feminization of education). As I ask in my forthcoming sociology of gender textbook: “What will happen when women are sipping from all the bottles?”
Last week NPR reported that scientists now trace some of the rise of American obesity to the fear of fat. Beginning in the 1970s, nutritionists began warning Americans to consume less fat. This initiated the “low fat” and “fat free” crazes that still linger.
Yet, it now seems that people who followed the advice of nutritionists at the time — to eat less cheese, milk, and meat and more pasta, potatoes, and rice — were likely to get fatter, not skinnier. The closer a person stuck to the dietary guidelines, the more weight they would gain and, the more weight they gained, the more others would pressure them to stick to the dietary guidelines. The phrase “cruel irony” only begins to capture it.
The ad below, from 1959, is a peek into another era. Just a few years before the fear of fat began, the sugar industry was plausibly suggesting that eating more sugar was the best way to stay slim. This was industry association propaganda, but no doubt the potato and pasta industries contributed to the story in the ’70s just as the meat and dairy industries are in on it today.
The revision of our nutritional guidelines reminds us to be skeptical of the conventional wisdom. Moreover, it should inspire us all to check our tendency to judge others. We don’t have perfect knowledge that allows us perfect control over our bodies. Scientists are doing the best they can — and hopefully not taking too much funding from for-profit food industries — and individuals are restricted by whatever knowledge and resources they have.
by Claude S. Fischer PhD, Mar 29, 2014, at 09:00 am
U.S. Army celebrates “Hispanic Month” (source: wikimedia)
One may well wonder where the term “Hispanic,” and for that matter, “Latino,” came from. The press and pundits are all abuzz about the Hispanic vote, Hispanic organizations, and Hispanic cultural influences. Back in the mid-twentieth century, however, they wrote about Mexicans or Puerto Ricans or Guatemalans, not about Hispanics. Of course, people of Latin American origin have become far more numerous in the United States since then and the immigration itself brings more attention. Nonetheless, the labels have changed. Starting in the 1970s, the media rapidly adopted the “pan-ethnic” term Hispanic, and to a lesser degree, Latino, and slowed down their use of specific national labels.* So did, organizations, agencies, businesses, and “Hispanics” themselves.
As recounted in her important new book, Making Hispanics, sociologist (and my colleague) G. Cristina Mora tells the story of how people as diverse as Cuban-born businessmen in Miami, undocumented Mexican farm workers in California, and third-generation part-Puerto Ricans in New York who do not even understand Spanish were brought together into one social category: Hispanic-Americans.
Politics, Business, and Government
Mora describes an alliance that emerged in the 1970s among grassroots activists, Spanish-language broadcasters, and federal officials to define and promote “Hispanic.”
Activists had previously stressed their national origins and operated regionally – notably, Mexicans in the southwest (where the term “Chicano” became popular for a while) and Puerto Ricans in the northeast. But the larger the numbers they could claim by joining together, the more political clout, the more governmental funds, and the more philanthropic support they could claim. Pumping up the numbers was particularly important given their latent competition with African-American activists over limited resources and limited media attention. Some pan-ethnic term promised to yield the biggest count.
Spanish-language television broadcasters, notably Univision, looked to expand their appeal to advertisers by delivering them a national market. Although the broadcasters faced obstacles in appealing to Spanish-language viewers across the country differing significantly in programming tastes and dialects, they managed to amalgamate the audiences by replacing content imported from abroad with content developed in the United States. They could then sell not medium-to-small Mexican-, Cuban-, or Puerto Rican-American audiences to advertisers, but one huge Hispanic-American audience.
Making the term official as a census category helped both activists and entrepreneurs. Previously, the Bureau of the Census classified Latin Americans as whites with distinct national origins, usually poorly measured. The activists pressed the census bureau, as did some politicians, to provide as broad a label as possible and count everyone who might conceivably fit the category, including, for example, the African-origin Dominicans (although not the French-speaking Haitians nor the Portuguese-speaking Brazilians). This pressure led to the 1980 formulation, used ever since, in which the census asks Americans whether or not they are “Hispanic” separately from whether they are white, black, Asian, or Indian.
The three interest groups worked together to publicize and promote the idea and the statistical category of “Hispanic.” As Mora explains, leaving the label’s meaning somewhat ambiguous was useful in both expanding the numbers and in selling the category – as a large needy population to the government and as numerous, affluent consumers to advertisers. The three parties also campaigned to get other institutions, such as state vital statistics bureaus and big businesses to adopt Hispanic as an official category. Many so-called Hispanics preferred and still prefer to call themselves by their national origins; Mora quotes a 1990s bumper sticker, “Don’t Call Me Hispanic, I’m Cuban!” But the term has taken over.
And, so Hispanic-Americans matter a lot now.
Categories of people that we take to be fixed – for example, our assumptions that people are old or young, black or white, male or female – often turn out to be not fixed at all. Social scientists have documented the way the definition of Negro/African American/black has shifted over the generations. There was a time, for example, when the census bureau sought to distinguish octoroons and a time when it could not figure out how to classify people from the Indian subcontinent. In Making Hispanics, Mora lets us see close up just how this new category, Hispanic, that we now take to be a person’s basic identity, was created, debated, and certified.
One lesson is that it could have been otherwise. If the pace and sources of migration had been different or if the politics of the 1970s had cut differently, maybe we would be talking about two separate identities, Chicano and “Other Spanish-speaking.” Or maybe we would be classifying the darker-skinned with “Blacks” and lighter-skinned with “Whites.” Or something else. Making Hispanics teaches us much about the social construction of identity.
* Based on my analysis of statistics on New York Times stories and the nGram data on words in American books. Use of “Chicano” surged in 1960s and 1970s, but then faded as “Latino” and, especially, “Hispanic” rose.
The paradox: masculinity is strength, power, and dominance… but femininity is terrifying. Gender rules insist that men must avoid association with the feminine at all costs because, if they do not, they are weak. They are pussies, bitches, women, girls. Femininity is weakness and yet, oddly, it has the power to strip men of their manliness. It is as if, as sociologist Gwen Sharp once put it, “masculinity is so fragile that apparently even the slightest brush with the feminine destroys it.”
Behold the best example of this phenomenon ever:
Let’s be clear. The reason he’s afraid of femininity is because it’s reviled. It makes you a woman, which makes you worthless. Which is fine for the ladies, but dudes are advised to avoid personal denigration if at all possible.
I always love a good behind-the-scenes marketing story and last month NPR reported that Proctor & Gamble is facing falling men’s razor sales as beards have become more fashionable. Their response? To put more pressure on men to shave other parts of their bodies.
Always a glutton for punishment, I set out to discover just how they were going to try to convince men to do this… and I was not disappointed.
Gillette has hired models to convince men to shave, well, their whole body. A slightly longer ad featuring three of them begins with the question, “What do you say to a guy who grooms everything?” To which they answer, “Yaaaaaaay!” No really.
This is the sexual objectification of male bodies. The use of threats like “you’ll be disgusting to women if you don’t do what we say” is a form of social control. One point for capitalism over its long-enduring opponent in the male hygiene and grooming market: gender ideology.