Positives from Racial Stereotyping
Racial stereotyping tends to create constructive results in conditions where the adverts are targeted to a particular demographic. Viewers habitually associate a perceptual bias toward people or characters similar to themselves. This is called an in-group. An in-group comprises of individuals that people socially recognise themselves with, for example, features like similarities in age, race, gender, religion and so on. Studies have revealed that “the development of in-group prejudice is more connected to increased bias toward in-group members than to amplified aggression toward out-group members”. Advertisers use this understanding when targeting a product towards a particular market and use demographics to support their data. Different races inhibit different languages, different understandings of symbols and cultural barriers that can limit the efficiency of adverts. Advertisers take into cognizance the in-group bias theory. Viewers are more likely to cast favouritism toward people that they can socially identify with. Therefore, if a marketer is selling in Nigeria, they would use Nigerian models, characters and local languages like Yoruba or Igbo so that the advert becomes relatable. Whereas if they were advertising in England, the adverts tailored towards Nigeria would not reach the target audience efficiently except they altered the adverts to align with the precise demographics of the Italian viewers. Targeting definite demographics is a method of racial stereotyping; however, it is seen to craft progressive results for both the marketer and the viewer. The marketer influences the targeted audience efficiently while the viewers view adverts that apply to them and that they can identify with.
Questions are regularly getting raised as it relates to the ethical use of racial stereotyping in advertising. This form of racial stereotyping, where a specific demographic is being targeted for a product or service particular to them, is seen as regular when it comes to advertising stereotypes.
Negatives from Racial Stereotyping
The negative effects of racial stereotyping in advertising become prominent when people and groups begin to take offence. While it’s very common for adverts to be misinterpreted due to the increased amount of factors contributing to noise along the communication process, there exists a thin line between harmless stereotyping and becoming offensive. Srividya Ramasubramanian states that there are two stages of the stereotyping process “stereotype activation” that is more automatic, and “stereotype application” that is more deliberate. In other words, stereotypical thoughts about out-groups are readily activated at the implicit level even though they are not applied on purpose at the explicit level. It is when we recognise these stereotypical views activated explicitly through the use of adverts that offence takes place. It is the cognizant thought that is being led into that insults people.
As argued earlier, people logically identify themselves generally, they apportion abilities to themselves that they can also associate with other people. This is also recognised as an in-group. When people have ties to a particular demography, it is commonplace to see demography participants see offence to something affecting another participant. “Stereotyping a demography has a noteworthy influence on the way the people within the demography self-identify. So when marketers use racial typecasts in a bad form, normally we see two different outcomes; one being that a person takes offence and hostility toward the advertiser arises, and two, people question themselves and the groups they belong to and can lead to a form of self-oppression. “Social stereotypes that surround us, further shape our self-identity and subsequently, the decisions we make”. Both of which results cause damage to both the advertiser and the viewer and can be seen as bad advertising.
Beauty whitewash is a word used by marketers to explain or rationalise an idea that beauty can be defined by skin colour. This form of rationalisation is seen as the most racist and oppressive as it taints and displaces the general idea that everybody is beautiful and equal regardless of colour. The whitewashing method applied by marketers is to manipulate photographs of models to lighten to skin and hair colour. This is apparent in magazines with photographs of black celebrity women and regularly causes offence and controversy as is displayed by hundreds of opinion forums and blogs with running commentary and discussion on racial prejudice. “Women of colour who are considered beautiful only in so far as they resemble the white ideal, light skin, straight hair, Caucasian features, round eyes”. Whitewashing is a technique used by marketers usually in an effort to target an explicit demographic. It is seen as a slight on the race because a new model or person can be used instead of creating a new type of the same person.
In 2008, L’Oréal Paris received backlash for perceived whitewashing of Beyoncé’s skin and hair colour for their advertising campaign. In the campaign, her skin became considerably brighter along with her hair colour. The campaign received incredible amounts criticism due to the racial offence instigated. Offence was felt heavily in the black community due to the notion that ridicule was made of the black race. Beyoncé is seen as a very influential person and this advertisement was seen to send conflicting messages about identity and race to her impressionable fan base. Due to whitewashing, many black children grow up learning a new truth; that to have dark skin is to be somehow inferior. This particular truth didn’t begin in the 19th century, however. It began in the days of segregation where blacks were not allowed to use restrooms or schools of the whites. Despite this history of segregation and whitewashing, black and Asian parents work hard to give their children an affirmative self-image and confidence in their colour.
Though this issue generally includes altering a person’s skin colour to be brighter, it also works the other way around. If the marketer considers that it will help them to reach their specific demographic, digital manipulation helps make the change.
These alongside with many other similar cases of celeb misrepresentation are perfect examples of racial stereotyping being used negatively in advertising. It raises a very controversial issue where some are seen to be deliberately detaching their own cultural legacy in support of a more topical and more culturally accepted ideal. These adverts use racial stereotypes in a context that has the ability of crafting long term undesirable effects which include, hate-crimes and self-discrimination because ads are not necessarily messages about goods and services, but they are a guide for how to be and what to aspire to become and how to act towards other people and members of another race.
All of these stereotypes started as a result of a study that lacked credible data and were used by marketers in reaching to a particular demographic. Today, these stereotypes and prejudices are seen as the normal black man. These stereotypes have been carried from advertising and mainstream media into real life. In the 2015 debut of the movie “Straight out of Compton” in the United States of America, extra police were deployed to the cinemas to curb perceived excesses of blacks that went to see the movie. By default, there exists a notion in the minds of law enforcement that blacks are violent and this has led to many avoidable deaths in the hands of the police.
Incomplete and faulty portrayals of race have been seen to affect the interactions between government and its agencies and the members of the races that are not portrayed properly. This statement, however, is not an indictment on the government agencies as they are usually created with proper rules and regulations to avoid prejudice and segregation, but this is on some of the people found in the systems. To back up these claims, we take a look at the criminal justice system of the US. The cases of Sandra Bland; a black woman that died in police custody in comparison to the case of Kit Harington; a cast of TV series; Game of Thrones. Both people were arrested for minor traffic violations, but Sandra Bland was found dead in police custody with injuries consistent with forced trauma to the neck. The police officer immediately decided to make use of force to exert his position of power over her and when she fought back, was arrested for alleged assault. The dashcam footage didn’t, however, show proper stop procedures and the assault. Kit Harington, however, was stopped for a minor traffic violation and went on to recount his experience on popular US TV show; Jimmy Kimmel Live. The policeman asked him a question about the TV show and let him off with a warning. This incidence sparked controversy as well as outcry on blogs and forums that claimed what was happening was as a result of racial privilege with the African American being on the receiving end of that particular privilege. Since 2013, there have been so many deaths of unarmed blacks in the US in the hands of law enforcement. Deaths that some security experts have termed as avoidable. Suspected Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof was arrested and placed in handcuffs and a bulletproof vest was put to protect him despite being in possession of numerous firearms. These and so many more scenarios have brought for arguments that there is prejudice towards people of other races.
These arguments have sparked subgroups within communities like the “Black Lives Matters” movement in the US which has been dubbed as terrorist and volatile by law enforcement. Key members of the movements have been time and time over arrested for ‘interrogation’ by the police. The running narrative is a case of cause and effect where there is prejudice due to stereotypes and then the media tends to capitalise on the minor misdoings of members of the minority race. This capitalisation further leads to more stereotypes in advertising and television imageries.
Oluwatosin Adeshokan is a freelance journalist and writer reporting stories about West Africa. He was previously the Culture Editor for YNaija. He tweets at @TheOluwatosin