Truth or Stereotypes in Advertising

July 27th, 2011 | Categories: Stereotypes in General

Imagine how happy I was when Summer’s Eve made my job as a blogger writing about communicated stereotypes so easy!

Britni Danielle at asked, “Although I understand the company’s need to appeal to all women, I wonder if they really had to tailor their ads specifically toward race?”

As often happens when we try to find out information or dig deeper on an issue, Britni is asking an unproductive question. Britni is clearly trying to call the value and legitimacy of the ads into question.  However, the question she asks reinforces rather than critiques the problems inherent in the ads themselves. Both her question and these ads are based on the same premise.

One premise is that all members of racial groups act in a specific way.  Summer’s Eve focuses on the idea that members of Black, Latina, and White racial groups act consistently with the stereotypes describing those groups.

A second, and frequently often overlooked, premise of these ads is that race exists at all. Summer’s Eve wouldn’t have produced a Black, Latina, and White version of the commercial if they didn’t think that these were distinct demographics to which they could market their products.

These two premises treat stereotypes and race as truth.  Summer’s Eve produced the advertisements because they saw race and these stereotypes as true for at least enough of the population to warrant their financial investment. Britni, trying to problematize these ads,  reinforces this truth by including the same premises in her question.

A better question Britni might ask is, “Although I understand the company’s need to appeal to all women, I wonder if they really had to tailor their ads specifically toward [stereotypes]?”

I know that communicating a stereotype in an advertisement is de rigueur. Everyone does it. However, the way in which a stereotype is incorporated matters. Is the stereotype presented as truth or steroetype? Summer’s Eve does not seem to realize that their advertisements are communicating stereotypes because it treats these stereotypes as if they are true. Without their intention being made clear in the use of such controversial stereotypes, they leave themselves open to much criticism. For example I recommend that you check out the 5 minute satirical critique by Stephen Colbert.

In contrast, the CitBank advertisement below makes the company’s  intentional use of stereotypes clear. In their advertisement, they present the stereotype as false. The advertisement takes issues of stereotyping a step further by prescriptively telling its customers to be cautious of stereotypes because they could blind you to more legitimate threats. The CitiBank advertisement, which I have saved in hard copy since 1996 and have used in many classes, is an ethical, poignant, and persuasive ad because it incorporates a stereotype as stereotype and NOT as truth.





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