Advertising, at its heart, is about motivating people to make impulsive decisions. The industry gives consumers 15 seconds to view an image—let it move them, to implore them, to motivate them—so that ultimately, they fall in love with a brand and take action. It may seem ironic, then, to use advertising as a means to eradicate snap judgments and confront bias; yet, it’s one of the most powerful tools:
Advertisements. They have been called ubiquitous, inescapable, and one of the most important cultural factors affecting modem society (Williamson, 1978). They have also been described as one of the great vehicles of social communication, a vast system with “unsurpassed communicative powers” (Leiss, Kline, & Jhally, 1986, p. 7).
(Plous and Neptune, 1997, p.627)
For this reason, C3 has developed the “(Ad)ding Real Color” campaign, a series of 28 print ads showcasing the original ad next to its reinterpreted counterpart. The recreated ads feature African Americans—giving color to color in response to ads that were originally strictly white. C3 chose to illustrate this dichotomy to not only call attention to racial bias in advertising, but also increase visibility of black figures. The overall goal is to communicate that inclusive advertising is a brand imperative.
Skilled advertisers have the ability to make or break stereotypes, and the communications industry can have a huge impact on how audiences view those around them. That influence, the ability to generate lasting change, is needed now, more than ever…The first content analysis of racial biases in advertising was published by Shuey, King, and Griffith (1953). These authors analyzed magazine advertisements from 1949 and 1950, and they found that (a) only 0.6% of magazine advertisements contained African Americans (Plous and Neptune, 1997, p.629). In December of 2016 Marketing Week reported only 19% of people in ads are from minority groups.
The numbers suggest progress has been made but racial biases persist in print and other advertising mediums. According to Marketing Week, “failing to engage with the issue of diversity could ultimately prove brand damaging.” Studies have found that individuals favor a brand that reflects diversity in advertising, while 67% of those surveyed expect advertisers to represent the diverse aspects of society. Furthermore, C3 recognizes that the demographic shift of the ad audience has far outpaced the demographic shift of the ad industry. Millennials are the most diverse generation in America’s history: Three quarters of Baby Boomers are white, compared to just over half of millennials.
Ads have always reflected culture, but black millennials are demanding more from brands. Three-quarters would like to see brands better represent diversity in ads, and 70% say they are more likely to buy from a brand that takes addresses race-related issues. Translation: Don’t just reflect society—push it forward. C3 believes that when brands do, they will see a significant impact on business: Three-quarters of black millennials say they’re more likely to consider a brand that positively reflects black culture. As the minority becomes the majority, they are eager to see ads that openly address diversity and race-related issues.
Ultimately, the communications industry plays a critical role in making society more tolerant. If advertisers air stereotypical images, they perpetuate prejudice and bias. If agencies like C3 create more inspired, authentic images, we help to change the conversation and ultimately reduce prejudice and discrimination.