ThinkOTB Agency

5 iconic moments of black representation in advertising

October 1, 2019

Advertising and history – what on earth do they have to do with each other? Quite a lot actually. It’s what we’re exploring in our latest blog to celebrate Black History Month. We’re taking a look at black representation in advertising. We hope to see how far we’ve come and what more needs to be done.

What we see and read has a profound effect on our perception of the world and in turn the course of history. Only the cynics and superficial among us would argue that diversity in ads is an attempt to boost sales and has no bearing on history. When you consider how many ads we consume on a daily basis it would be ridiculous to deny their impact on our outlook.

To celebrate the start of Black History Month in the UK, we have chosen five ads which challenged black representation and paved the way for increased racial acceptance and equality.

Casting with Coca-Cola

It’s a drink that is synonymous with America – hell, it’s been around nearly as long as the country itself. So, when Coca-Cola cast Mary Alexander as their first female African American model back in 1955, it was monumental. Considering the civil rights movement had started just a year earlier, its cultural importance was immeasurable. At a time when America pitted blacks against whites, a mutual admiration for the nation’s favourite soft drink demonstrated that Americans of all races weren’t that different after all. It was a huge step for black representation in advertising.

Nike takes a knee

Nike’s advert starring Colin Kaepernick was so on point it’s been nominated for an Emmy. The ad featured the former NFL quarterback with the slogan: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.”, referring to his protest against police brutality during the national anthem. Nike’s refusal to side with the NFL and pay Kaepernick’s salary while he searched for a new team was a strong show of support for an issue that disproportionately affects black Americans.

Lexus gets the superhero treatment

‘Black Panther’ was a sensational box office hit and cultural force. The film delighted superhero fans and even reluctant superhero moviegoers were happy. Lexus saw this opportunity and grabbed it with both hands; they used the film’s success to promote their new car. It was refreshing to see talented black film stars rewarded with product endorsements, rather than another James Bond-Rolex ad to mark another mediocre performance.

Guinness redefines Compton’s image

Continuing with their ‘Made of more’ campaign, ‘The Compton cowboys’ advert totally challenged viewer and consumer perception of Compton. Exceptional rap music and high levels of gang violence are what most people would associate Compton with; Guinness played with these misconceptions by following the story of horse-riding black men. It challenges the perception that horse riding is a white, rural pastime. Remember, there’s much more to a place than what the news reports on.

Malboro ad written from a black perspective

Tom Burrell was the first black person in Chicago to work in advertising in the 60s. He has since gone on to open his own agency, Burrell Communications Group. He noticed that the ads of the time didn’t cater to a black audience, so he set about changing this. His agency attracted national attention with a campaign for Malboro. Burrell replaced the rural, white cowboy with a family-orientated, urban and social black man. A simple swap of protagonist in the ad highlighted that black and white men could exist equally while appreciating differences in culture.

Can you think of any iconic moments of black representation in advertising that we missed? Tell us about them @otbtweeter.


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