Lessons and Conclusion

Edward Lama Wonkeryor

The history of racism in advertising from the period of enslavement to recent times has created an enduring legacy. To assert the lessons and conclusion, we have, in this volume, scrutinized the history of race—an overt discrimination— in advertising and the development of African American identity as it relates to media. Further, we examined the unique role and responsibility of the advertising industry as both a mirror of society and an extraordinary influence on popular culture and social norms. We also critically looked at actual advertisements as a representation of discrimination in employment practices. In the end, our conclusion support the theory that fostering ethnic diversity among advertising personnel is not just an important regulatory issue to address historical failures, but is essential for multicultural marketing efforts to positively portray diverse ethnicities.

We also explicated the new role for advertising in telling a story about race in America. It is the story of the development of white group consciousness and the importance of the emerging “free market” mass media. Ultimately, this new role for advertising suggests that in a racialized state like America, the market gave birth to and built some elements of white nationalism. Specifically, we discussed modern newspapers and the formation of white racial group consciousness. We provided insight into how the principles of the Enlightenment crossed the Atlantic and conflicted with the developing market economy and the expansion of rights it afforded white males, while reducing the rights of free blacks and reinforcing the property status of enslaved blacks. Modern newspapers, the Penny Press, were formed in this conundrum. Their commercial reliance on advertising defined them as modern. Thus, the audience they attracted to sell to advertisers did not represent a general audience.

We explained the racism-political advertisement nexus, especially its use as an instrument for priming and conditioning white voting behavior in presidential elections. In other words, how did racist political advertisement seek to shape voting preferences of white voters in past American presidential elections? We also assessed the impact of the election of Barack Obama as the first African American U.S. president on the use of racist political advertisements in future presidential elections. Concomitantly, we elucidated advertising in the twenty-first century. Our main thesis argued that the painful history of racism in advertising from the period of enslavement to contemporary time has, as previously stated, created an enduring legacy that American society finds it difficult to overcome. At last, we offered a conceptual analysis based on existing literature of how promoting ethnic diversity within the advertising industry is not just an important regulatory issue to address historical failures, but is essential for multicultural marketing in order to characterize and portray representational images of diverse ethnicities.

We contend that racism in the United States is the thing of the past; however, we must deal with it in the present-day. From the second half of the twentieth century up to-to-date, advertising industry has regarded and continues to appreciate the purchasing power of multiracial consumers. Disallowing the forfeiture of multicultural consumers’ dollars and taking cues from marketers, advertising agencies have designed and continually framed advertising campaigns with multiracial groups as their prime commercial target. In practice, these advertising campaigns appeal to the multicultural markets because they invoke their unflinching desire for the advertised products. What is interesting, though, is the propensity of advertisers to structure advertisements that are untruthful in content and alluring to the unguarded minds and wishful appetite of African Americans and other non-white consumers. Apart from puffery in current advertisements that are directed at African Americans and other racial groups by advertising agencies, stereotypical characterizations of African Americans and the misappropriation of African American identity in the mass media systems are also stridently used. For instance, “advertising treated African American citizens as though they were invisible for many years, and then included them, grudgingly, for a long time almost exclusively, in massive advertising of unhealthy products such as fast foods, tobacco, and alcoholic beverages” (dates 1993: 461). The lesson to be learned from such distasteful advertisements is the disinterest shown in purchasing the advertised product by the African American and nonwhite American consumers.

Premised on the lessons learned from the dimensionality of racism in advertisement, it is credibly reasonable for advertising agencies in twenty-first century America to frame African American images in advertising in a positive way. Contemporary America promotes racial harmony and market enterprise by embracing diversity, if the images of African Americans and other non-white Americans are not stereotypically characterized in advertising.

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