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By Eli L. and Nikola B.

Racial equality in media, especially advertising, often seems sparse. Most advertisements seen on television feature a cast made up primarily, if not entirely, of white actors. When minorities are not completely absent from TV ads, they are usually represented by a single black, Latino, or Asian actor, seemingly only there to create a false sense of diversity, thereby shielding the company in question from accusations of racism. It almost seems counterproductive on the company's part. Are their advertisements specifically targeted toward white people? If so, why?

One possibility is that some minorities may have less access to certain forms of media, and are therefore less likely to view a company's ads. Companies would most likely wish to target their advertisements at the people who would actually be viewing them. The percentage of minorities with access to media has seem to risen within the last few years, allowing the advertising companies to reach a wider audience.

In the past ten years, the amount of African Americans with internet access has risen over 10%, from 34% in 2000 to 49% in 2009. Internet access among Latinos has risen from 43% in 2000 to 48% in 2009. Also in the past ten years, the diversity featured in advertising has risen, although it still remains primarily white. The rise in media access among minorities and the rise in racial equality in the media may be coincidental, however, as the percentage of African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos with access to media (primarily the internet) is still somewhat far behind the percentage of whites with access to media.

The companies that advertise their products on television or online may see the lack of racial diversity in their ads as inconsequential, believing that their lack of representation in advertising do not affect minorities in their decision to buy a product. In actuality, people are less likely to respond positively to a commercial that excludes people of their race, the same way men are less likely to buy a product, even one that is catered to no specific gender, if the ad is aimed at women. It may cause one to wonder if perhaps the racism does not lie in the companies that produce these ethnically devoid commercials, but in the people who view them. After all, the goal of the advertiser is to make money, and if there were more money in racially diverse ads, would they not produce them?

It is possible that white Americans, who make up a majority of the people with access to media, would be less likely to have a positive response to an advertisement that featured a cast made up primarily of blacks, Asians, or Latinos. If this is, in fact, the case, then it is only natural for companies to only feature as much diversity in their ads as is profitable. While there is a portion of the population, however small, that has a strong negative reaction to seeing members of minorities in the media, they are in no way a large enough portion of the population to sway the trends of diversity in any form of media, let alone advertising.

Even if a majority of white Americans do not consciously harbor any wariness or disappointment against advertisements that feature minorities, there is the possibility that on a subconscious level, Caucasian citizens do have less of a positive response to ads composed primarily of minorities, seeing themselves as unrepresented. This may very well be true, but even so, it is doubtful that such a subconscious reaction would cause any sort of major shift in the effectiveness of an ad or the sales of a product.

A likely possibility is the distribution of different ethnicities among different social and financial classes. Because of the years of subjugation and discrimination faced by minorities (which does continue to this day, although to a much lesser extent), many of the country's poverty stricken areas are primarily composed of African Americans and Latinos. In 2010, out of all the Americans who were living below the poverty line, 36% were black, 35% were Hispanic, and only 14% were white.

Statistics like these seem to indicate, at least in the eyes of the advertisers, that white people are more likely to have money to spend on the products being advertised. This seems to be the most likely cause for the lack of ethnic diversity in advertisements, considering the inclination of companies to focus their attention on the most apparent source of income available. However, it does seem somewhat counterproductive to use such general, imprecise methods when selecting a target audience.

By creating advertisements that are so overwhelmingly white, these companies exclude the large portion of the population that is composed of minorities above the poverty line. Considering the fact that (although the population of Americans living in poverty is largely composed of blacks and Hispanics) a majority of the people of these ethnicities are not poor, the advertisers are isolating a large and profitable segment of the population by failing to instill racial diversity into their ads.

This is changing, though. In recent years, the amount of diversity in television has increased, allowing a larger portion of the population to feel represented in the media. Despite this growth in diversity, the media is still primarily white, but it is likely that the amount of racial equality seen on television, the internet, and advertising will continue to increase in the next few years, perhaps leading to equal representation of all ethnicities.


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