Advertisers present images of racial harmony, but…

By Pat Watson Wednesday June 05 2013 in Opinion
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Have you seen the television advertisement from an insurance company that features a storyline with a husband and wife in which the wife is White and the husband is Black?


Not a ripple here in Canada over the ad. It’s a good sign. But there is no question that the ad agency responsible for creating the ad looked at the company’s demographics and social trends before deciding how effective the ad would be. Insurance companies are not generally at the forefront of radical advertising.


The world of advertising has its many aspects. The industry comes in for criticism when products being touted tell stories about individual inadequacy in order to generate craving for the advertised product. You’ve seen those weight loss ads, for example. What is left after one of those but to feel that you need to lose a few pounds in order to become a happy fulfilled human being? Or some hair colour product that will make you more attractive by transforming you into the right kind of ‘blonde’.


There are those other ads that try to sell us products while giving the message that they are socially conscious – the image ads.


Advertising is a kind of grease that turns the wheels of commerce. It is how merchandisers send a broad message about their products. They do it through humour, gimmicks or whatever else works. But they also show us where we are as a society; what we are willing to accept as normal in today’s world. And the advertising world has finally figured out a way to get their product messages online. If you follow news videos online, online games or some YouTube video channels you will have to wait for the ads at the front before getting to whatever you click on to.


But whether online, in print or on television, the trend to include so-called minority actors is increasing here in Canada where that had long been a rarity. As usual, the banks will lead the way in this – banks and credit card companies feature gay couples in some ads, for example – and others then follow.


As with the insurance ad, there have recently been a few more television ads right here in Canada that also feature inter-racial families. The one for a dairy product comes to mind. Similar ads have not generated any noticeable controversy here. But this is Canada where xenophobic reaction can be far more subtle that in other societies. At the core of all this, the inclusion of people of various skin colours interacting in the fantasy world of commercials means bottom line gains for those companies because people who see their likenesses in ads are much more likely to support those brands.


So how to explain the reaction to a recent ad for a cereal promoting heart health that features an interracial family? This ad is U.S.-based and the company has pulled the comments section of the ad off its site. Some of the comments were ugly in their racial reference. The hateful comments were rebuffed by others who reacted to the unhealthy comments, but there was no shortage of ugly comments, hence the decision to take away the privilege of commenting on the contents of the ad.


Should the comments section have been closed? On the one hand it serves as an alert to the level of racial hatred that still percolates throughout the American consciousness. At the same time, the fact that so many condemned the hateful remarks shows how America is moving away from the legacy of a White racist history.


America has a man of immediate interracial ancestry as its president; moreover, Barack Obama is a two-term president, evidence of change in the perception of race. But racial animosity and racial violence are still alive there. Race relations in America is a psychosocial challenge, a major issue that Americans are resolving, however unevenly.


A note on youth employment…


Youth unemployment rates are over 60 per cent in Greece and over 50 per cent in a number of European countries. It is almost as high for minority youth here in Toronto, most notably in areas defined as the ‘inner suburbs’. With a new crop of university and college graduates flooding the job market and the numbers looking for work already high, expect a revolution in youth creating their own working world.


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