The new racial stereotyping

3 Oct

Four guys pull up to a McDonald’s take-away window and argue over who DOESN’T get to pay. White guy and black guy in the front seats, Asian and Latino in the back.

Just your average North American buddies heading out for burgs right? Can’t we all just relate to that! But that’s TV advertising for you.

I don’t believe there has ever been such a perfectly diverse racial make-up in a guy-gang since History began noting such things. Unless they’re all expats living in Saudi Arabia and have bonded over the fact that they all speak English. In which case, sorry bros, no Big Macs for sale here.

This is just a new form of racial stereotyping.

You can find similar set-ups in Government of Canada ads, Molson spots, GM commercials. What a ridiculous premise we are constantly being fed here. Doesn’t this just alienate customers and tell them that the marketer actually knows nothing at all about them?

This appeasement strategy, an attempt to reflect all the major ethnic groups in one flip of the burger, has the opposite effect. It alienates everybody.

This is not Benetton territory. No one is suggesting that the world will be a better place when we tear down the racial walls that divide us. They are trying to sell burgers, beer and cars to as many people as possible.

The old sage on the mountaintop would say that if you try to please everyone in life, you please no one. Time for marketers – and I don’t mean the ad agencies here, because it’s clear who’s pushing this agenda – to get real.

Or get tuned out.

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8 Responses to “The new racial stereotyping”

  1. stopsmokingbc October 3, 2010 at 9:12 am #

    But what is real or fiction in today society. There is fine line that everyone walks no knowing if it is real or a true fake and if you don’t inspect everything that you read, watch, listen to, feel, smell and sense then you’ll never know if if is real or bogus, just like stupid commercials that all they do is piss everyone off.

    Marketers will do anything to sell you something even if they have to lie through their teeth to do it, so when your at a hamburger joint thing about one thing is it real or is it fake. Most of it is fake. The only real thing you’ll find is the people working there for minimum wage.

    Thanks for letting me rabble on a sunday morning.

  2. Reg October 3, 2010 at 10:20 am #

    Doug I agree with your notion in principle; however, consider the alternative view, i.e. not doing ‘multi-ethnic’ imagery at all.

    As a former teacher in Vancouver, I used to have ~30 kids in my class, and every year I had a minimum — MINIMUM! — 20 cultures/languages/countries represented, and the kids generally mixed and mingled without regard to ethnicity or other visible attributes. This was one of the best things about having such a diverse classroom — so, would the MacD’s ad “work better” or worse for these kids? I can’t say, but if you don’t portray inter-racial mingling, is it going to happen on its own? I hope so, since it seemed to do so organically in my classroom; my point is that it’s nice to see a “rainbow effect” reflected somewhere beyond the walls of the classroom.

    Does this justify an advertiser’s cynical attempt to “speak to everyone”? I doubt it, so your point is well taken, and in particular if it’s done without regard to the market in which it is targeted, etc. The ad in question may actually bear relevance in an ethnically diverse community, at least.

    I guess the notion of aspiration should be considered as well. Let me give another example. When the movie Philadelphia came out in the early 90s, Tom Hanks’ character’s family in the movie was portrayed as quite sympathetic and supportive when he was diagnosed with AIDS and outed as gay in the legal community as a result. I thought the portrayal of the family’s reaction was quite plausible and reasonable: at best it was a depiction of what at least some families would be like in such a situation — indeed I felt my own family would be at least as supportive given like circumstances for me; at worst it was optimistic, or aspirational, but pointing out a ‘better future’ where families did support a gay child. Imagine my horror and anger when the gay community — yes, the gay community — was outraged and wrote letters protesting the unrealistic portrayal of the family, e.g. the letters I read were to the effect of, “No one has a family like that; what an insult,” etc. While I don’t doubt that some people would not have come from such a background, I was both pleased and proud that the writers and/or filmmakers chose to portray a positive view of a supportive family — at the very least pointing the way to how families should respond in like circumstances. My point is that if you don’t “show the way” or only reflect ‘reality’, then you can’t always anticipate positive change. Is the media (advertising, TV, movies, etc.) the way to get there for us all? Maybe not the only way, but we all know how influential these media can be in shaping public opinion and thought — for better or for worse.

    All right, I realize I’ve gone on a bit too long, plus I’m drawing an analogy that is not completely parallel, so I acknowledge that some advertisers try to use a “dragnet” approach to catching all ethnic groups in a cynical effort to (what?) show “everyone is welcome” (??), so it can get unrealistic or overdone. However, if no one were to “show the way” (as Benetton’s controversial and long-standing — since the 80s, yes? — imagery has done), can we expect us to “all just get along” in the end…?

  3. dougbrowncreative October 3, 2010 at 2:05 pm #

    > To StopSmokingBC, I don’t agree with you that marketers will do anything to sell you something, even if it means lying through their teeth. What a load of rubbish.

    Are there dishonest marketers? Of course. There are dishonest elements in any profession. But I have never lied through my teeth to sell a product and I don’t know anyone who has.

    As if to buttress my assertion, following your comment comes one from Reg Krake, who I know from experience has more integrity than you are likely to find in any working environment anywhere. He is also a marketer. As am I. It’s a pity you have us all lumped together in your mind as liars and I hope our blog can change your mind over time.

    >Good timing Reg. And by the way, your comment must be the first in the history of this blog that is actually longer than the post! 😉

    I can’t deny that the racial and sexual diversity in our cities and towns needs fair expression in advertising. But the objective of advertising remains to sell the product through consumer insights tagged to engaging ideas. I don’t see either at work in these homogeneously whitewashed spots.

    Benetton was trying to influence human behaviour. McDonald’s is thinking about margins. I appreciate the honesty in your response.

  4. Lindsey October 4, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    hmmm.. hard for me to resist.

    I would agree with you Reg when you comment on the importance of portraying positive change so that we can encourage positive change. However, what is also important here (specifically in relation to the drive thru example) is that the audience viewing the ad doesn’t see the situation as unlikely. It defeats the purpose. I think this type of advertising would be best delivered if it was realistic.

    I agree with you Doug that putting a white guy and black guy in the front seats, and throwing an Asian and a Latino in the back makes it too try hard. It’s just not bloody likely that there would be such a perfect mix, and therefore, risks alienating everybody. I think a more effective add would be one that is realistic. Our population is very diverse and reflecting that is important, but trying too hard draws too much focus to diversity and gets people focusing on how silly or unrealistic the add is rather than the product they are trying to sell.

  5. Anonymous October 8, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

    Good points, Doug and Lindsey — worthwhile debate. Context — and a good, well-researched and written brief! — is critical to get it right, and avoid simply pandering/whitewashing.

    As we head into this weekend, I’m thankful for professionals, colleagues and people of all stripes (so to speak), like you 2, that want to chew on this stuff, wrestle it to the ground, and get it right — in an authentic, plausible and powerful way.

  6. dougbrowncreative October 8, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

    Mom, is that you!

  7. Reg K October 8, 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    Whoops — it’s Reg — was on a different computer and forgot to self-identify. You guessed wrong but perhaps the brevity of my answer threw you off the scent….

  8. dougbrowncreative October 8, 2010 at 2:57 pm #

    I’m going with your second point there Reg! Thanks for the follow-up and for your on-going support and contributions to the Copeland blog. Much appreciated.

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