Rakiya George – Contributor

Advertising has had an unconscious influence on us for generations. From simple illustrated ads in newspapers, to scripted ads on the radio, to full length theatrical ads on television, our economy has been constructed to buy and sell from the very beginning. Take a moment, and think of one of your favorite commercials you saw growing up (everyone has one). What do you remember? Was it the catchy but annoying jingle? Was it the cool features included with a somewhat fragile toy? Advertising is inherently part of everyone’s upbringing. The way we buy things has always been controlled. Even the way we see ourselves as an individual has always been controlled. My early memories of advertising was always a half-done job in the name of inclusion. Although I grew up with the latest dolls and toys that looked like me, what I saw on my television or in ads didn’t always reflect that. 

When I would see ads for toys, where girls are having fun with the product, I always looked for a Black girl in the ad, or I looked for the product in the shade of brown.”

I don’t remember at what age I started this, but I always used to count the amount of Black people in ads, television shows, or just about anything I could physically see. When I would see ads for toys, where girls are having fun with the product, I always looked for a Black girl in the ad, or I looked for the product in the shade of brown. I always gravitated towards things that looked like me. From Barbies, to American Girl Dolls, the item always had to look like me. When I visited relatives, I would get confused by them having dolls that didn’t look like them in the toy chest. Why did you have that? Why would you want that? My mother only purchased Black dolls for me, and she honestly boycotted the Disney Store, because there wasn’t a princess that looked like me and she didn’t see the need to spend her money there. I vividly remember her explaining this to me and my younger brother when we were little. We would pout in front of the store, but she wouldn’t let us go in. We didn’t fully understand her reasoning at that age, but it definitely influenced the way we asked for toys.  

Years later, there is now a constant call for inclusion in just about every industry. Why? Because it’s necessary. Now the world understands that everybody isn’t white, heterosexual, skinny…the list goes on. Accurate representation is starting to be done right – slowly, but surely – and I’m thrilled to see it. We are now seeing beautiful families of different shades, mixed shades. The approach overall has been noticeably more realistic. For far too long, ad agencies and companies have been researching their approach to stereotypes to create demographics for their products. That approach wasn’t made to offend people every time, but we’ve seen so many brands miss the mark and have to deal with the repercussions afterward. Stereotyping 9 times out of 10 came with a negative connotation which takes away from the actual point of the ad. Gender and racial stereotypes are slowly being left in the past, and paired with current social dialogue and our so-called “cancel culture”, we (the people) just aren’t accepting certain things anymore. 

The objective should always be to not offend anyone.”

There is nothing wrong with creating a simple inoffensive ad, or an intricate and detail-oriented ad that still does not offend anyone. The objective should always be to not offend anyone. Ads that make me proud are the simple, funny, or feel-good type of ads that you actually look forward to when they come on. A perfect example is the December 2020 Geico Ad that’s still being talked about on Twitter because it’s a feel-good ad – it makes people happy. Not every ad has to be tied to a cultural struggle, or have to tell a triumphant story of overcoming. It can inform, be fun, or both; the message will reach its viewers. During this year’s Super Bowl, there was an abundance of feel-good positive ads. From the ongoing saga of Anthony Anderson and his mother for T-Mobile, Tracy Morgan starring in the Rocket Mortgage ad featuring Dave Bautista and Liza Koshy cameos, and Shaggy, Mila Kunis, and Ashton Kutcher for Cheetos, the ads this year were laughable and successfully got their messages across. This year in ads felt good also because we were seeing celebrities and athletes again on our television screens in a great light. Stereotypes didn’t seem to be involved and everyone seemed to enjoy the ads. All of these ads had simple, light-hearted fun. Sometimes, that’s all you need.