About BMC 277: Media and Diversity

This course asks students to critically examine the role of the media in facilitating and challenging the social constructions of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation in U.S. culture.

Friday, October 15, 2010

"The Perfect World": American Television’s Virtual Diversity

By: By: Michaela Penn

Television has, without a doubt, become a central learning instructor for people across the world. From syndicated programming, talk shows, and advertisements; television influences us individually, and culturally. Aside from television, advertisements are the backbone of television programming as these are the economic base of broadcast TV. To appeal products to a broader audience, advertisements began to become more diverse showing a variety of ages, body types, and ethnicities. However this new approach to marketing has some questioning its realistic authenticity as compared to how the world really is. In this blog analysis I will take an in-depth look at two up-to-date advertisements by major corporations and how their characters are framed to show America as a cultural mesh.

“Virtual Diversity” is defined in the article Race Becomes More Central to TV Advertising as commercials that enable advertisers to connect with wider audiences while conveying a message that corporate America is not just "in touch," racially speaking, but inclusive (AssociatedPress, 2010). While these “virtual diverse” commercials show variety of races, companies intentions are examined for whether they truly interrogate stereotypes or just reiterate them in a different manner in these ads. Bradley Gorham explains in Considerations of Media Effects, Psychologists Hamilton and Trolier (1986) definition of stereotypes as “cognitive structures that contains the perceiver’s knowledge, beliefs, and expectancies about some human group.(Gorham,p17)” Stereotypes function in the same way as schemas. Bradley Gorham writes that “schemas help us categorize the world by telling us the basic characteristics of the things we encounter…a stereotype then is a schema for people we perceive as belonging to a social group. (p17)” Considering common stereotypes, schemas of a certain race, race relations, and ethnicity integration in ads, it is easy to justify people thought of these “virtual diverse” ads as inaccurate.

With evidence of gains in profits, businesses; etc by African-Americans, Asians and Native Americans the article suggests “nonwhites will be in the majority in America by 2042 (AssociatedPress, 2010).” Some say with these improvements and new lights of multiculturalism in commercials, America is changing and is moving towards racial progress. Contrary to this, an article by the Advertising Educational Foundation disagrees by saying these ads “gloss over persistent and complicated racial realities” and that “most Americans live and mingle with people from their own racial background” (AEF, 2010). I choose to analyze two particular commercials because: one they are by major corporations who have existed for quite a while and have huge marketing campaigns in America, and two because both advertisements show a mesh of cultures bonding in the same environment and enjoying the same luxuries.

A recent 2009 commercial by Coca-Cola shows teenagers enjoying a beautiful summer day by swimming and being airlifted in a huge Coca- Cola bottle. Besides the unbelievable bottle, many other things were out of the ordinary in the commercial. All of the characters are strikingly beautiful and have exotic or white features. None are overweight; the females easily fit into a two-piece bikini, and the male’s toned bodies compliment the scene. Various races are present in this commercial; however they are all constructed as White. In true American, African-Americans, Caucasians, Asians and Native Americans have different features that make them distinctive. However, all of these characters have long hair, fair skin, and thin body types. If it weren’t for a somewhat darker complexion on some of the characters they could all be assumed as White. Is it a coincidence that out of every different look each of these races has (i.e. overweight, short hair, handicap), the characters selected have much more in common than in difference. The race relations between the groups presented are incorrect. Likewise, ones schemas of African-Americans being hostile, uneducated, and rhythmic are dismissed as you see them in a more subtle playful light. After watching this, viewers would assume America is a perfect land, with diverse groups who all look and act alike.

While the Coca- Cola commercial focuses on diverse young friendships, a recent 2009 commercial by Hillshire Farm shows older adults enjoying a barbeque. In these commercial five friends, including two couples sing a song advertising the Hillshire Brat. Not only does this commercial not dismiss stereotypes, they prove them to be true. If someone has a pervious schema of African- Americans as good cooks, rhythmic, and outspoken and of Caucasians as nerdy and educated this commercial confirms them. The African- American couple is more soulful (watch the husband dancing), while the Caucasian family seems to be more preppy. The friend in the background seems to be multi-racial, but in all they seem like happy neighbors who get along well. Contrary to the Coca-Cola commercial the couples have features of their race, but this advertisement does not accurately portray racial relations. The more comedic approach by the makers of the commercial is understandable, but do five diverse neighbors really sing and dance while cooking brats? This commercial by Hillshire not only tells a consumer to buy the brat, but it also suggests that Americans of different ethnicities live in the same neighborhood and eat the same food.

Some accuse businesses of falsely advertising race relations, while others like Denise Meridith of the Phoenix Business Journal argue that it “fights prejudice while attracting buyers.” She adds that “whether one likes the quality of the ads, the quantity (of minorities in ads) has improved.” While portraying more diverse images or “color” (hence, other ethnicities) in numerous advertisements is certainly encouraging, these images makes some wonder whether minorities are in commercials as the token figures. These token characters in racial integrated commercials could merely be a company’s effort to deflect criticism or to obey with affirmative action, instead of genuinely accepting diversity. Likewise, African- Americans and other ethnicities are in advertisements with a majority Caucasians. Their white features, accents, etc. are still situated to show Whiteness as the only norm. If companies really embrace diversity, they should show a range of individuals who all look different in terms of weight, height, complexion, hair, and camera personality.

Aside from the constant construction of everything as white in American TV commercials, race relations in the above ads (as with many more) are also inaccurate. The Hillshire commercial also proves that the new “virtual diversity” advertisement trend reiterates stereotypes, by still showing races doing things they are said to do. With commercials repeating racial stereotypes commonly seen, it does nothing but confirm schemas already existing in one’s mind, this is unfortunate seeing that every Black person doesn’t dance 24-7, every White is not Preppy; etc. Diversity is beautiful, but acknowledging the truth is even better. And the truth is that race does matter in today’s society and commercials by Coca-Cola or Hillshire; etc do not accurately depict racial relations; whether it is between teens or adults. The “virtual diversity” era may foreshadow real life changes in the future, but for now these American ads are more diverse than America itself.

Want to check out more “virtual diverse” commercials? Here are a few extras I found but decided against analyzing.




Associated Press (2009, March 1). Race becomes more central to TV advertising. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29453960/

Associated Press (2005, February 22). Diversity in ads not reflected in real life. http://www.aef.com/industry/news/data/2005/3085

Gorham, Bradley W. “The Social Psychology of Stereotypes: Implications for Media
Audiences.” Race/Gender/Media: Considering Diversity Across Audiences, Content, and Producers. Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2010. 16-23. Print.

Meredith, Denise (2003, March 7). Phoenix Business Journal. Diversity in advertising fights prejudice, attracts buyers. http://phoenix.bizjournals.com/phoenix/stories/2003/03/10/editorial3.html

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