Throwing it back to the ’40s, American advertising was a different world. To a person living in this time period, the photo above (advertising Aunt Jemima pancake mix) was a typical, socially acceptable ad. Racial segregation was still prominent during this time, which is why blatant prejudice and discrimination was not looked down upon. However, if this advertisement were published today it would be a very different story.
Since the Civil Rights Movement, ethnic diversity has become an accepted and valued aspect in American culture. With this progression, the progression in advertising has mostly followed. I say mostly, because even in today’s society, there are still occasional hints of racial intolerance. A recent example is Michigan Senator Pete Hoekstra’s 2012 Super Bowl campaign ad that expressed xenophobia and racial stereotyping.
The Hoekstra campaign set up a website in correspondence to this ad that featured “Chinese writing, paper lanterns, dragons, and Ms. Stabenow’s face on the Chinese fan” (Daily Mail). The ad was intended to resonate negative feelings towards job outsourcing, but instead the take-away was shameless racism and discrimination against Asian & Pacific Islanders on Hoekstra’s part. Being from Michigan, I can understand why Hoekstra thought this ad would appeal to some voters. I live in a voting district whose population is just over 90% caucasian and the last democratic candidate to carry the county was in 1864. The mindset in my district is very old-fasioned and unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon to still hear an occasional racist slur. Although this ad might appeal to the dated mindsets of my county and other similar conservative regions, it’s overall effect was negative. Following his ad, Hoekstra’s support plummeted.
Hoekstra’s commercial shows traces of pre-civil rights ideals and proves that racism, especially in advertising, is not entirely a thing of the past. Recognizing this, the retailer Benetton is known for it’s “unhate” campaigns.
These controversial ads use the strategy of shock advertising to encourage positivity and equality worldwide. Benetton’s campaigns are usually graphic and disturbing, but their messages are heard loud and clear. Although today’s culture has evolved from days of slavery and Jim Crow laws, it is important to acknowledge that discrimination and racism still occur. Benetton’s ads increase global awareness of important issues and demonstrate respect and equality within the human race. The company is making a positive global contribution by bringing attention to racism, discrimination, and discord in a constructive light. Campaigns like Benetton’s encourage unity of humanity, which is powerful and greatly needed.