Advertisements and Racial Stereotyping

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History of Racial Stereotyping in Advertising

Unfortunately, racial stereotyping in advertising has a long history and is constantly being documented. Agencies and brands continue to include racism in television, print, and online commercials, whether they are local, national, or international. PopChips, Burger King, and the PlayStation Portable (PSP) are three recent adverts that have drawn harsh criticism for using racial stereotyping.


In the Pop Chips commercial, renowned Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher performed staged dating service video clips as four different personas who had a preference for a certain brand of potato chips. The characters were a biker gang member, a Karl Lagerfield-esque guy, a pothead, and then Raj (a bachelor looking for a lover). To do the Raj character, Ashton Kutcher had a brown-face makeup on posing as a Bollywood producer. That reflected a canned Indian look and it came out pretty offensive.

PlayStation Portable (PSP)

The PSP advertisement was a billboard image that was very striking. It had a pale female with white hair grabbing a black female by the face and a slogan beside it written “White is Coming.” The white female looks vicious, determined, and very angry. On the other hand, the black female appears submissive with her body disappearing into the billboard’s background. The aim of the campaign was to advertise a white model of the PlayStation portable console but it quickly drew a lot of controversy.

Burger King

In the Burger King ad, African-American singer Mary J. Blige sings about a browned chicken wrap along the tune of her track “Don’t Mind.” The campaign was broadly criticized soon after the video leaked as some members of the African-American community considered it as stereotypic.

Opinions and Reactions

The aforementioned advertisements clearly depict race in ways that stir different opinions among members from different racial backgrounds. In the Pop Chips advertisement, Kutcher talks about his love options doing the entire punch line in fake Indian voice and outfit and this made many (including Indians) feel that it was a broken, exploitative, and racist campaign. However, according to the Pop Chips CEO, Keith Belling, the initial marketing intention of the entire project was to come up with a light-hearted parody that featured different characters who would stir a few laughs. It was never the plan of the advertisers to offend the viewers and they took full responsibility and apologized for the controversy provoked by the ad.

Many perceived the Sony advertisement for PSP as an insinuation that the black race is inferior to the white race. On the billboard image, a white model violently held a black model and the advertisers initially meant to use it in commemorating the launching of the ceramic white PlayStation portable console. The product was geared to all people who enjoy playing video games as the marketers wanted to show the viewers the difference between the first black PSP model and the new white model. Nonetheless, many perceived that the billboard, which was in Holland, was geared towards the white racial group as the drama and animosity in the imagery created emotional implications of dominant racial overtones.

More so, the Burger King campaign that featured Mary J Blige was perceived by many members of the African-American community as racist. The ad also featured David Beckham, Selma Hayek, and Jay Leno but critics such as Thembisa Mshaka argued that Mary’s role was an indication of the tone-deaf representation of African-American women in advertising. Mary J Blige’s character was somewhat a perpetuation of the sassy, abrasive, and stank stereotypic view of black women. Nonetheless, the advertisers did not respond to the critics and they pulled down Mary J Blige’s part citing music copyright issues.

The Impact of Race in Advertising

It is important to note that racial stereotyping in ads is not always negative. Typically, advertisers utilize existing deep-seated beliefs or ideas in the society to base their campaigns on. Remarkably, the advertisements above seem to have caused controversy based on the mental thoughts that the viewers assigned to the clips or imagery.

Ashton Kutcher’s Pop Chips campaign appeared funny to some notable public figures such as Kim Kardashian who found it hilarious. However, some considered it as discernment of the Indian community. Therefore, the social category that the audience belongs to largely influences how they view the campaign as negative or positive with regards to race.

As such, the outcomes from campaigns that depict race can have very different outcomes. It can be positive for the company and the viewer when particular demographics are being aimed such as the PSP billboard in Holland which is a predominantly white nation. At the same time, the campaign can be considered as negative during situations when the racial stereotyping starts causing offense like the Burger King campaign which offended black women as it depicted them as always rough. Therefore, advertisers should always take note of the widespread offense that campaigns can cause when involving different races, nationalities, ethnic groups, or cultures.

April 06, 2023

Marketing Racism

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