Racism within Advertising

Advertising is the most widespread form of public communication in modern world societies. In order for an advert to be persuasive and effective the advertisement must communicate to the audience that it wants them to purchase and rely on their product. In his book Racism in the 21st century, Hall (2008) says classifications of humans from the 18th and 19th centuries were created by physicians with minimal knowledge about the biology of skin colour. Below is an early 1950’s advertisement for Fairy Soap from the N.K. Fairbanks Company. Slavery was very relevant for at least 50% of the time that N.K. was in business which played a huge role as to how this advert portrayed different ethnicities and who they aimed it at.

Racism 1

The advert quotes ‘why doesn’t your mamma wash you with fairy soap’. Straight away insinuating that she is dirty. The ad shows two children, one black and one white. The white child is holding the bar of soap, dressed in a white and blue dress. She is wearing a pair of sturdy leather shoes whilst her hair is clearly well kept. One could say that this displays wealth. However, the black child is clutching onto her ragged sleeveless dress, her knees are bowed and she is barefoot

Even though this is an advert for soap there is a more powerful and underlying meaning. The message portrayed here is that if you don’t use fairy you’re no better than an African American. According to Faulkner (1987) racism provides whites with an avenue of escape from their own negative self-image, no matter how little regard they receive from their self-peers, they can consider themselves “better” than any Black Person.

Furthermore, it also suggests that the only people who can afford to buy it are white citizens, as reinforced in the advert. Peter Lang (2015) states that African Americans and other non-white Americans were side-lined, because the advertising industry regarded them as being financially incapable to buy any advertised products.

Racism 2

In 2011, Dove the global Masterbrand were reported to have been racist within their campaign ‘visible care body wash’. Young dark skinned women found it to be racist due to the ‘before and after’ words. The advert shows a timeline starting from the left with an African American, Latina women in the middle and white woman at the end. This suggests that getting more visibly beautiful skin means having lighter skin. Furthermore, not only is it the colour of skin which is found to be an issue but also the models size. The model underneath the word ‘after’ is white, skinny and blonde. The ideological message sent to the audience is that women need to have a particular look, in order to be beautiful.

Racism within the media has been around for as long as most of us can remember and will probably remain within advertising for as long as it remains within society. In the 1950’s companies would have never apologised for making racist remarks as it was so common and deemed as acceptable back then. The fact that Dove apologised to the public for their error within their campaign shows how society has improved compared to 70 years ago and that it may have been a genuine mistake, however, we still have a long way to go.


Goldwert, L. (2011). Are new Dove ads racist? Critics say VisibleCare Body wash ads show white skin as desired ‘after’. Available: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/new-dove-ads-racist-critics-visiblecare-body-wash-ads-show-white-skin-desired-article-1.142788. Last accessed 17th Apr 2016.

Hall, R (2008). Racism in the 21st century. Springer- Verlag New York: Unknown. 60-62.

Montford, C. (2014). 10 of the most racist ads of all time in American history. Available: http://atlantablackstar.com/2014/12/16/10-of-the-most-racist-ads-of-all-time-in-american-history/. Last accessed 3rd Apr 2016.

Wonkeryor, E (2015). Dimensions of racism in advertising . New York: Peter Lang publishing. 31-32.

Wonkeryor, E (2015). Dimensions of racism in advertising . New York: Peter Lang publishing. 31-32.





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