Given the history of race relations in the United States, it is not surprising that racism has contributed a great deal to the evolution and continual reinforcement of racial and ethnic stereotypes in advertising from the development of this country up to the present day. This article examines the history of race in advertising and also discusses the development of African American identity as it relates to media. An effective discussion is predicated upon the clear definitions of advertising, racism, and multicultural marketing.
Advertising is defined in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary “as the action of calling something to the attention of the public especially by paid announcements” and also as “the business of preparing advertisements for publication or broadcast.” Advertising is the most widespread form of public communication in contemporary societies. It is a major presence in many areas of public space, including urban centers, retail spaces and stadia, less so in residential suburban areas, public buildings and parks, and in most news and entertainment media (Richards et al. 2000: 14). In order to persuade or be effective, the advertisement must communicate to the audience the message it wants to relay. If for example, the advertisement is trying to sell a particular product than it must persuade the audience that for whatever functional or emotional reason they need to purchase the product. Not only must the advertisement effectively communicate the desired message, but the individual audience must be willing to “buy into” the desired message. In other words, for the advertisement to be effective, the communication must be sent and received. Advertising is a two-way communication process.