From Aunt Jemima to Annie from Louisiana: A Look at Black Women in Advertising

The month of February is a historic month known for the widespread of information on people of the African diaspora. This is my 22nd Black History Month and it amazes me that every year brings new stories and facts on my culture. As a marketing professional, I’ve had the chance to study the tactics of advertising past, and this month I wanted to shed light on my findings by discussing the role of Black people in marketing and advertising. I intend to answer the questions:

  • How have Blacks been portrayed in advertising in the past and present?
  • How are companies and brands effectively and respectfully marketing to the Black demographic?
  • Is there a solution to ignorance among communications professionals as it pertains to building effective campaigns targeted at people of color?

slave-adI started my quest for February content by googling “first black advertisement”. From the AdAge article at the top of the search results, I was surprised to learn that African-Americans entered the ad industry during the 1940s. My surprise comes from the idea that Blacks have been in advertising since the 1800s. I can remember looking at slave auction ads back in a middle school history class. Back in the day, there was a multitude of racist messaging out there, and the Black narrative was not driven by Blacks themselves but rather racist, White “professional” communicators.

In the late 1880s, Quaker Oats used Aunt Jemima to promote their products. She was created in the image of a “mammy”. We’ve seen the ads and even today we see Aunt Jemima on pancake mix in the supermarket aisle. So it’s 2018, and after this history lesson we’re all offended and upset that this kind of racial stereotyping and racist messaging is still in the marketing world. If you think that’s upsetting, try Popeyes’ marketing strategy on for size.

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The restaurant wanted to present Louisiana culture in their marketing efforts, so they enlisted the help of a dark skinned, smiling woman who knows her chicken. Debatably, Annie from Louisiana relates a lot to Aunt Jemima. Though the original intentions could be different, advertising in the modern day has not changed that much. White owned companies are still using the likeness of Black women in association with stereotypes to sell to the Black demographic.

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It goes deeper than you would think. Over the years, Black women have been lightened and photographically altered in advertising. When researching, you’ll find images of celebrities such as Beyonce, Rihanna and Gabourney Sidibe. All of who were victims of being lightened for advertising and marketing purposes.

You might be thinking that this is a reach. The data is out there. Black women aren’t always appropriately or respectfully portrayed in marketing. It’s a proven thing. So how do we change it? I’ll discuss my solution in the next post.

In the meantime, I want to know your views on this topic. Drop a comment and let’s discuss the matter respectfully. Do you believe that Black women have been fairly and accurately portrayed in marketing and advertising efforts? Which companies or brands have it wrong and which ones are actually doing a great job? I’d love to read your thoughts.

(All images came from Google)

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