African Americans In Corporate Advertising Campaigns Cultural Studies Essay

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Contemporary U.S. markets are now more ethnically diverse than ever; 50% of babies born today are non-white (Mobolade, 2011). Once these babies grow up they will make up the majority as ethnic "minorities". This new market is commonly referred to as the "new majority" (the minority population, plus whites that are influenced by these cultures). African-Americans represent the ethnic group with the highest buying power. The Selig Center estimates that the African-American buying power will continue to drastically rise- $316 billion in 1990 to $600 billion in 2000, to $947 billion in 2010-to $1,038 billion in 2012, and a projected $1,307 billion in 2017 (Francese). With incredible numbers and projections such as those, it only makes sense that brands would want to market to them in hopes of gaining new consumers. This information sent advertising agencies on fire, specifically multi-cultural advertising agencies. The burning question was, "How can we attract this new majority?" Many brands look to agencies that specialize in multi-cultural marketing for answers.

In the past, appealing to minority groups was not a major interest to marketing executives in most companies. The ethnic minority groups were expected to fit in with the white population (Ethnic Marketing in the United States). As time went on, markets notice that this was not the case. African-Americans are becoming more and more powerful in the realm of population. The 2010 U.S. Census revealed five startling facts about African-American consumers in the United States. The first is that more than 1 in 8 U.S. consumers are Black, equaling approximately 42 million. Black consumers tend to be younger; their median age is 32.4 years vs. a U.S median of 37.2. Of Black householders, 44 percent are younger than age 45 vs. 38 percent of all other householders. The 2010 Census also reported 14.1 million Black households; the number is only second to the household majority of Whites. Another important fact that many marketers utilize is the fact that seventy-five percent of Black consumers reside in the U.S.'s top 100 urban locations (Francese).

These days, marketing executives and advertising agencies are starting to realize that they can no longer afford to neglect the buying power of African-Americans, let alone the combined buying power of ethnic Americans. It was finally clear that these ethnic groups were actually the major trendsetters. Instead of looking to emulate, ethnic groups such as African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics have done a great job of creating their own mainstream cultural image and maintaining their own cultural identity (Ethnic Marketing in the United States). Many companies started noticing the trend, and thus, many marketing agencies that specialized in multicultural marketing were born to meet the demand.

The problem is over the years many brands have failed to appropriately market to this ethic group. Recently, there have been a number of examples where companies attempting to market to ethnic minorities, more specifically African-Americans, have offended them by crossing the line between being funny and being racially insensitive and unaware. The big question is, "If brands are hiring these big time, specialized advertising agencies to handle their multicultural marketing efforts, how and why do they continue to miss the mark when it comes to marketing to African-Americans effectively and respectively?" What many brands need to understand is in their efforts to be more creative in their campaigns to gain awareness, there will almost always be advertisements that the general public could perceive as "offensive." The key is knowing, or having a sense of when the line is being crossed before the ad is released to the public with catastrophic consequences, including a massive media backlash that will cause many brands to hire a big shot public relations agency to rectify the situation.

In the first part of this paper, I will explain what ethnic marketing is by giving its definition and why companies need to effectively utilize the technique. In the second part, I will discuss the problem many brands face in advertising to African-Americans; how the ad goes from creative and "cool" in the boardroom to racist and insensitive in the media's eye. In the third part, I will highlight five brands by discussing their corporate identity, their advertising campaigns, and the media backlash it received and where they possibly went wrong. In the analysis, I will utilize all of the facts and figures outlined in the rest of the paper and condense it to outline the key facts and observations of the advertising campaigns formulated by the highlighted brands. The conclusion will be used to restate the thesis statement and include the supporting evidence and facts from the paper in an effort to further validate my position on this issue.

This paper will outline the problems in many advertising campaigns geared towards African-Americans, highlight campaigns formulated by brands to target the African-American community, and the media backlash it received. I will discuss how or why brands missed the mark when it comes to effectively advertising to African-Americans by way of accidentally racially insensitive ads. The campaigns will be examined by means of articles many writers published in regards to the campaigns and interviews with the masterminds behind the campaigns. A study media backlash towards offensive advertising can be used to help advertising agencies develop an understanding of which advertising is perceived by some people as offensive, and how to avoid this catastrophic situation. I will outline the reasons why I believe African-Americans are portrayed poorly in corporate advertisements due to stereotypical misconceptions.

Ethnic Marketing

Once just a trend, Ethnic Marketing in the United States has become a necessity in marketing plans for corporations that plan to succeed. By 2050, the ethnic 'minorities' will represent half the population of the United States (Mobolade, 2011).

Before a marketing executive can understand the concept of ethnic marketing, a solid understanding of diversity must come first. America was once referred to as a melting pot, however, the salad bowl concept is currently replacing the melting pot. The idea is that in a "melting pot," all of the different cultures and races in America blend together to become one or alike. These days, America more so works like a salad bowl; cultures and races are combined in one place but still retain their individuality. Instead of brands producing one general marketing message, they must now tailor their message to appeal to a specific targeted group.

"Ethnic marketing is defined as targeting and communicating to ethnic segments based on their diverse cultural framework (Ethnic Marketing in the United States)." Brands choosing not to create an ethnic marketing strategy suffer greatly due to the rapidly increasing amount of buying power minorities possess. Companies who fail to produce an effective ethnic marketing strategy also run the risk of ethnic groups misinterpreting their marketing messages, which in turn, results in damage to the brand image and a loss of customers and potential customers. It is imperative for marketing executives to fully understand and study cultural aspects of each minority to launch a successful campaign.

The concept of ethnic marketing is actually quite simple, but brands still tend to miss the mark. It is no different than other marketing tactics in that marketing executives must research, plan, develop, and execute their campaigns based on feedback from their target audience. Conducting adequate research cannot be stressed enough. Marketers must also make it clear who their target audience since not all cultures may feel the same way about their campaign. What may make one culture laugh may have the opposite effect on another.

Variables commonly used in ethnic marketing campaigns include using multicultural faces in television commercials and print advertisements in order to increase brand support from ethnic cultures. To achieve successful execute a campaign that includes multicultural faces, marketers must understand conduct research on the cultures of all ethnicities included.

An ethnic marketing strategy has become the ultimate solution adopted by the biggest American corporations. Specialists in ethnic marketing started emerging ever since the early nineties. There are today almost 250 agencies specializing in ethnic marketing in the United States (Ethnic Marketing in the United States). Within the past decade, marketers have realized ethnic minorities tend to set the trends and influence the purchases of the general market. Now-a-days, many corporations will have a marketing division specifically designated to ethnic marketing. Some even have divisions to cater to each ethnicity that will be responsible for researching their respective ethnic group. Other companies will hire an outside agency to conduct the ethnic marketing research and create and implement their marketing strategies. Luis Albertini started the first agency targeting Hispanics in 1962 (Ethnic Marketing in the United States).

The Problem With Ethnic Marketing

Many brands cannot seem to see eye to eye with their target market. Ethnic marketing is a "handle with care" type of project. Minorities have been disregarded by the majority for centuries. It's no surprise that most are extremely sensitive when it comes to being represented in mainstream media. Minorities love to be appreciated, but they also will not hesitate to boycott a brand in its entirety if they feel disrespected in any way. Companies must tread lightly when it comes to ethnic marketing. The wrong campaign can ruin a brand; image-wise and the amount of money and hired help it would take to resuscitate the brand.

Many brands are afraid to resort to targeted ethnic marketing just for the possibility they could be accused of racism by releasing what can be considered a racially insensitive advertising campaign. Minorities are extremely tricky to market to because, as noted before, America has become a salad bowl. A salad bowl meaning yes, everyone is all together, but everyone still has their own identity. What minorities may find entertaining and humorous within their own culture may not be as funny exploited in national media.

One of the problems brands may face in the realm of ethnic advertising is literal language translation. In the United States, it is not as much of an issue. For brands based in the United States attempting to expand to foreign countries, the language barrier can prove to be extremely difficult without conducting proper research on the target market. For example, Bill Imada, an expert in the Asian market, presented an example of a brand that wanted to translate "Do you have a minute?" in Korean. Sounds safe right? Actually, in Korea, this expression is used to solicit a woman in a bar.

The most problematic issue, however, is the use of stereotypes. For some reason, brands use stereotypes in their advertising campaigns to reach minorities. Outsiders looking in are completely flabbergasted at the thought but brands continue to attempt this method. Back in the eighties, Chevrolet broadcasted a TV advertisement featuring a black woman using her posterior to shine her car; a joke that the black community did not find funny. We will exam the use of stereotypes in more advertising campaigns and the media backlash they received later on.

Another problematic issue that lands brands in trouble is the fact that cultural sensitiveness must be considered as well. A prime example in an incident that occurred with General Mills, a company mainly concerned with food, more specifically cereal. During the early nineties, the brand hoped to entice the Hispanics with their new Bunuelitos breakfast cereals. The campaign featured a grandmother burying the cereals in her garden in order to hide them from her grandchildren. Needless to say the campaign was a failure. The advertisement offended many Hispanics because they are Catholics. On the other hand, Latino grandmothers would prefer to die rather that neglect their grandchildren. It is also said that a Latino grandmother would prefer to die rather than depriving her grandchildren of food (Ethnic Marketing in the United States).

Finally, brands who tend to disregard the various backgrounds and cultural nuances in their marketing are making a tragic mistake. Many marketing executives tend to group a Korean, a Chinese, and Japanese in the same category when they are actually very different from each other, culturally and by the way they live.


McDonalds is the leading food service retailer in the United States and probably the world. The company currently has 34,000 local restaurants serving nearly 69 million people in 119 countries each day. The company was founded in 1955 by Ray Kroc, an Oak Park native, who prior to, worked as a milkshake machine salesman. In 1954, Kroc came across the hamburger stand of the McDonald brothers in San Bernardino, California, which used Kroc's mixers. After convincing the McDonalds to appoint Kroc as their franchising agent exclusively, Kroc opened a restaurant in Des Plaines; it was the first McDonald's in the Chicago area. The chain grew at a rapid speed. Upon the first location opening in 1955, there were 14 restaurants in 1957 and 100 by 1959. In 1961, when there were 250 restaurants in the chain, Kroc purchased the interest of the McDonald brothers for $2.7 million.

Three years after McDonalds began to advertise on television, Kroc's company managed 1,000 McDonald's franchises all across the United States. The remarkable growth continued during the 1970s, when McDonald's-now based in Oak Brook-added 500 new restaurants each year in locations around the world. With this rapid expansion, annual revenues passed $1 billion. The company had become one of the world's largest users of beef, potatoes, ketchup, and other foods; its distinctive golden arches had become a familiar part of the landscape. By the beginning of the century, there were about 25,000 McDonald's restaurants around the world, annual revenues stood at about $15 billion (McDonalds Corp.).

Advertising Practices

McDonald's is one the leading brands when it comes to multicultural advertising. Majority of the corporation's marketing and advertising efforts target minorities. Neil Golden, chief marketer office of McDonald's USA, said, "Ethic segments are leading lifestyle trends." He continued on to say that his team decided to "start with the ones who are setting the pace." By "setting the pace", he was referring to the fact that minorities, more specifically African-Americans tend to be trendsetters in the consumer market. "So they help set the tone for how we enter the marketplace." Golden says preferences chosen by minority consumers shape McDonald's menu and ad choices, which are then marketed to the rest of their customers.

They also represent the highest buying power. Golden said McDonald's receives 40% if it's current business from Hispanic, African-American, and Asian markets. Half of the consumers from those markets are under 13 years old. "And they're among our most loyal users," said Golden (Helm, 2010).

McDonald's, unlike many other corporations, has never underestimated the buying power of minority groups. Way ahead of the curve, the brand attempted to understand ethnic markets for decades, hiring Burrell Communications in the early 1970s. It did, however, take some time to get a science down. Golden retold a story about a meeting with Chicago franchisees almost 20 years ago, in which he discussed a new product and marketing program that African-American's were going to love. An African-American franchisee asked him how he knew what they would love. Golden told him McDonald's had done a study that took place in a mall. "We don't have malls in the ghetto," the franchisee responded.

After that incident, Golden said "Now during the product-development cycle, McDonald's looks for a disproportionate level of ethic insights." McDonald's will have nine focus groups and whenever possible, two are Asian, two are Hispanic, two are African-American, and the remaining three represents the rest of the market.

When setting their marketing budgets, McDonald's makes sure that their spending behind certain targeted spots represents the country's ethnic consistency, such as 12% behind African American marketing, 15% behind Hispanic, 5% behind Asian (Helm, 2010).

When developing advertisements, Golden says McDonald's generally gives each ethnic agency a blank canvas with in the "I'm Lovin' It" framework to orchestrate campaigns within their respective market. For example, McDonald's McCafe launch campaign aimed towards Hispanics was aimed at empowered Latinas (Appendix A). McCafe is performing well in the general market, it's doing even better in ethnically driven locations.

This method is proven to be successful, as McDonald's ethnic marketing receives praise from trusted names in the ethnic communities they are targeting, such as Latina Style and Black Enterprise Magazine (Helm, 2010).

"Most companies think they can box in Latinos, box in African-Americans, and then run the general market ad," says Steve Stoute, chief executive of Translation, which advises brands, including McDonald's, on how to reach young adults. "McDonald's will take an ad that could be primarily geared toward African-Americans and put a general market advertising dollar behind it."

Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, many of McDonald's ads now feature only African-Americans. Out of the 10 most-aired TV ads from the past 12 months, compiled by ad tracker Nielsen IAG, five had all-black casts. While the ads usually push specific products or deals, many use situations aimed directly at ethnic consumers. In a recent commercial called "Big Day," a young boy at a wedding looks bored while watching the bride and groom kiss and jump over a broom-an African American matrimonial tradition. His eyes light up, however, when he gets to his seat and finds a Happy Meal (Helm, 2010).

Campaign Case Study

While it's true that McDonald's ethnic marketing campaigns have largely been successful, they still have several campaigns in which they missed the mark. When promoting their latest product, McNugget Chicken Nuggets, McDonald's thought it would be ideal to target the African-American consumer in their commercials and advertisements. The commercial, entitled "McNuggets Lovin'," features an R&B music video parody starring a black man singing about his woman cheating on him -with Chicken McNuggets. The lyrics are as follows:

Man (singing):

I woke up and found u creepin' (tip toe tip)

Oh girl I know your secret (Are you dippin' on me?)

Got them McNuggets lovin' (You went to McDonald's?)

It just ain't fair

Why can't you share your love with me?

Girl (spoken):

Nice song! But your still not getting' any of my crispy, juicy McNuggets

Man (singing):

Girl, you got a ten piece, please don't be stingy!

Media and Public Response

The media response for the Mcdonald's "McNuggets Lovin'" commercial was mainly one of confusion and disgrace. While some thought it was not necessarily racist, it definitely was distasteful. A writer for had this to say about the ad: "I'd prefer to label it "garbage." And I'd gladly debate anyone who disagrees with me. I cannot understand why folk are so quick to label something racist when it is just pure garbage with a cast of black people. Not racism, just a waste of production time and money." Many feel like brands continuously feel like the only way to attract the African-American market is through music and dancing. Although this ad did not receive terrible backlash, the consensus was that it was poorly executed. Blogger Erin Jackson noticed a pattern in McDonald's advertisement by saying: "I'm seeing a pattern that when Mickey D's is trying to sell chicken, they get extremely stereotypical.." which, in a sense, seems to be true.

Mattel's Barbie

Company Background

Mattel's Barbie made its United States debut in March of 1959. Ruth Handler is credited with the concept of the doll. She named the doll after her daughter, Barbara. She saw her daughter playing with paper dolls and suggested to her husband Elliot, who was the co-founder of Mattel, the idea of adult-bodied dolls. Her husband and the directors of Mattel were uninterested. During a trip to Europe in 1956, Handler came across the German Bild Lilli doll. The doll was adult-figured which is what envisioned for the soon-to-be Barbie dolls. She brought the dolls to the Mattel office and they began working on the redesign of the doll. Mattel premiered the new doll Mattel bought the rights to the Bild Lilli doll in 1964 and as a result, production of Lilli was stopped (Barbie, 2012). Under the Barbie umbrella, Mattel manufactures products ranging from dolls, toys, accessories, clothing, and more.

Campaign Case Studies

There have always been controversies surrounding Barbie's black dolls. In 1967, almost 10 years after her white counterpart, the "Colored Francie" black Barbie doll made her debut in 1967. The controversy surrounding this doll was the fact that they were produced using the existing molds for the white Francie doll. It was almost like a white doll painted in a darker color. Over the years, Mattel kept producing more black Barbies with white features. In September 2009, Mattel premiered the "So In Style" range of Barbies, said to have more "authentic" African-American features than previous dolls. According to Mattel, the "So In Style" line has "fuller lips, a wider nose, more distinctive cheek bones and curlier hair." The line features a group of friends wearing shiny "bling", big hoop earrings, and sneakers (See Appendix for picture).

Back in 1997, Mattel partnered with Nabisco to create the black Oreo Barbie. The marketing plan for the "Oreo Fun Barbie" was based on girls playing with the doll while eating "America's favorite cookie", the Oreo. The white counterpart to the doll was the Ritz Cracker Barbie.

Media and Public Response

The "So In Style" Barbie's received mixed reviews from journalists and consumers alike. NY Daily News was able to interview young shoppers who were examining the dolls. Barbara Mootoo, a 15 year old from Manhattan, said "Not all black people like hip hop," while looking at Kara's rope chain necklace. "They gave her a chain like a 50 Cent video." Tyaine Danclaire, a 15 year old from the Bronx, said she liked Trichelle's straight, long hair because it looked like "a weave," but she thought the idea "was sorta racist." She said, "They say black girls are ghetto with the gold earrings, with the big bling; I don't agree with that." (Weichselbaum, 2009).

The Oreo Barbie seemed like safe idea, however, the term "Oreo," is commonly used to describe a black person who behaves like a white person, according to the Urban Dictionary. In essence, the person will be black in appearance, but hold cultural, language, and social preferences of a white person. A red flag should have been raised when the white Barbie was the "Ritz Cracker Barbie". The word "cracker" is common derogatory term used to describe a white person. The Oreo doll caused a controversy among the African-American population and had to be taken off the shelves. Today the doll is a collector's item, exchanged lustfully among people who enjoy racially provoked toys. Blogger Debbie Nazareth wrote as she was reading about the Oreo Barbie, "the word 'RACIST' screamed through my mind as I continued to read about this scandal. Could the manufacturers of Barbie be more subtle about this or what? Are kids being brainwashed into thinking being white is beautiful?" Due to backlash the campaign received, Mattel discontinued the doll.


Company Background

Nivea is an international skin and body care brand owned by German company, Beiersdorf. The company was founded in1882 by pharmacist, Carl Paul Beiersdorf. Nivea was launched in 1911 when Oskar Troplowitz, the new owner of the brand, developed a water-in-oil emulsion as a skin cream with Eucerit, the first emulsion of its kind (Nivea). The name Nivea comes from the Latin word niveus/nivea/niveum, meaning 'snow-white'. During the 1930's, Nivea began producing products such as tanning oils, shaving creams, shampoo, and facial toners. Today, Nivea's wide range of products include cosmetics such as facial care, bath and shower cosmetics, haircare, baby care, cosmetics for men, and sun care products. Their special lines include, Nivea for Men, Nivea Visage, Q10, and Nivea Body Reshaping Treatment.

Campaign Case Study

In late summer of 2011, Nivea launched a new advertising campaign for its Nivea for Men line. The campaign, commonly referred to as "Re-civilize yourself" was a part of Nivea's broader, "Look Like You Give A Damn" campaign. The ads featured images of well-groomed men tossing their ungroomed, pre-Nivea faces away. The ad featuring a white model read, "Sin City isn't an excuse to look like Hell." The controversy occurred around the ad featuring the black model. The ad said "Re-Civilize yourself" and "Look Like You Give A Damn" and showed an image of a well-groomed black man tossing his seemly angry, ungroomed head. The head he was tossing including an afro and full facial hair.

Media and Public Response

Many African-Americans were appalled at the Nivea campaign. It looked like the brand was playing on the most hotly debated topics in the black community-- The idea that Afros or natural hair is not "civilized". Calid Bowen, account coordinator at Translation, LLC, a multicultural marketing and advertising company had this to say about the campaign:

I would say that it was racist and offensive to the culture. They basically implied that having an afro isn't civilized, when the afro hairstyle is one of the most iconic and expressive ways that an African Americans can display our unique characteristics. The ad also implies that black males need to assimilate to a clean-shaven look in order to be "civilized," when we know that's not the case.

Many people felt the same way Bowen felt. Ad Age argued that if the black and white campaigns would have been switched there would not have been any backlash. While this may be true, the fact of the matter is they weren't switched. The two ads cannot be compared necessarily since the cultural context is completely different. The problem stems from the historical prejudices against African-Americans who do not straighten their hair. It is often said the Afro is, in a nutshell, ugly and less favorable than silky, straight hair. The ad is basically saying the Afro is uncivilized and blacks with Afros do not care how they look. Also, it should be noted that the "Re-civilize Yourself" portion of the ad was not included in any of the other campaigns aside from the one featuring the black man.

Burger King

Company Background

Burger King, coming only second to McDonalds, is one the largest fast food chains in the world. The restaurant began in Jacksonville, Florida in 1953 under the name "Insta-Burger King". The restaurant ran into financial difficulties and Cornell University classmates, James McLamore and David Edgerton, bought the franchise in 1959 and renamed it Burger King. By 1961, Burger King and it's new signature "Whopper" had spread all across the United States. Pillsbury bought Burger King for $18 million in 1967 and with the company's backing, Burger King was able to expand to become the second largest burger chain. Despite it's apparent success, the company suffered many ups and downs. In 1978, Burger King "stole" executive Donald N. Smith from McDonald's. Smith completely revamped the company. He introduced the Burger King mascots to help the company reach out to children, competing with McDonald's' commercials. Under Smith's leadership, the company began competing with other fast food chain restaurants by offering similar products. They starting first with Long John Silver's by introducing Burger King's fish sandwiches. Burger King also took and Kentucky Fried Chicken by introducing their chicken sandwiches. With Smith leading the company, sales were up 15 percent by 1980. After more companies starting noticing what magic Smith was capable of, he was stolen again by PepsiCo. After he left Burger King, sales began to decline.

In order to increase sales, Norman Brinker was hired to turn the company around again. He started what became referred to as the "Burger Wars", political-like attack ads in the food industry. The commercials said Burger King's burgers were better than McDonald's, blatantly. After working with the company for a short while, Brinker left the company to build Chili's restaurant chain.

Burger King began to decline again making it impossible for Pillsbury to fight a takeover bid by Grand Metropolitan PLC. In having an international focus, Grand Met changed Burger King's distribution methods, they switched their soft-drink contract from Pepsi to Coca-Cola, and they partnered with Walt Disney Company for inclusion in Disney films.

In 1992, the company's headquarters in Miami was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. However, Grant Met was able to rebound the company quickly. In 1997, Grand Met merged with brewing company Guinness to form Diageo PLC. Since the company had major alcohol brands such as Guinness and Moet & Chandon, Diageo seemed to ignore the needs of Burger King.

Burger King declined again until TPG Capital, Goldman Sachs, and Bain Capital bought the company for $1.5 billion. The company went public in 2006, generating $425 million in revenue. The brand then introduced the Whopper Bar concept, which allowed customers to see their burgers being made. The company then went to being worth $1.5 billion to $3.2 billion. 3G Capital bought the company in 2010 (Daszkowski).

Campaign Case Study

In an effort to promote their new menu items, Burger King sought out a cast of A-list celebrities for their commercials and advertising spots. One of these celebrities included R&B singer, Mary J. Blige. The commercial starts out with a man coming up to the Burger King counter asking, "What's in the new chicken wraps?" The manager comes up and repeats, "What's in the new chicken wrap?" but before he can finish the question, the camera pans to Mary J. Blige standing on a table with a microphone. She interrupts the manager and says, "What's in the new chicken wrap?" The manager allows Mary J. Blige to answer the customer's question. Dressed in leather and wearing sunglasses, Mary J. Blige begins to sing the lyrics "crispy chicken, fresh lettuce, three cheeses, ranch dressing wrapped up in a tasty flour tortilla" in a front of crowd of people raising their hands wearing Burger King crown hats.

Media and Public Response

The day the commercial aired, the media backlash was probably the worst Burger King has ever seen. Many felt like the commercial was an embarrassment to the black cultural. Chicken is already a stereotypical favorite in the African-American community. To have someone who is commonly considered an R&B legend sing about chicken was just unfathomable to many urban media outlets and to the black community. A write from wrote an open letter to Mary J. Blige in light of the commercial. Here's an excerpt:

Why Mary, why? This is so beneath you. This harmonizing about chicken is a move I would associate with someone whose glory days were far behind them. You still have so much more to contribute to the arts and entertainment game that there was no reason you had to stoop to stereotypes…. Burger King got you [girl]. It's no secret that they're losing when it comes to the fast food game. I mean, Wendy's beat their sales this year. They're desperate. And you know what desperate execs do when they need to make money? They hurriedly throw together clichéd, often stereotypical, advertising campaigns. And that's where you came in, Mary. Having a black woman sing about chicken was no mistake. They're trying to reach the "urban" (aka black) demographic. And God knows black folk, won't buy anything unless there's a song, and preferably a dance, attached to it.

Another urban media outlet, Clutch Magazine Online, commented on the commercial by saying, Watching [Mary J. Blige] put her whole [heart and soul] into singing a fried chicken carol forces me to ponder how far we've come as a people… The stereotype about black folks loving chicken is hundreds of years old, yet it seems more rampant in fast food advertising of the past few years than ever before."

Even Mary J. Blige herself was embarrassed by the commercial. In an interview she did with Hot 97 radio station in New York, she said, "I just felt like there was no need for me to say anything, because everyone was crucifying me and going crazy," she said. "I pulled back and watched … [because] it's just something that I thought would've been a great branding opportunity. … [The] Burger King, chicken and buffoonery, and it just broke my heart." She said the commercial was a bad decision. "I wanted to crawl under the bed," said Blige. "It was a mistake, but I did it because I thought it was something that wouldn't come out like that. It was sold to us that I would be shot in an iconic way ... It hurt my feelings. It crushed me for like two days (Makarechi, 2012)." Burger King apologized to Blige in a statement and said the commercial had been pulled due to "music licensing issues." Calid Bowen said he thought "the pairing of Mary J. Blige and Burger King was wrong from the jump."

Summer's Eve

Company Background

Summer's Eve is a brand of feminine hygiene products produced by the C.B. Fleet Company. Their products include washes, cleansing cloths, deodorant spray, and douches. C.B. Fleet first introduced Summer's Eve douche line to the market in 1972 to address women's hygiene needs.

Campaign Case Study

As part of their "Hail to the V" campaign, Summer's Eve posted three videos on their website. The "Hail to the V" campaign was organized by The Richards Group, a Dallas-based branding and advertising agency. The videos included talking hands that were meant to represent a black vagina, a white vagina, and a Hispanic vagina. The video clip featuring a black hand said, "Girl, I have seen how much time you spend stylin' your hair." The black hand also assures women that they will be more desirable at night clubs after using Summer's Eve products: "An extra 10 seconds in the shower, plus a Summer's Eve cleansing cloth before you reach the club and bam, we are so lady wowza." The clip that featured a white hand says she wants to be "BFFs." The Spanish hand starts out with the phrase "Ay, yay, yay," and then breaks out into high-pitched angry monologue spoken entirely in Spanish (Moss & Krupnick, 2011). "Next time you shower, show me a little love with Summer's Eve cleansing wash," it says. "That's all I ask. Well, that and you trash that tacky leopard thong," said the Spanish hand (Kattalia, 2011).

Media and Public Response

In a critique of the campaign titled, "Summer's Eve Ads Miss the Mark" written by Larry Woodard for ABC News, Woodard claims that many brands miss the mark in advertisements due to the fact that "there are very few black, Hispanic and Asian chief creative officers to say: 'Hell, no!'" (Woodard, 2011) said the black and Hispanic ad "both reinforced racial stereotypes that ad executives assumed would be entertaining." The article continues to say:

It's utterly maddening that these culture creators could be so blithe about the perceived nature of what is stereotypical. Their complete ignorance of these issues allowed such offensive ads to make it into the public arena, harming their client and disturbing audiences" (Stodghill, 2011).

After the immense backlash, Summer's Eve pulled the videos after issuing a statement: "We are surprised that some have found the online videos racially stereotypical. We never intended anything other than to make the videos relatable, and our in house multi-cultural experts confirmed the approach." This is not the first time Summer's Eve received criticism for their commercials. The year prior to the "Hail to the V" ads, Summer's Eve was called sexist due to an ad that said women should douche before they ask for a raise. Their "multi-cultural experts" clearly are not multi-cultural enough.


It is clear that all of these marketing campaigns missed the mark due to incorporating stereotypical misconceptions into their ads. Calid Bowen said this is due to the fact that brands are "not understanding the cultural nuances or the shared values that African Americans experience in our daily lives." The McDonald's "McNugget Lovin'" commercial was poorly drawn out and executed. It looked extremely low budget and distasteful. The underling stereotype used was the misconception that in order to African-Americans, there must be music involved. McDonald's is not the first to use this method and definitely will not be last. The idea is all African-American's love music, so therefore, the only way to get their attention is to incorporate music in their TV spots. This commercial could have been successful if they made it clearer that the ad was mean to be a funny parody on cheesy R&B music videos. They missed the mark, as the ad came off as more of mockery than a parody-type commercial.

Mattel's Oreo Barbie was also deemed distasteful. It seems like when brands are targeting African-Americans, not enough research on the culture is conducted. If Mattel knew that the term "Oreo" in the black community means to be black on the outside but white on the inside, they probably would have never released the doll. Calid Bowen goes on to say, "African-Americans are very passionate, and brands need to put just as much passion into their ads." I'd have to agree as far as research goes. Minorities as a whole have worked hard to retain their cultural identity when the majority says to convert. For brands to feel entitled to represent them in any way they seem fit in the media is an outrage.

Nivea's "Re-civilize Yourself" campaign was absolutely terrible. Clearly the company was trying to make a statement as the only version of the print ads that said "Re-civilize Yourself" was the ad featuring the Black man tossing his unshaven face, equipped with an Afro. Calid Bowen said, "They basically implied that having an afro isn't civilized, when the afro hairstyle is one of the most iconic and expressive ways that an African Americans can display our unique characteristics." Why try to market to African-Americans if they are not taking into consideration cultural characteristics that are held to the highest respect in the community. Bowen also said the ad implies, "that black males need to assimilate to a clean-shaven look in order to be "civilized," when we know that's not the case."

When Burger King released their Mary J. Blige ad, now referred to as the "Crispy Chicken" ad, many jaws hit the ground. The commercial alone was poorly conceptualized. Why did Mary J. Blige have to rudely interrupt the manager and ask the question with a "neck roll" and finger snap? The fact that Burger King thought that using Mary J. Blige to sing about chicken proves that companies do not conduct enough research on the markets they want to target. Mary J. Blige is a legend in the Black community. That fact that African-Americans loving chicken is a common stereotype just adds more fuel to the fire. The commercial was doomed from the start.

Summer's Eve's "Hail to the V" campaign was a complete mess from start to finish. Once again, stereotypes are used to isolate minorities. It was not necessary for the talking Black hand to be overly "ghetto" in tone and talk about hair and going to the club. It also was not necessary for the Hispanic hand to talking in an angry Spanish voice and mention things like leopard thongs. Summer's Eve could have easily had an African-American woman provide the voice for the hand and talk in a normal voice. Clearly everyone would know that it was meant to represent a black woman due to the skin tone. There's no need to go completely overboard. All Spanish women do not speak Spanish and wear animal print, which is what the ad implied. Most people of Spanish heritage have a distinct accent. Having the Spanish hand open up with "Ay, Ay, Aye" was completely unnecessary. Once again, the ad could have been tastefully and successfully executed had they left out the racial stereotypes.


Ethnic Marketing will also be tough concept for brands to execute due to the cultural sensitivity minorities possess. Instead of conducting research on target markets, brands rely too much on racial stereotypes to get their message across. It prompts one to wonder, are they looking for a negative response? Is it better than receiving no response at all? Calid Bowen said, "I don't think any brand wants a negative reaction from their target necessarily, because that would eventually affect sales and ROI. Sometimes brands will go for a shock value effect with their ads, but this shock value should attract the targeted audience." It is possible that a few of these advertising campaigns, such as the Summer's Eve "Hail to the V" campaign are looking for shock value. There is a fine line between shocking and offensive that many brands have trouble separating. Many of these brands say they have "multi-cultural" experts that assist in the creation of these campaigns. Critics, including myself, highly doubt that these experts are even "multi-cultural." Perhaps brands should consider new methods in reaching the multi-cultural consumer.

The first, most important method brands should use when targeting the multi-cultural consumer is to actually research their target market. Based on these ad campaigns and the backlash they received, it's clear that not enough research was conducted on the campaigns target market. Mattel could have saved time and money had they researched how a Black Oreo doll would be received by the African-American community. Research on the African-American culture as a whole would have eliminated many of the problems these brands ran into.

Brands can also implement real-life case studies. Instead of hiring "multi-cultural experts", brands should consider talking to real like consumers and asking their opinions before they even spend money on these horrific advertising campaigns. If Summer's Eve would have played the voiceovers of the Black hand and the Hispanic hand to those respective target markets, they most likely would have never released the ad. Just because an ad agency specializes in multi-cultural marketing does not necessarily mean they know everything about the culture. For example, when Neil Golden held a meeting in Chicago with franchisees about a new product and marketing program he said African-American's would love, an African-American franchisee asked him how he knew they would it. Golden told him they conducted a research study in a mall. The franchisee responded, "We don't have malls in the ghetto." If each brand trying to market to African-Americans or any minority group had a research group full of regular individuals within their target market, racially insensitive advertisements would be a thing of the past. Brands would no longer have to rely on racial stereotypes to market their products to minorities.

Many brands hold stereotypical misconceptions about minorities due the fact that most of them are not deeply rooted in their culture to know otherwise. They use these techniques thinking it will be entertaining for everyone, when it reality, stereotypes are never funny. As an African-American woman, having another African-American woman sing about crispy chicken in a commercial is not entertaining to me due to the stigma attached to the African-American community and chicken. Brands who continue to utilize these stereotypes in an attempt to be comical will also inversely continue to receive a negative media backlash.