The world of advertisement is a balancing-rope, almost like an art in a sense, teetering the brinks of clever writing and social and cultural awareness. Stereotyping, in the purest sense within advertising, is about targeting a special demographic in order to enlarge the established appeal of a product or the brand, and it can either backfire or be congratulated in a matter of minutes on the internet. Whether racial or gender-specific, the answer of whether it’s moral or right to use stereotypes as a mechanism for advertising widely varies. From Morris Holbrook’s 1987 journal article of the “mirror that advertising holds up to social mores, norms and values” to Yorgos Zoto’s 2014 paper on the rise of female stereotypes in advertising, the debate will be an ongoing trial for as long as advertisement is kept alive.
For the sake of this post, it may not be always right to use stereotypes at an outright, but when it does a good job to subvert expectations, I just can’t help but get behind something potentially amazing. This is admitting racism and gender-conformity is still prevalent however, because there are some horrendously done and questionable ads that still happen due to lack of focus groups and the occasional “just because.”
To get a sense of what we’re dealing with here, let’s take a look at Nivea’s banned advertisement from 2011. Brought to light not only on social media, but also from writers Jen Ortiz of Business Insider and Justin Fenner of former Styleite.com over the blatant stereotype of black men with afros and beards, “as embracing a tonsorial style that isn’t close cropped and clean-shaven will make you look like a total beast,” Fenner comments sarcastically. As Nivea pulled down the ad and posted a public apology for the incident, inciting that the only intention was to spread diversity with their brand, one has to question whose fault this is and the lack of effort to fact-check the credibility for letting such an ad through.
As advertisers, there has to be a sense of awareness on account of disparities like Nivea’s ad in the market, but there has to be at least the extra step of having a test or focus group view the ad before it hits the billboards. One may argue Nivea did similar ads before with a white model holding a decapitated head with a beard as well, but At least with ads that have a specific purpose on using stereotypes to create an effective ad, one has to have a focus group made of the demographic approached to become more than just the regular tragedy in the industry.
This one last example is of a recent Japanese ad for cosmetic brand, Shiseido, back in 2015 that has to be one of the best ads from that year. From the Watts of Tokyo ad agency, Shiseido was barely ten days old when it ran the smashing “High School Girl?” ad hit at a critical cultural climate at the time. Essentially, the message breaks down to “not only girls can look pretty, boys can too,” and it plays eloquently on gender norms in beauty commercials that hasn’t been as refreshing since Dove’s “Evolution.”