Selling representations
February 19, 2021 3:51 PM   Subscribe

Over the last month or two, nearly every ad I see while watching a movie or TV show prominently features people of color. Did advertising suddenly change in general, or did my specific algorithm change?

The shows or movies can be anything including very mainstream news shows. The things I'm watching did not change and truly do not necessarily signal me as a POC in themselves.

The kinds of products I'm seeing did not change. I'm being targeted, still, as middle aged. So: medications, real estate, insurance, cars, banking, make-up, and vacations.
What has changed: every single ad I get lately suddenly has several scenes, 3/4 of the scenes feature laughing happy attractive POC , often families where some of the members are Black and some are Asian or Latinx, and 1/4 of the scenes features a white person where the white person has some attractive but unconventional look, like a lot of freckles, for example.
The ads also have a lot more middle aged gay couples than they used to. (Also not white.)
Until recently all my ads seemed to feature laughing happy white people, very mainstream in clothing and hairstyle, with an occasional POC in the mix.
SO -- are these ads aimed at me because they think they know who I am, or did all these advertisers suddenly decide they'd be better off updating their representational profiles? The only possibly relevant thing that changed about me this year is that I have donated to some Black causes.
Just curious about what's going on in the advertising world and how they are trying to sell things.
posted by nantucket to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Culture is finally getting a grip and adding race inclusion.
posted by firstdaffodils at 3:53 PM on February 19 [6 favorites]

I'm noticing the same thing.
posted by bluesky78987 at 4:20 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]

I've been noticing this over the past few years in stock art used on random articles and posts online. I don't think that's targeted on an individual level.

I wonder if a virtuous circle effect is one of the things advertisers are responding to: when you get used to seeing all kinds of people represented, their absence starts to be glaring.
posted by trig at 4:32 PM on February 19 [5 favorites]

Not just POC. Mixed race couples, gay couples, blended families, as well. It’s pretty cool to see.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:33 PM on February 19 [11 favorites]

This is a thing. It was especially evident in the Super Bowl advertising this year. It makes me really happy to see folks who look a little more like my wife and I everywhere. :)
posted by joycehealy at 4:35 PM on February 19 [17 favorites]

It’s a thing where where when Netflix thinks you’re POC they will give you the same movie “cover” with a black actor in the film rather than a white actor.

I’m white but when I was living in West Africa my Facebook started having target ads for natural hair products and other POC focused products.

Some of these are likely targeted ads and some are likely greater inclusion and diversity in advertising plus noticing it more now that you’re noticing it
posted by raccoon409 at 5:16 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]

I've noticed it too, especially on the log-in pages for banks, pharmacies, and so forth.
posted by DrGail at 5:20 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]

After years and years of not watching any mainstream ads at all (didn't really watch TV, robust adblockers on my laptop) I'm now exposed to ads on Hulu and YouTube when I watch things on my big screen. And it is *dizzying* how much better representation is than it was when I last watched ads regularly. I love it a lot, actually, even though I still resent watching ads.
posted by merriment at 5:30 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]

A few theories: first, it's Black History Month (in the US, which is where I'm assuming you are?), so undoubtedly some of the uptick in Black faces is connected to this. Next, I think the diversity you are seeing (race, orientation, body) has been an increasing trend over the last several years, but the George Floyd protests have pushed many companies to at least put on a show of diversity. It might just have taken a few months for their ads to catch up.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:53 PM on February 19 [6 favorites]

There was a big "revolution" in the advertising sphere around the time BLM started really getting going last year, also kind of hand-in-hand with #metoo and also the racism against Asians during the pandemic.

This along with the fact that staff at advertising agencies in North America and most of Europe are overwhelmingly white (almost exclusively so in the C-suite), kicked off a big movement towards "diversity and inclusion" in both hiring at the agencies and representation in the ads themselves.

There was even a massive boycott, called #StopHateForProfit by the civil rights groups that organized it, that urged companies to stop paying for ads on Facebook in July to protest the platform’s handling of hate speech and misinformation. More than 1,000 advertisers publicly joined, out of a total pool of more than 9 million, while others quietly scaled back their spending.

In July, more than 200 major corporations agreed to pull some $7 billion in advertising from Facebook. Many of the advertisers announced that they were pausing at least until the end of the year.

There was then a lot of shake ups at staff at agencies, such as:
Motel 6 drops ad agency after founder said pitch was 'too Black’ for the chain's 'white supremacist constituents’

So yes, you are seeing a lot more ads with better representation and portrayal of race and other marginalised groups.
posted by mephisjo at 5:54 PM on February 19 [8 favorites]

I think also anecdotally it's also that people that manage advertising are just trying harder to ensure inclusion because of the conversations this summer. I work in an outdoor activity kind of realm and I've always tried to disrupt the constant imagery of White People Doing Outdoor Things whatever I can. I have semi-recently taken over doing a few corporate reports for my organisation and my usual quip to my like-minded direct report for our covers is "White people? Never heard of them!" when we're choosing the images. I wouldn't be surprised if this was currently a common approach.
posted by urbanlenny at 6:43 PM on February 19 [5 favorites]

As an actor currently making my living in commercials (until theater re-opens please oh please soon), I can confirm that in the last year or so the audition notices I am seeing and the sets I’m on feature majority performers of color.
posted by minervous at 7:15 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]

Facebook's ad algorithm decided a while back that my "ethnic affinity" was African American, so it seems that the ad algorithm and facial recognition algorithms don't talk lol.

So I get a lot of Facebook ads with a black spin, e.g., Brown Girls Do Ballet, which I click like on because yay ballet, which likely just reinforces Facebook's notion that I'm black.

Marketing databases sell and swap consumer profiles like crazy, so I'm sure there are lots of other ad-targeting algorithms that think I'm black now.

I'm not sure where Facebook originally got the idea that I'm black, although I have posted a lot of anti-racism content.

Something similar may have happened with you.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:38 AM on February 20

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