The Butt Of A Bad Joke: Racial Stereotypes In Advertising

Stacy Vieux


Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Updated: Thursday, April 2, 2009

bad advertising (Luc De Leeuw)

Old Navy’s most recent commercials have stirred up much discussion and controversy because mannequins are stereotyped by race and gender.

The commercial also creates questions about the ethics of advertisers who blur the boundaries  between good-natured humor and good taste.

Why did Old Navy take the risk of creating material that they knew people would find potentially offensive?

The answer is easy: stereotyping is an attention getter and, therefore, a money-maker.

A British mannequin is told by a black mannequin “wow those jeans even give you booty” implying British women lack “booty.”

The black mannequin describes her behind as “nutritious and bootyliscious” implying black women have big butts.

A Spanish mannequin (whose name just happens to be Eva) talks about how it isn’t easy being a “supermodelquin” mom as she gets teased for having more than one ex-husband.

The stereotyping does not stop there.

An Asian mannequin is shown alone saying “someone seems to have curves where there weren’t any before; I’m not going to name any names but it rhymes with pleather,” referring to the British mannequin named Heather.

Amy, the Asian mannequin, whispers “plastic surgery happens all the time in our business.”

The advertisers strategically chose the Asian to talk about plastic surgery emphasizing the correlation of Asians who are surgeons, while British are more likely to get plastic surgery.

All the mannequins except the British mannequin gather around the black mannequin (whose name just happens to be Michelle).

She leads a gossipy conversation about how the British mannequin is “too British to bring the badonkadonk.”

How stereotypical—the black mannequin leads the discussion and uses such vernaculars as “bootyliscious” and “badonkadonk.”

As I watched the commercial over and over on Youtube (it is entitled “The Supermodelquins in “Denim Derriere.”), I couldn’t help but notice Kelly, the white mannequin, had less of a role in this commercial: she was exempt from stereotyping.

I do not think the makers of these ads are racist like some argue.

However, I know that the makers of these Old Navy ads took the time to think about which characters would do what and why.

The Asian character was strategically chosen to talk about plastic surgery; the Spanish character was strategically chosen to be teased for having several ex-husbands; the British woman was strategically chosen to be teased for having fewer curves; the black character was strategically chosen to have her dress stripped off; and the white character was strategically less involved in the stereotyping.

There is so much time put into ad campaigns.

People come together and brainstorm for weeks about ideas and make a deliberate plan.

My point is not much happens on accident when it comes to advertising because every little detail is strategically planned out—to prevent controversies like this from occurring.

I asked a few people what they thought about this commercial and one common trend was at some point in the commercial each of them, like me found at least one thing humorous.

But as the laughs settled down each of them began to think.

“I have to admit at first it was funny but then I thought about the stripping of the dress and I felt offended as a female and a black woman,” said Eunice Nguru.

“It was sexually suggestive and so rude that the dog barked at her bare body,” said Stephanie Dubuisson.

“I found the first commercial so offensive that when I saw the second one I was somewhat unaffected by it.”

“That’s disgusting,” said Kristen Bell, “but it is of no shock to me that women are still being over sexualized in the media.”

Travis Marat said, “I found the commercial more offensive because of the sexual nature more so than race.”

Advertising relies too much on sexual content to sell products. I would like to see more originality because anyone can grab someone’s eye with sex.

Someone with some true advertising skills can be able to captivate an audience with tactics other than sexual images and exploitation.



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