Somewhere there’s an America that’s full of neighborhoods where black and white kids play softball together, where biracial families e-mails photos online and where Asians and blacks dance in the same nightclub. And that America is on your television.
In the idyllic world of TV commercials, Americans increasingly are living together side by side, regardless of race. The diverse images reflect a trend that has been quietly growing in the advertising industry for years: Racially mixed scenarios—families, friendships, neighborhoods and party scenes—are often used as a hip backdrop to sell products.
The ads suggest America’s ethnic communities are meshing seamlessly, bonded by a love of yogurt, lipstick and athletic gear. Last year, Verizon used a fictional interracial family—white and Hispanic—in seven commercials pushing their communications products in an effort, according to a company spokesman, to “portray something that was contemporary and realistic.”
Such commercials, including more than a few that debuted during the Super Bowl, allow advertisers to convey an inclusive corporate image and reach a broad ethnic range of consumers. Many applaud them as an optimistic barometer of the nation’s racial progress.
But critics say such ads gloss over persistent and complicated racial realities. Though the proportion of ethnic minorities in America is growing, experts say, more than superficial interaction between groups is still relatively unusual. Most Americans overwhelmingly live and mingle with people from their own racial background.
During the Super Bowl, beer maker Anheuser-Busch Cos. ran nine commercials that included every major racial group, some in mixed settings, some not. In one of its most popular, promoting designated drivers, the black comedian Cedric the Entertainer pretended to turn a steering wheel in a nightclub, unwittingly sparking a multiracial crowd to do copycat dance moves. Every shot in the commercial pictured at least two ethnic groups—some had four.
The ad’s racial diversity “was very much discussed” during the planning stages, said Bob Lachky, vice president for brand marketing at Anheuser-Busch. “That’s very much the club situation in any progressive club in America. . . The look was very, very representative of our customer base.”