Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, I used to watch so much television, I’d memorize certain commercials. Yes, a dubious talent at best…more likely the sign of a slightly off-kilter mind (which is probably why I’m a freelance copywriter/travel writer/photographer).
But I always noticed that the people in these TV ads and shows always looked like my friends, which is to say they were white. Nothing wrong with that, but even with my immature brain, it felt like I wasn’t speaking to me and more pointedly, I didn’t belong in some way.
As you could probably guess from my part of my name, Sakata, I’m of Japanese descent. I was raised in town that was about 60% white, 30% Latino (mostly Mexican), which is now in reverse proportion. So when I return to Watsonville, I can’t go too long without seeing ads for national companies written in Spanish. If I travel up to the Bay Area, signs in Chinese, Tagalog, Korean and Vietnamese populate the landscape.
And it’s not just the print ads – I notice more and more visuals with people of color. I say, it’s about time!
This article in Direct Marketing News touches upon this issue of diversity in marketing. One executive mentions…
“There has to be an appreciation that the family unit has shifted,” says Terry Young, CEO of sparks & honey. “You have to accept, as a philosophy for your brand, that this shift has happened. You have to have products and design products that actually meet the shift. In your marketing and communications, you have to have imagery and copy that actually shows that you understand that the shift is here.”
Showing more of what is representative of our country, marketers now know that including people of all races, ethnic groups, sexual orientations and genders in their advertising is not just smart, it’s indispensible.
But as wonderful news as this is, I still have to do a double take whenever I see a gay or lesbian couple, a mixed-race couple, or even Asian Americans as just Americans in a commercial. I still sometimes think that the Asian Americans are still perceived in this typically stereotyped manner:
My childhood brain is responding to this as a curiosity and not the norm, just yet. I’m hoping it will be taken for granted by my kids, their friends and their generation.