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POC in advertising: Why is the media a source of systemic racism?

Updated: Apr 7, 2021

The Black Lives Matter movement has propelled many current problematic issues into the limelight, one of them being systemic racism. This is a form of racism that has been embedded into our society, becoming ‘normal practice’. Systemic racism has slipped its way into the criminal justice system, employment, housing, and even advertising.

The representation of people of color in advertising is a clear sign of how systemic racism still plays a big part in our world. In the US, 1620 samples of ads from ABC, NBC, and Fox were studied for percentages of racial representation; 3.3% of ads featured only black actors and 9.1% had actors of an ‘East Asian facial cast’, while 58.8% of ads featured only whites. As for the UK, the number of BAME and POC in marketing campaigns from 2015 was a measly 12% as found in a study from Lloyds Banking Group. On a more positive note, this number had risen to 25% by 2018 - but is this good enough?

Although the representation of people of color in advertising has grown, it’s still far behind the representation we see for white people. A recent survey from Adobe asked multiple ethnicities if they feel represented in advertising, and only 26% of African-Americans, 10% of Hispanics, and 3% of Asians felt represented compared to the 59% of Whites. And it’s not just the faces we see on the screen that’s the only issue - there is still a huge lack of diversity within the advertising industry itself.

In 1978, only five percent of the ad industry’s workforce was composed of Black and Hispanic workers. Unfortunately, even after 43 years, the numbers haven’t changed much. In 2019, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics found that less than one percent of advertising and promotions managers in the US are Black.

The flame of systemic racism in advertising is still burning strong, but thanks to the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement and other BAME communities, we are starting to fight back. The discrimination towards POC on our screens is now being outed, and some are going as far as boycotting brands that under-represent these minorities. Although we haven’t gotten rid of systemic racism for good, it seems like the world and its people are finally taking the right steps towards an equal society.

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