Story+ Project

Race and Ethnicity in Advertising

(2017)

Advertising is a powerful force within society—both reflecting and shaping cultural norms. The depiction of race and ethnicity in advertisements in particular is complex and has evolved over time, including stereotypical depictions (such as Aunt Jemima or Frito Bandito) as well as advertising developed within communities of color. Cultural norms have also shifted over time, and many companies create advertising for international markets and must take local cultures into consideration. Duke’s John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History has strong collections on advertising history including the archives of some of the most prominent advertising agencies, trade associations, and people who worked in the industry. These collections include the papers of people of color who worked in advertising, collections that document advertising that targets minority populations as a consumer demographic, and advertising that depicts race and ethnicity.

Project Objectives

The Hartman Center proposes to shed more light on this history through the development of a digital resource featuring materials from its collections. There are visual collections with a wealth of imagery and document-based collections that put agencies’ and marketer’s campaigns and goals in context. A team of undergraduates will work together with guidance from the graduate student team leader and from the team’s faculty advisor to research this topic and then to determine how best to share their findings. The new resource will help students and researchers to more easily locate examples of advertising that touch on issues of race and ethnicity and to contextualize these examples within the larger story of race and ethnicity in advertising. An important element of the larger story is the growing inclusion of people of color as employees in advertising agencies during the twentieth century, spurred on by the Civil Rights Movement and the narrowing of target markets. Through their participation, project team members will further develop their own visual literacy and expand their understanding of the evolution of cultural norms related to race and ethnicity, while at the same time creating a lasting resource that will share their findings with the larger scholarly community.

Project Sponsor(s): 

Jacqueline Reid Wachholz, Director, John W. Hartman Center for Marketing, Sales, and Advertising History, Rubenstein Library, Duke University

Joshua Larkin Rowley, Reference Archivist, John W. Hartman Center for Marketing, Sales, and Advertising History, Rubenstein Library, Duke University

Graduate Mentor(s): 

Meghan O’Neil, English

Undergraduates: 

Elizabeth Butcher, Jessican Chen, Cyan DeVeaux

Outcome: 

Digital exhibits highlighting materials from the Hartman Center on representations of African Americans in advertising, marketing research on communities of color, and professionals of color in advertising.

"Let beauty go to your head...Everything is beautiful." TBC Naturals Advertisement from the 1980s. Source: Duke’s John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History.

Topic(s)

  • Digital Storytelling
  • Archives
  • African American Studies

Skills required

  • Interest in scholarship surrounding imagery of race and ethnicity and/or advertising
  • Attention to Detail
  • Experience Building Websites
  • Research with Primary Sources
  • Work with a Team