'One White Covers 3 Ugliness': Why Targeted Ad Campaigns Aren't Always Socially Responsible

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Have you ever watched a "novela" or soap opera on Telemundo or Univision.  Very dramatic.  While they continue to die in the English speaking American culture, novelas are still wildly popular in Latin America and among Hispanic Americans.  But as one of my friends once pointed out, why are all the actors "white"?

Its an age old comparison.  Black verses white.  As much as we have tried to move beyond racial prejudice its an unfortunate side of human nature.  In reality however, racial lines aren't so defined, rather varying graidents of color.  What to me and you looks to be black or Hispanic, to another is considered "white."

Here in the United States we mostly think of this discussion in terms of African American and Caucasian.  However these comparisons also extend globally.  I recently read a great article by Thomas Su on Examiner.com where he discusses the Chinese saying "One White Covers 3 Ugliness" as one that describes Asian's obsession with "fair" skin complexions.  Like in most cultures, Asians with darker skins, are often the victims of unfair treatment, discrimination which ultimately determines their social status and plight in life.

For African Americans, historically the "Brown Paper Bag Test" was the basis of inter-racial discrimination based on complexion.  It was believed that those African Americans that first ascended to levels of social prominence did so in part based on their lighter skin complexions which were more similar to their successful white counterparts.  Early exclusive social societies, fraternities and sororities have long been acused of using ones skin complexion in relation to that of a brown paper bag as a means to determine a candidates acceptation into the club.

These social prejudices, not only against race or ethnicity but gradient of skin complexion further explain what my friend observed about novelas.  Fair skin is favorable.  In business, television and yes in Marketing.

If you run a focus group on two different ads both for the same product geared towards Hispanic or Asian consumers you will see.  Test ad one featuring a man with fair complexion and the second with a spokesman of darker tone.  The majority of respondents will respond more favorably to the former.

As marketers, we're trained to go where the people are.  As Thomas Su points out, such insecurities present great opportunities for marketing cosmetics and skincare products.  Unfortunately, by effectively targeting our consumers we're in fact reinforcing negative stereotypes and complexion disparities.  Its an interesting phenomenon and one not likely to change until the social perception on skin tones is reversed.  However it goes a long way to our deepening our understanding of how ethnic consumer groups in the U.S. make their buying decisions.  Something to keep in mind when approving your next creative.