• Stephanie Elie-Martin

The Danger of Co-Opting Racial Movements in Advertising.

Let's be honest, using racial movements to sell products doesn't even sound like a good idea and yet companies and agencies alike keep trying to push the envelope. Advertising agencies since the 1970's have made an ill aligned effort to reach and capture black audiences. These historical efforts may be assuaged by the idea that all white agencies were well intentioned, but simply unaware of African culture (Cruz). However, modern agencies and companies don't have this misguided trope to fall back on. Diversity in America is easily accessible and widely available.

In today's racially tense, progressive society it makes no sense to play on controversial movements to garner sales. Furthermore, commercializing the struggle of many American's against seems to cheapen the movement and those experiencing and fighting for the cause. One of the most striking recent examples of this is Kylie Jenner's 2017 Pepsi ad. There is a whole lot wrong with this ad, but I'm going to focus on the attempted commercialism of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

"Black Lives Matter (BLM) is an international activist movement, originating in the African-American community, that campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards black people. BLM regularly holds protests speaking out against police killings of black people, and broader issues such as racial profiling, police brutality, and racial inequality in the United States criminal justice system.[1]" (Wikipedia). This movement arose after high profile and controversial police shootings. To say these issues brought the racial division in this country to a head is an understatement. This division became so heated that many who disagreed with the assertion that systemic racism led to these killings began counter movements such as white lives matter and blue lives matter. While the movement was founded in 2013 it still had significant momentum in 2017, when this ad appeared:

This ad attempted to capitalize on the demonstrations of Black Lives Matter. This wasn't the end, nor the beginning of the train wreck. The narrative ends with Jenner handing a police officer a Pepsi. The acceptance and subsequent jubilation eluded to the easing of tensions with the act of sharing a Pepsi. This ludicrous presentation cheapened the movement by suggesting it could all be solved with a Pepsi. While one can see the attempt to rally similar sentiment as Coke's by the world a Coke campaign, it grossly missed the mark.

Unfortunately, this wasn't the only time in recent memory that a company attempted to monetize the racial conflict currently being addressed in our country. Nike stuck its foot in the hornets nest with its recent Colin Kaepernick ad. While for the most part the ad focuses on incredible athletes achieving the seemingly unattainable a single line drove a stake through the otherwise inspiring ad's heart: 'even if you have to sacrifice everything.' This ill fated line derailed the entire message of the ad by insinuating that Kaepernick had sacrificed everything. Fierce backlash quickly ensued. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were nearly instantaneously flooded with meme's showing soldiers who had in a physical sense sacrificed everything - their lives. While the aim of the ad was to inspire bigger, crazier dreams it became another in a long line of racially divisive social media fodder.

While inclusion, unity, and equal representation are vital components of successful ad campaigns there is a strong line between this and attempting to commercialize issues of race in our country. Let's stick with equal representation and avoid divisive racial topics. The goal should be to inspire and unite not commercialize and divide. We've moved too far intellectually, racially, and commercially to continue to make the same misguided mistakes of the 1970's marketing campaigns. We can and must do better.


Cunningham, C. (2014). Social networking and impression management: Self-presentation in the digital age. Lanham: Lexington Books.Kindle Edition.

Cruz, L. (2018). 'Dinnertimin' and 'No Tipping': How Advertisers Targeted Black Consumers in the 1970s. Retrieved from

Humphreys, A. (2016). Social media: Enduring principles. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pollack, J. (2018). 7 Biggest Campaign Fails of 2017. Retrieved from

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, September 19). Black Lives Matter. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:19, October 2, 2018, from

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