Though it has become quite common for brands to take a stand on social issues, the advertising industry wasn’t always revolutionary. In advertising past, people of color were used as props and based on harmful stereotypes or generally omitted from campaigns. In fact, only a few short decades ago simply being Black in advertising was groundbreaking.
The 60s was a turning point in American history. With the Civil Rights Act being passed in 1957 and an uptick in nationwide segregation resistance, Civil Rights groups demanded agencies depict positive images of Black people.
Agencies saw the buying power of Black audiences and began to develop “Negro market departments“, featuring ads that catered to Black people in segregated communities and media. However, to activist groups, such as CORE and NAACP, segregated ads was another barrier to the goal of racial equality. To be seen as truly equal, it was important to for Black people to be shown partaking in simple and everyday things across all markets to normalize across integration in the real world.
Using the industry as a tool to propel social reform, by the mid-60s some agencies began taking steps to increase positive portrayals of Blacks through integrated ads and an increase of employees of color. This progress gave way to creative legends such as Bill Sharp and Caroline Jones, who broke racial barriers and revolutionized the industry in their own right.
We have made great strides as an industry that was once afraid to hire and portray Blacks, though we still have room to grow and evolve. It is now our duty to continue the legacy of those who came before us and advocate for varied and authentic representations of people of color in the media.