Racism in Advertisments

Gouri. U. Chandran

With the market place being filled with new products every day, the struggle to rule the market is increasing which in-turn has led to rise in popularity of advertising in the marketing sector. It is hence used extensively by all brands as it plays an important role in instilling in the minds of the consumers about their products. Advertisements therefore is a harmless expression of creativity on the surface that operates at a deeper, psychological level. With increase in advertisements came in issues such as ‘stereotyping’. This led to the cultivation of various inaccurate notions about certain group of people such the blacks, who were often portrayed in association with terms like crime, drugs, rape and animalism.

Another important issue that arose as a result of the influence of advertising on the mind-set of people was racism, the discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. Racism is found extensively in advertisements. Nevertheless people tend to overlook it and buy the product or service. The most evident from of racism in advertisements is seen in commercials of fairness products. This has instilled in the minds of people to discriminate one another on the basis of skin colour, or colourism. Colourism, term coined by Alice Walker in 1982 is defined as one way of racially discriminating people. With fairness advertisements in India holding up this concept, colourism has turned out to be a discriminating factor in every girl’s life. Soon everyone began using products that promised to brighten their skin tone. Being fair began to be equated to ‘being beautiful’.



Indian Scenario:

In a country like India where majority of its population is tan-skinned, racism worked its way out to instil in people the idea that light skinned is beautiful. It all started with the Hindustan Unilever in 1975 launching a skin-lightening cream called the “Fair and Lovely” into the Indian society.

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These products were basically made targeting women. Soon many companies took up and launched similar products that gave faster results in short span of time. It came with a promise to give them fairer shades from the very first use.

Soon arose the question why beauty should be only associated with women. Breaking this stereotyping, Emami launched a fairness creams for men, “Fair and Handsome”. Henceforth, in terms of ‘beauty’ regarding men it was associated with being ‘handsome’. Here too the concept of ‘fair’ stood ahead and soon many companies launched fairness products for men.


Production of different products was not all that was necessary to grab the attention of customers. Inorder to make them believe in their product, producers began endorsing famous actors and actresses of the time. This made it easier for them to reach out to the audience. For example, Emami had Bollywood actor, Shah Rukh Khan endorsing the product which made it more credible and appealing to young audience. The face of celebrity gives credibility to these advertisements. But often consumers fail to realise how far the message is credible.

Beginning of the change in these attitudes was not far. Soon many popular faces of the film industry came forward to change the attitude against skin colour discrimination. Women of Worth (WOW) a non-profit organisation in 2009 launched a campaign called “Dark is Beautiful” which protested against the fascination for fair skin and its effect on the psychology on Indian youth. The movement gained much popularity with Nandita Das, renowned actor and activist coming to its fore-front.

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With the efforts of the organisation and its campaigns, they were able to bring some changes in the existing notions of the society. Young people slowly begun to accept the fact that it is not necessary to have fair skin to be beautiful. The campaign also gained much popularity with men coming forward to support the cause. Soon it saw many youngsters raise voice against the unjust effects of skin colour bias brought into the society by fairness products.

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Following the similar lines, JNTA, a creative studio based in Maharashtra in association with Kranti, an NGO that empowers women to be a cause of social change produced a video using the hashtag #EmbraceYourColour, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyoSt9YZU8k). It featured young girls speaking proudly about their skin colour which was published on 16 July, 2016.



The discrimination based on colour can only be put to an end if the media and product manufacturers that portrays them are willing to adopt a change in its portrayal. This can instil confidence in people and help them believe that they are no less than the others around them.

Advertising hence should not show people with darker skin having a disadvantage of any kind, or inferior, or unsuccessful in any aspect of life but portray them as strong and confident as the others. Today as the mind-set of people change what is needed is an evolution in the advertising industry to change and put an end to this discrimination.



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