From servants to spokesmen: Black male advertising models and changing US culture post World War II

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Journal of Historical Research in Marketing


Purpose: This paper aims to track how African-American or black male advertising models are viewed by male consumers within the context of dramatic ongoing cultural and legal change. It provides broader implications for other ethnic minorities. Design/methodology/approach: A content analysis of black male advertising images culled from over 60 years of issues of two male-targeted magazines assesses these changes. The analysis contextualizes the imagery in African-American history and general media portrayals periodized into seven historical phases. Findings: Results indicate that the number of black male advertising representations has exploded in the past 30 years from virtual invisibility to over 20 per cent of all male ad images. Roles have migrated from representations of black ad models as servants and porters to a wide range of images of black men in professional contexts. However, black males, relative to white males, are disproportionately presented in ads as athletic figures and celebrities and rarely depicted in romantic situations. Research limitations/implications: This research focuses on two popular male-targeted publications, thereby limiting its scope. Relatively few black male images (relative to white male images) are to be found in print advertisements in these publications. Practical implications: This research assists business practitioners as they create business and marketing strategies to meet the needs of an ever more diverse marketplace. Social implications: The disproportionately large number of black male depictions as athletes and sports celebrities is indicative of remnant racism and minority stereotyping in American society. Originality/value: This research builds upon work done by Kassarjian (1969, 1971) on black advertising images. Its originality stems from a specific focus on male models as viewed by male consumers, the addition of historic context and periodization to this history and the updating of past research by almost half a century.

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