Representations Of Race In Television Commercials: A Content Analysis Of Prime-Time Advertising

I found this very interesting study that analyzes the frequency, context and equality of African Americans, Asian American, Latino, Latin American and white in television commercials.
In this study made by Dana E. Mastro and Susannah R. Stern, a one-week sample of prime-time television commercials where 2,315 speaking characters were analyzed. For this study, local commercials, political advertisements, trailers for television shows, movies and sports were excluded. As the authors explain, the third three speaking human characters in each ad were coded. The testing revealed that the majority of prime-time commercials contained fewer than three identifiable speaking characters.
According to Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) , the manner in which images are presented on television influences how viewers interpret and respond to the modeled acts. The result of this study was that the majority of the characters appearing on the 2,290 human speaking commercials were white (83.3%), the second largest percentage was black (12.4%), then Asian (2.3%), Latino (1.0%) and Native American (0.4%). Also, males of all races appeared more often than females with the exception of Latinos, who had an equivalent number of males and females.


Some other aspects of this study that were observed were that viewers learn from what they see in the media, like behavior. The manner in which images are represented on television influences how viewers interpret and respond to the modeled acts. Evidence in the research indicated that Black viewers prefer ads (Williams, Quails & Crier, 1995) and programming featuring blacks (Nielsen Media Research, 1998). And that Latinos favor Spanish-language programs. Additionally, studies showed that children are more likely to want to be like media characters of their own racial/ethnic background.
So the next step was examining how often and in what context characters from different racial/ethnic backgrounds are depicted in commercials. The researchers focused on three primary areas: Frequencies, selective presentation and presentation quality.
In the frequency area, it was revealed that racial/ethnic minorities have been chronically underrepresented in television commercials despite their proportions in the population. Nevertheless, Taylor and Stern’s results showed an exemption to this statement. Black portrayals in television ads occupied a 35%, Asian Americans were depicted in 8.4% of commercials, Latinos in 8.5% and whites in nearly every advertisement (98%).
In the selective presentation area, these portrayals in terms of product association and setting were examined: Blacks appeared in integrated ads for food, cars, alcohol and institutional/service advertisements. On the other hand, whites appeared more often in advertisements for cosmetics and were most frequently found at home. Asians were most in ads for retailers while Latinos were primarily located in banking/finance ads or ads for food an entertainment (Wilkes & Valencia, 1989).
Finally, on the presentation quality area, the qualities associated with these presentations were examined. The results were that racial/ethnic minorities appear most regularly in minor or background roles and group settings and less likely to be pictured as parents or spouses, and less likely to give orders.


As Mastro and Stern conclude in his analysis of contemporary television advertising indicates both progress and stagnation for racial/ethnic minority representations. Even though Blacks are generally portrayed in a more diverse and equitable manner, Asian American, Latinos and Native Americans remain underrepresented and even negatively represented some times. Whites and Blacks have the greatest number of potential models in current television advertising. Asian are usually depicted as young, passive adults dedicated to work only. Nevertheless, they make clear that this study is far from showing the complete picture. This analysis utilized sampling and analytical techniques that provide objective and generalizable information nevertheless, they exclude the inclusion of groups with minimal absence of representation.


One thought on “Representations Of Race In Television Commercials: A Content Analysis Of Prime-Time Advertising

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s