Do whites dominate ads? Reaction mixed

Sep 20, 2013 | News

By Kerrisa Wilson

Humber News found mixed reaction on Friday to a report that said white people are more common in Canadian food advertisements compared to visible minorities.

“There’s no question that the advertising community has long championed the importance of showing diversity in advertising,” said Janet Feasby, Vice President Standards of Advertising Standards of Canada.


A new study suggest caucasian people are dominating Canadian TV food ads. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Many Canadians will say there have been changes in the diversity of people shown in TV ads over the years but it is still not representative of the Canadian population, said Joyce Lamb, Humber’s Advertising- Media Management Program Coordinator.

“I think that the challenge is that we are such a culturally diverse country, said Lamb. It is difficult for us to represent the entire diversity in one ad and so no matter what you do, unless you got a crowd in the ad you’re going to skew culturally in a certain direction.” 

According to the study, University of Toronto sociology professor Shyon Baumann examined 244 prime-time, food related ads that ran on Canadian networks in 2008 and 2009. The findings were presented in a conference in August.

Baumann and research partner PhD student Loretta Ho found that 87 percent of people in the ads were white while only 80 percent of Canadians are Caucasian.

There was an under-representation of some visible minority groups and they found that white characters were portrayed in more favorable opportunities compared to black and Asian characters, Baumann told CBC News.

Visible minorities were shown more in ads for fast food, while caucasians were shown in more traditional food and agriculture ads, said the study.

Baumann told CBC News, he wants to raise awareness to marketers and advertisers about the patterns occurring in advertisements and that his intention is not to create problems.

Some companies avoid the ordinary and incorporate mixed characters or interracial couples to appeal to a broader audience.

“I think certain companies and organizations have more of a mandate to kind of go above and beyond to represent the cultural background, said Lamb. For example, if you look at the Humber ads, they’re very culturally diverse but that’s part of our culture here at Humber.”

Even though this study recently came out some may think there is no issue at hand and that visible minorities are fairly represented like Bob Reaume, Vice President of Policy and Research at the Association of Canadian Advertisers.

“We went through this 15 years ago when there was a legitimate complaint, there is no longer a legitimate complaint,” said Reaume.

Representation of diversity in Canada is no longer a huge issue in advertisement and the fact that this study says 87 percent of white people are shown in food related ads compared to 80 percent of the Canadian population being white could be considered a margin of error, said Reaume.

“Advertisers have been very aware and sensitive to including diversity in their commercials, so much so that we’re almost at the point at being mocked because of it.”

After the release of this study, advertisers may change the diversity of people used in their ads or choose to change nothing at all, he said.

Ads “will almost always reflect Canadian society and I know that because advertisers do this for customers and Canadian society is made up of various types of different customers and marketers know that,” said Reaume.