It's here in black and white

A study of how advertisers have portrayed ethnic minorities over almost 200 years shows that equality is still a long way off. Michael Cudlipp reports

A classified advertisement placed in The Times of 22 June 1813 promoted the anniversary dinner of the African and Asiatic Society, attended by its president, the famous abolitionist William Wilberforce. After naming the vice presidents and the stewards, the date, time and the price of the tickets - 15s - the last sentence of the ad warns Times readers: "About 100 Africans and Asiatics are expected to dine in an adjoining room."

This is one of the earliest references to ethnic minorities in British advertising to have emerged from a recent study undertaken by the History of Advertising Trust Archive. The study encompasses the past two centuries, and its findings suggest that progress towards equality has been distinctly limited.

In the latter part of the 19th century, soap companies advertised their products primarily to the servants of householders, and often used crude methods to get the sales message across. Black characters usually needed washing, whereas the white characters represented cleanliness and purity. In 1884, Pears' Soap showed a small white boy scrubbing a black boy white, accompanied by the slogan "matchless for the complexion".

Over more than 100 years, the popularity of black waiters with white clients has not altered, be it the stylised Vimto waiter of 1930 or the seemingly deferential barman with his smart white clients in the 2003 One&Only Ocean Club campaign. Not much progress there, because whereas a Bahamian barman might well be black, why are there no black people buying drinks?

By 1948, there were several thousand black British citizens in the UK as well as smaller numbers of British Asians. Then the SS Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury, bringing 492 Jamaican immigrants, including 120 RAF men, who had come to Britain looking for work. Some nine months afterwards, the last use in a UK advertisement of the word "nigger" that we have found was published in Picture Post on 5 March 1949.

The Seventies and Eighties showed signs of progress towards a realisation that the UK had a growing population of British citizens of West Indian and Asian backgrounds, both first and second generation.

Bacardi (1971) and Cutty Sark (1974) remained imperial in tone (dominant white figures with black servants) and Pye (1971) sold its television sets on the Black & White Minstrel Show (the minstrels were blacked-up whites, which caused offence to the black community).

But a 1973 Barbados travel advertisement showed a Barbadian couple holidaying rather than serving. The same year, Access credit card introduced a rather middle-class-looking black child to a group of similar white children.

In 1980, British Gas had an all-black consumer ad for the first time and C&A used its first black couple in an ad. It was also in the Eighties that the National Dairy Council showed the first black/white couple in physical contact in a UK ad. Things were moving.

For the next 20 years the pace was slow, so that a campaign like Howard of the Halifax (for the Halifax building society) stands out as something really special, rather than the norm. The reasons are not hard to find. Advertising agency staff in the UK remain white in the creative and account areas and brown and black in finance, canteen and cleaning. The number of senior executives from ethnic minorities remains minuscule. This must mean that agency knowledge of the new ethnic minority markets has little experience to draw on. They cannot advise their clients properly.

At the same time, the ethnic balance has been shifting rapidly. In Greater London, ethnic minorities now represent 31 per cent of the total population. These are people with aspirations and with cash to spend - powerful, fast-growing new market groups. Surely no agency can afford to dawdle.

The author is chief executive of the History of Advertising Trust Archive, which has produced a CD on how advertisers have portrayed UK ethnic minorities, available on 01508 548623

Suggested Topics
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Digital Project Manager

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Digital Project Manager is needed to join an exciti...

Paid Search Analyst / PPC Analyst

£24 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Paid Search Analyst / PPC...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam