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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Guru Careers: Research Analyst / Business Insight Analyst

£32 - £37K + extensive benefits: Guru Careers: Research Analyst / Business Ins...

Guru Careers: Junior Designer / Design Graduate

£18 - 20k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Junior Designer / Design Graduate to...

Guru Careers: Project Manager

£30 - 40k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Project Manager is needed to join a leading s...

Guru Careers: Creative Artworker

£20 - 25k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Creative Artworker is needed to join a highly...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral