In the past there seem to have been commercials with black people in them, but that were targeted at a white consumer. Lately, there have been more commercials featuring black people who are actually targeting a black consumer. Many of these commercials are for some type of insurance and usually feature a funny narrative around the black working class couple. This couple is characteristically made up of one black male and one black female. The humor comes the recognizable tension between the black man who has made some type of mistake and the black woman who scolds him for not knowing better like she does.
By portraying the black couple, these car insurance ads put black people in the domestic and personal sphere. Rather than showing them individually or together as a supportive unit, they are shown together in contrast to each other. As we see in this first advertisement for Esurance, the black elderly man is trying to give some advice while the elderly black woman is beside him shaking her head.
Although the black man in this insurance commercial was portrayed as being right in choosing the right insurance, other insurance commercials featuring black couples push the black male into the position of “loser”. Loser is a term used in “The Male Consumer as Loser” by Michael Messner and Jeffrey Montez de Oca. The “losers” are men who are “always on the cusp of being publicly humiliated” (Messner and Montez de Oca 1887). In this second ad, we see the husband figure being positioned as the dumb loser who has let the power of Progressive insurance go to his head.
The husband in this clip seems to be publicly humiliating himself by believing he can juggle chainsaws, while his wife takes on the role of the smarter individual in the couple. Although this positions the wife in a powerful role of knowing better than her husband, it also places her in the role of “bitch”. The “bitch” is a woman, usually a wife or a girlfriend, who is there to undermine individual men’s freedom” (Messner and Montez de Oca 1887). The black woman who approaches Flo comes off as a little aggressive, has a little attitude, and then goes on to spoil her husbands fun by not supporting him in juggling chainsaws.
The advertisement above positions the black man and woman in the same position as they were in the Progressive ad. The woman is again placed in the superior role to her significant other, and is nagging him for idiotically backing his car into another car. To expose the problem with these advertisements I would create a “Target Black Couples” video. In this video I would show the ads that I featured above, and then create a new advertisement making fun of these ads. The clip for the new advertisement would play off of the first Esurance advertisement. It would feature the black man talking about insurance, and then his wife would chime in and agree with what he was saying. There would then be a moment of catastrophe to emphasize the craziness of a black woman agreeing with her husband. This would be a funny spoof, and would force people to realize that having a black couple get along would not actually cause a catastrophe and is not actually that uncommon.
The “Target Black Couples” video would leave people wondering why it is so uncommon to see black couples getting along. In the chapter “Images: Producing Culture for the Market”, Arlene Davila provides an answer to this question. Davila talks about stereotypes in terms of Latinos and says that advertisers use stereotypes because they are “recognizable to the generic group” (Davila 90). Although black couples may not be in a relationship like the ones portrayed, they recognize the narrative of the tired, annoyed black woman who is too smart to be dealing with the things she has to deal with.
The worse part about the black couples portrayed in these ads is that they create a steady narrative. This idea of creating a narrative is what Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson call “ideologies” in their essay “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning”. One of the ways ads create ideologies according to the authors is by promoting normative ways of viewing the world and relationships. Both the Progressive and All State advertisements create the idea that the normal black relationship involves a man and a smarter woman who both get on each other’s nerves. The arguing and annoyance is portrayed as something normal and a part of every black couple’s relationship.
The reason these ads need to be exposed is because they create an image of what a black man, a black woman, and their relationship should look like. Someone watching these ads would assume that black males are incompetent, and black women are competent but have an attitude because of it. The normal black relationship shown in these ads is one of constant turmoil, and gives young black viewers the idea that constant bickering is okay and normal.