By Kayla Johnson
In the 1970s, the American advertising industry began to move away from its long standing habit of using African Americans as props. Following the tail end of the Civil Rights Movement, big name corporations like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Coca-Cola saw an opportunity to broaden their consumer base while keeping up with the times by increasing diversity in their ads.
Though seemingly a step in the right direction, many agencies did a poor job representing this target demographic. Misguided and extensive use of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in vintage ads are clear examples of just how little agencies understood about Black consumers and how to appeal to them. Charlton McIlwain, Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, stated he views these ads as “the outcome of [advertisers] trying to do the right thing, but not necessarily knowing what that meant.”
Advertisers understood that the Black community was a pr...