The Token Brown Girl

“If you didn’t include at least one minority did you even try?” I once overheard a fellow marketing student say this during an advertisement critique in class, and at first I thought it was funny. A second later I felt uncomfortable. After a year, I’m still not sure. This concept of putting a person of color (POC) into an advertisement just for the sake of looking inclusive can be summed up into the term “tokenism.” Its pretty easy to spot. In advertising and media as a whole, there always seems to be an asian nerdy friend that is the butt of the jokes or the hispanic help with the thick accent. Those experiences are on some level derived from a sliver of truth, but does it err on the side of insensitive?

Take for instance this extreme example from the 2001-2002 application booklet from the University of Washington. The uncomfortably photoshopped image squeezes in the face of a smiling African American student into a crowd of fans at a football game. This deliberate attempt at creating diversity is ridiculous not only because the photoshop job is incredibly noticeably, but diversity at this college likely isn’t strong given that they are in the rural midwest.


It has been 15 years since this particular faux pas, and societal norms have shifted so the above example normally wouldn’t make it past the drawing board, but recent examples of Dove Beauty, Pepsi, and the antisemitic targeting of Facebook ads highlight how far we still have to go.


I understand that diversity is a hot topic in America right now. The racial injustices have always been there, but the voices against it are getting louder than ever. Minority groups are not only demanding equality in legislation, but they also looking to see themselves in the media they consume. In this environment, many companies are trying to promote inclusion in subtle and direct ways. Some companies are using diversity management as a strategy for corporate social responsibility. Others use it as a human resources move. Many use it as an avenue to open up to new markets. Overall there are benefits to showcasing individuals of different backgrounds.

According to the University of Georgia’s 2016 Multicultural Economy Report,  “minority buying power is growing at a faster pace than the white consumer market for a number of reasons, such as demographics, increases in educational attainment and entrepreneurial activity.” They go one to outline that Hispanics specifically held $1.4 trillion of the economic clout of last year.


Businesses are making the right move when it comes to reentering their businesses to the future of majority shareholders of our economy. If they are going to keep their loyalty, they are going to have to me more conscious of their micro aggressions, and get some people of color in the decision making rooms. Who better to lead your advertising campaigns, than the people who you are directly trying to influence. Its a simple solution: Diversity of perspective is not just a PR move, its an investment in your company.






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