Sunday, December 5, 2021

There is a long history of racist and violent advertisements in Australia. This is why targeted advertising can be a problem

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains racist images and advertising slogans.


The Internet has given advertisers the ability to fly below the radar of public accountability. This is because online ads are visible only to targeted individuals on their personal devices.

However history shows that public accountability is important as advertisers have an established record of using harmful stereotypes and targeting vulnerable populations.

In collaboration with the Australian Advertising Observatory Global Indigenous Futures Center Will examine how targeted advertising online is affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

We will work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander users to see what ads they are receiving on Facebook. Research indicates that Facebook is one of the most popular platforms used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Recent criticism of social media platforms has largely ignored the important cultural role played by advertising in reflecting and reinforcing social values ​​and attitudes.

This is often done in ways harmful to indigenous people, women and youth.

Facebook has been criticized for increasing misleading, polarizing and sensationalist information. But it does so for its primary business model: to sell ads based on aggregated information about users and their social networks.



Read more: 97% of Indigenous people report seeing negative social media content weekly. Here’s How Platforms Can Help


Racist Advertising and Stereotyping

Public inquiry has an important role to play in challenging advertising practices that are harmful to society. A recent example of a marketing campaign that resulted in public outcry and criticism is an H&M ad that featured an image of a black child wearing a sweatshirt that reads, “Coolest monkeys in the woods.”

Another example is the Dove body wash ad that recycled dark skin’s racist associations with dirt and impurities. In both cases, public criticism led to the cancellation of the ads and an apology from the companies involved.

Criticizing racist images and stereotypes is important because they play a role in reinforcing racist attitudes and the actions and policies they support.

For example, an early 20th-century ad for velvet soap draws on the racist dark-skin-is-unclean trope to link racist policy. The ad features a caricature of an Aboriginal woman rubbing “black” off the back of an Aboriginal child, as she refers to the White Australia policy.

Advertisement for Velvet Soap.
Special Issue of Punch, 1901

Wiradjuri scholar Kathleen Jackson highlights the connection between racist advertisements and harmful social policy in her discussion of the infamous Nulla-Nulla soap advertising of the 1920s. The ad referred to “dirt” as a tribal woman being beaten up.

As Jackson says,

Advertisements such as the Nulla-Nulla soap provided subliminal support to the colonial campaign to enforce European cultural and economic values. […] A single complaint about the cleanliness of a tribal child can result in the exclusion of tribal children from school. This exclusion may install neglect and allow […] Removal of indigenous children from their families.

A soap advertisement for Nulla Nulla soap from 1901
A soap advertisement for Nulla Nulla soap from 1901.
A soap advertisement for Nulla Nulla soap from 1901

Degrading images and dehumanizing stereotypes go hand in hand with violent and inhuman acts. The cultural images a society feeds into through its advertisements do much more than just sell the products: they reflect and reinforce social values ​​and associations.



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predatory ad

Harmful and degrading stereotyping is not the only sin of advertising – and not the only reason to support advertising accountability.

Australia has a continuing history of violent marketing to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which can be further facilitated by online advertising targeting. In 2018 the Royal Banking Commission revealed that financial institutions were deliberately targeting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with exploitative lending and insurance deals.

Similarly, in 2020 the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission found that some Telstra representatives were engaged in predatory marketing practices towards Aboriginal people. They did this by misrepresenting the terms of mobile phone contracts and falsely telling customers that they were getting phones for free.

We don’t know the extent to which stereotyping and predatory targeting are happening online because we can’t see ads. This lack of accountability favors shady advertisers over the public interest and good. It provides cover for advertisers who are interested in strategies that exploit stereotypes or target vulnerable populations. History shows that we cannot rely on advertisers to hold ourselves accountable.

New research addressing this issue

Australian Advertising Observatory and Global Indigenous Futures Center Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are inviting people to participate in research that will allow them to see how they are being targeted online.

To aid in this research, participants who use Facebook on a laptop or desktop computer can install a browser extension in a minute or two. The extension does not collect any personally identifiable information – only sponsored content that appears in their news feed.

However, the tool collects some voluntarily provided information that allows us to see how Facebook users are being targeted by ethnicity, gender, age, and more.

The browser extension allows participants to view the history of all advertisements they have received during their installation. Participants can then view the pattern of ads they receive, indicating whether they are being targeted for specific types of products or services.

If you are interested in participating in the project, more information is available in the launch video of the project.

Click here to join the project

We’ll make our findings public as they emerge, so watch this space for further updates.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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