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Colorblind Commercials: Depictions of Interracial Relationships in Television Advertising
Stewart, Julie

2013, PhD, University of Cincinnati, Arts and Sciences: Sociology.
The mass media have long been a site for exploring social attitudes and trends related to race, gender, and class in America. In this dissertation I use media to build on previous research by examining depictions of interracial relationships (IRRs) in television commercials. Because of the ubiquitous nature of advertising and the fact that commercials are carefully orchestrated by organizations to sell products, their content gives valuable insight into what corporations and advertising agencies believe is marketable and acceptable in households across the country. Fully 98% of Americans have at least one television in their homes, which means that almost everyone is exposed to television advertising at some point or in some way throughout the week. Moreover, unlike other forms of visual media, which are to a large degree viewed intentionally, the content of television commercials is not pre-selected by viewers. As a result, television advertisers must strike a balance between creatively selling a product and maintaining a positive relationship with existing and potential consumers.

In examining the use of IRRs in television advertising, I ask three questions: first, what is the incidence of interracial relationships in television advertising, and how does this compare to the prevalence of such relationships in the contemporary United States? Second, what are the effects of the product, intended audiences, type of commercial, and the company advertising the product on the incidence of IRR depiction? Third, what is the relationship between the race of the people in romantic and platonic relationships and the depictions of those relationships in television advertisements? To answer these questions I analyze a data base of over 1,700 televisions commercials collected during April 2012, which I analyze in conjunction with information on audience characteristics from the Nielsen Company.

I find a mix of overrepresentation and underrepresentation of interracial friendships and argue that this reflects positive changes for race relations overall in America. The data suggest that television shows and products aimed at younger audiences are more likely to feature interracial relationships and that these depictions are less likely for products and shows aimed at families and older audiences. Finally, I argue that advertisers rely on stereotypes to quickly get messages across to consumers and that the use of interracial relationships is often the result of employing what I refer to as “strategic ambiguity” by advertisers.

This dissertation is an important examination of the relationship between real life attitudes on interracial friendships and romances and depictions of these relationships in television advertising. It adds to the larger body of sociological research by using a unique data set from television commercials to examine when and where interracial relationships are (and are not) depicted in television advertisements and the relationship between these depictions, audiences, and social attitudes.
Jeffrey Timberlake, Ph.D. (Committee Chair)
Erynn Casanova, Ph.D. (Committee Member)
Annulla Linders, Ph.D. (Committee Member)
151 p.

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Stewart, J. (2013). Colorblind Commercials: Depictions of Interracial Relationships in Television Advertising. (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from

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Stewart, Julie. "Colorblind Commercials: Depictions of Interracial Relationships in Television Advertising." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. University of Cincinnati, 2013. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center. 16 Aug 2018.

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Stewart, Julie "Colorblind Commercials: Depictions of Interracial Relationships in Television Advertising." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. University of Cincinnati, 2013.


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