The Portrayal of Blacks in TV Advertising
THE PORTRAYAL OF BLACKS IN TELEVISION ADVERTISING: A COMPARISON OF
BRAZILIAN AND U.S. TELEVISION
c/o Thimios Zaharopoulos
Pittsburg State University
Pittsburg, KS 66762
Submitted for consideration to the
Minorities and Communication Division
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
March 18, 1995
THE PORTRAYAL OF BLACKS IN TELEVISION ADVERTISING: A COMPARISON OF
BRAZILIAN AND U.S. TELEVISION
Venilton Reiner and Thimios Zaharopoulos
This paper compares the portrayal of blacks in Brazilian and U.S.
television advertising during the major evening newscasts. It shows that
black people are more proportionally represented in U.S. commercials
in Brazilian ones. Also, U.S. television commercials tend to
blacks from different age groups. Television advertisements of the
countries differ in the professional portrayal of blacks. They do
differ much in the amount of female black characters in the ads, nor
the roles blacks serve in television commercialsDthey serve
a minor role.
THE PORTRAYAL OF BLACKS IN TELEVISION ADVERTISING: A COMPARISON OF
BRAZILIAN AND U.S. TELEVISION
American history shows that the great majority of black immigrants came
to the United States as slaves (Bennett, 1965). Similarly, black
immigrants came to Brazil as slaves to work in the Portuguese plantations
(World Almanac, 1993). In Brazil, blacks and "mulattos" or people
brown color (those of a mixed, white and black race) constitute 44.3%
the total population (IBGE, 1987). Brazilian blacks have strongly
influenced Brazilian music, religion, dance, and food. In the United
States, African-Americans constitute 12% of the population, and they
have influenced American music, dance, and mainstream culture, in
general. In both cases, the black population has struggled for freedom,
equality, and for equal opportunities in its respective society.
Nevertheless, the plight of blacks in the United States and Brazil is
not necessarily parallel. Whereas in the United States there has
discrimination due to race, in Brazil this discrimination is more in
terms of class distinctions (Wagley, 1963).
In the United States, blacks and other minorities get some protections
via civil rights laws. In Brazil, such laws do not exist (Toledo,
The Brazilian Constitution states that every Brazilian, independent of
race, religion, and gender, has the right to education and any
profession. However, blacks, in Brazil rarely hold a position that would
require a high degree of education. This is partly due to the
educational system in which private schools charge high tuition.
universities, which are meant for people of low income, provide only
limited access, as it is the students from higher income brackets who
afford private tutoring, which prepares them for the entrance
In the early 1960s, U.S. civil rights organizations requested that
advertisers include more black models in television and print
(Zinkham, Cox & Hong, 1986). In Brazil, as Kottak (1990) states,
are just as obvious in the Brazilian as in the American population;
however, they are much rarer on the Brazilian than American TV" (p. 61).
He adds that even though the Brazilian black population is fighting for
representation in advertising and television programs, their efforts
not very successful.
The purpose of this study is to analyze and compare the portrayal of
blacks in Brazilian and U.S. television advertising. Specifically, it
aims to answer the following questions: First, what is the extent of
appearance of blacks in television advertising of the two nations.
Second, what is the portrayal of blacks in television advertising of the
Review of Related Literature
Cutler, Javalgi & Erramilli (1992), state that "the portrayal of ethnic
minorities and women has been (studied) in the United States since
early 1970s, but has only lately become of interest in other
In the United States, Dominick & Greenberg (1970) found that in 1967
only 2.3% of all commercials used blacks, and when they appeared, they
were in minor roles. Their study attempted to examine what the
of the civil rights movement was on television and advertising
late 1960s. They collected data from three different television
seasonsD1967, 1968, and 1969. Their results show that the percentage of
ads in which blacks appeared increased significantly from one season
the next. The percentage of blacks in prime-time and day-time,
from the 1967 to 1969. However, black characters were more likely
appear in public service or promotion advertisements than in product
advertisements. They usually did not speak or hold products, and they
were seldom the announcers.
Culley & Bennet (1975) explored black stereotyping in magazines,
newspapers, and television advertising. Analyzing magazine
advertisements, they point out that studies done in 1953 by Shuey
that blacks appeared in less than 1% of the total ads studied.
percent of all blacks appearing in the ads were portrayed as cooks,
maids, and servants for whites. They indicate that 15 years later there
was a shift in the portrayal of adult black characters, as blacks
portrayed as entertainers, sportsmen, professionals, businessmen,
students, and clerks. In terms of television advertising, Culley and
Bennet (1975) found that 10 percent of the 368 commercials analyzed
contained black characters. However, out of 770 people coded, only 43
characters were black, among whom only one was shown as an executive,
three as policemen, while 16 were children.
Zinkhan, Cox & Hong (1986), exploring black stereotyping in magazine
advertising, analyzed data collected from 274 issues of five magazines
Life, Time, Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post and The New
) in 1983 and 1984. Their findings show that black roles and images
slowly changed in advertising. The percentage of advertisements
containing blacks has significantly increased, but this percentage did
not come close to the percentage of blacks in the population. From
ads examined, 3.95% contained black characters. They compare their
numbers with previous studies which show that during 1949-1950 only .57%
of the ads contained black characters, and during 1967-68 only 1.7%
Zinkhan, Cox & Hong (1986) further indicate that the portrayal of blacks
in the United States has changed over the years. In the period of
1949-50 there were only 6.1% of blacks portrayed above the skilled labor
category, while 80.9% of blacks were portrayed above the skilled
category in 1983-84. He concludes that "differences still remain in
way that blacks and whites are portrayed in advertising; but these
differences seem to be decreasing" (p. 572).
Wilkes & Valencia (1989), in their study of Hispanics and Blacks in
advertising, analyze the frequency with which these two minority groups
appear in television commercials. They found that the number of
characters in television commercials has steadily increased since
The data included 63 hours of programming, from the three major
(ABC, CBS, NBC), during the fall of 1984. Their results show that
hours of programming contained 904 commercials with live models. From
these 904 characters, 240, or 26% of the total, were blacks. They
conclude that "the proportion of blacks in television commercials with
live models continues to increase; that this representation is more
likely than not to be in racially-integrated scenes, but that blacks
appear in commercials with larger number of persons than is typical in
commercials in which no blacks are presented" (p. 24).
Zinkhan, Qualls & Biswas (1990) tried to figure out if black
representation in advertising had increased over time in various media.
They analyzed 13,000 TV commercials and 205,000 magazines ads, and
that blacks were more often represented in television commercials
print advertisements. The percentage of blacks in television ads
from .57% in 1949 to 16.01% in 1986. For magazines, black
was relatively low in 1978 (2.13%), but rose to 4.37% in 1986.
As most studies above show, the representation of African-Americans in
advertising has increased in recent years. This increase can be
attributed, at least in part, to the civil rights movement, and to the
changing sociocultural norms.
On the other hand, very little research has been conducted about blacks
in Brazilian advertising. However, research indicates that blacks
generally invisible on Brazilian television, and even when they do
appear, they are portraying stereotypical roles (Leslie, 1992).
Tansay, Hyman & Zinkhan (1990), in a content analysis of cultural themes
in Brazilian and U.S. auto magazine advertisements, mention that the
Brazilian and American cultures grow from very different roots, while
American culture is influenced by English Puritanism, the Brazilian
culture is influenced by transferred Portuguese culture, dominated by
wealthy in their isolated plantation homes.
Based on the cultural differences between the two countries, Tansay,
Hyman & Zinkhan (1990) selected two pairs of themes for an analysis of
auto magazine ads: a) the urban theme and the wilderness theme, and
the work theme and the leisure theme. Their findings show both
differences and similarities between advertising in the two countries.
First, Brazilian print ads tended to have more urban themes than
the United States. Second, U.S. ads tended to have more leisure
than the Brazilian ads. And third, the leisure theme was increasing
U.S. ads, while decreasing in Brazilian ads.
Tansey, Hyman & Zinkhan (1990) also found that the work and wilderness
settings appeared with equal frequency, which they consider
and important. Unexpected because many historians and sociologists
speculated that the concepts of work and wilderness would have
connotations within the two countries. And important, because it
suggests that the world is moving toward cultural homogenization.
Cutler & Rajshekhar (1992) analyzed the visual components of print
advertisements in the United States and the European Community. They
stated that "National cultural differences are thought to influence
advertising practices, and it is reasonable to presume that influences
should be observable at the component level of individual ads" (p.
Similarly, Tansey, Hyman & Zinkhan (1990), Cuttler, Javalgi &
(1992), and Gilly (1988), base their studies on cultural
between nations, and eventually show that these cultural differences
reflected in advertising.
Given that the United States and Brazil have different cultural
identities, and that in Brazil there is no civil rights legislation that
protects minorities like in the United States, the following
Hypothesis One: The number of black characters in U.S. television
advertising will be higher than the number of black characters on
Brazilian television advertising.
Hypothesis Two: The number of black American characters portrayed as
highly educated will be higher than the number of black Brazilian
characters in this category.
Hypothesis Three: Television advertisements in the United States will
portray more blacks in main roles than will ads in Brazil.
U.S. civil rights laws not only protect minorities against
discrimination, they also protect women as well. Although the
and black movements are active in Brazil, their impact is not as
similar movements in the United States. Therefore, Hypothesis Four
that television advertisements in the United States will contain more
black female characters than will television ads in Brazil.
This study uses television ads, broadcast on the main evening newscasts
of major television networks in the two countries, to examine the
portrayal of blacks in television advertising. The data were collected
from television commercials during the evening news of the U.S.
television network ABC, and three Brazilian networks: Record,
Bandeirante, and Sistema Brasileiro de Televisao (SBT).
ABC was chosen because of its popularity and nationwide coverage. The
Brazilian TV network chosen a priori was Rede Globo, which also has
tremendous popularity and nationwide coverage. However, the U.S.
satellite TV channel "SCOLA", from which the Brazilian data were
collected, did not transmit Rede Globo's news, but carried newscasts, on
an alternating basis, of three other television networks (Record,
Bandeirante, and SBT). These Brazilian networks are also popular and
have nationwide coverage, but their popularity is not as high as Rede
The sample consists of two constructed weeks drawn from the period of
March 5, 1993 to April 9, 1993. Ten days were selected randomlyDTwo
Mondays, two Tuesdays, two Wednesdays, two Thursdays, and two Fridays.
The weekends were excluded from the study because the Brazilian
do not broadcast their evening news on the weekends.
The unit of analysis is black characters on commercials during the major
evening newscast of the respective networks, except for network
Black characters are defined as people with dark colored skin who
African heritage. To keep consistency in the study, black Americans
black Brazilian characters are similarly defined even though in
distinction is made between blacks and "mulattos". Two coders
both in Portuguese and English coded the ads with regard to the
variables: Nation of broadcast; Types of Products advertised; Race
Characters (Black/White); Black characters' Sex, Portrayal, and Age
complete coding procedure see Appendix A). Intercoder reliability
lowest for the variables of Portrayal and AgeD75 and 76 percent
respectively. In cases of disagreements between the coders, the
alternating selection process was used.
Ten days of evening news broadcasts from the two nations' networks
amounted to eleven hours and forty-five minutes of news. ABC aired five
hours of news, which includes one hour and twenty-five minutes of
commercials. The Brazilian networks broadcast six hours and forty-five
minutes of news, including two hours and fifteen minutes of
This difference is due to the fact that Brazilian networks SBT and
air 45 minutes of news daily with 12 minutes of commercials. ABC
Banderirante air 30 minutes of news with seven and one half minutes of
A total of 197 advertisements were analyzedD100 were broadcast on the
Brazilian television networks and 97 on the U.S. network. A total
512 characters were included in these ads, of which 256 were in
ads and 256 were U.S. advertisements. Of these, 21 were Brazilian
characters and 28 were American black characters.
Basic Necessities was the type of products most advertised. Twenty-four
percent of the Brazilian ads were for basic necessities, as were
the U.S. ads. Financial services was the second most advertised
category by the networks of the two countries. Financial services
accounted for 23% of all Brazilian ads, and for 4.1% of all U.S. ads.
The high rate of inflation in Brazil forces the population to look
some form of financial security in order to protect its money from
inflation. Consequently, financial organizations advertise their
products in order to attract the consumers.
The third most advertised product or service was Political candidates.
All 20 political ads were on the Brazilian networks. This is
during the sample period Brazil was going through a political
campaignDwhich is a valid limitation of this study. Other major
differences between the types of products advertised in the two nations
were found in Educational/Cultural ads, which comprised 6% of the
Brazilian ads, but only 1% of the U.S. ads; and Auto related products,
which comprised 2% of the Brazilian ads and 16% of the U.S. ads.
Nevertheless, no blacks were included in any ads of either country for
Superfluous products, Leisure items, Construction, and Business
(See Table 1).
Types of products advertised on Brazilian and U.S. Television News
Brazil United States
Products # % # % Total %
Basic Necessities 24 24.0 43
44.3 67 34.0
Financial 23 23.0 4 4.1 27 13.7
Political 20 20.0 0 0.0 20 10.1
Cars/Auto equip. 2 2.0 16 16.5 18 9.1
Public 8 8.0 4 4.1 12 6.1
Home Eletr. Equip. 3 3.0 9 9.3 12 6.1
Construction* 6 6.0 5 5.2 11 5.6
Superfluous* 2 2.0 6 6.2 8 4.1
Educational/Cultural 6 6.0 1 1.0 7 3.6
Leisure* 2 2.0 3 3.1 5 2.5
Business products* 1 1.0 1 1.0 2 1.0
Other 3 3.0 5 5.2 8 4.1
Total 100 100% 97 100% 197
X2 = (11, N = 197) = 84.5, p < .0001
*No black characters included in either nation's advertisements.
Hypothesis One states that the number of black American characters
appearing in television advertisements is higher than the number of
Brazilian black characters. There were 28 blacks appearing in U.S. ads
making up 11% of the 256 characters, while 21 blacks, or 8% out of
256 Brazilian characters, appeared in Brazilians ads. To analyze the
differences between these frequencies a Z test for proportional
differences was used. The results indicate that there is no significant
difference between the number of black characters of the two
advertisements (Z = -0.3215, p > .05). As such, hypothesis one is
Nevertheless, the African-American population constitutes 12% of the
U.S. population. The results show that its representation in the
commercials constitute 11% of the characters. This indicates that
this particular study, the black population is fairly proportionately
According to the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatistica 1987
census, the black Brazilian population accounted for 5.9%, and the
"mulatto" population for 38.4% of the total Brazilian population. Blacks
and "mulattos" or brown together constitute 44.3% of the total
population, but they make up only 8% of the characters in the
commercials. In addition, the majority of black characters in
commercials appeared in political ads. They accounted for 71.0% of
the Brazilian black characters. If Brazil was not in the midst of a
political election campaign, the black characters might have been less
Hypotheses Two states that the number of highly educated black
characters portrayed by the American television commercials will be
higher than the number of highly educated black characters portrayed in
Brazilian television commercials. Among the 21 black Brazilian
characters, only one (or 5.0%) is portrayed as highly educated. For the
U.S. ads, among the 28 black characters, 4 (or 14.0%) are portrayed
highly educated. To assess the differences in the professional
of the black characters of the two countries, a Z test for
differences was used. The resulting Z score of -0.124 indicates
significant difference exists, although the usefulness of this test
limited given such low frequencies. Nevertheless, hypotheses two is
rejected (Z= -.124, p > .05).
A chi-square test used to test the relationship between the two nations'
commercials and the professional portrayal of black characters
a significant relationship [X2 = (5, N = 49) = 19.9, p < .02]. The
Brazilian ads depict more blue collar black characters, while the U.S.
ads include more students and more housewives (See Table 2).
The Professional Portrayal of black characters in the two Nations
Character # % # % Total %
Non working people 10 47.5 13 46.6 23 47.0
Blue collar 9 42.9 2 7.1 11 23.0
Students 0 0.0 6 21.4 6 12.0
Highly educated* 1 4.8 4 14.3 5 10.0
White collar 1 4.8 1 3.6 2 4.0
Housewives 0 0.0 2 7.1 2 4.0
Professional Athletes 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0
Total 21 100.0 28 100.0 49 100.0
X2 = (5, N = 49) = 13.9, p < .02
*Z = -1.24, p > .05.
Hypotheses Three deals with the roles played by black characters. The
roles are divided into two categories, main and minor. Main black
characters are those who lead, anchor or appear in a major part of the
advertisement. Minor characters are those who are led, or are
by the main character; they usually enter the scene to show the
announced by the main character.
The hypothesis states that U.S. ads will portray more blacks in main
roles than will television ads in Brazil. However, in the Brazilian
advertisements black characters playing a main role amounted to two
of 21). None of the 28 black characters in U.S. ads were presented
main role. A Chi-square test reveals no significant relationship
these two variables [X2 = (1, N = 49) = .8796, p > .05), therefore,
hypotheses three is rejected.
Hypotheses Four states that the number of black women portraying any
characters in U.S. television commercials will be higher than the
of black women portrayed in Brazilian commercials. In commercials
both countries, black male characters outnumber black female
U.S. television ads contain 12 black female characters, or 43% of
black characters, while Brazilian ads contain 8 black female
or 38% of all Brazilian black characters. A Chi-square test of the
frequencies of gender differences in the two countries' ads does not
result in a significant relationship [X2 = (1, N = 49), = .000176, p >
.05]. Therefore, hypotheses four is rejected (See Table 3).
Finally, an examination of the age of the black characters shows that
for the Brazilian TV commercials, black Brazilian children and
people do not appear in any of the 21 ads containing black
Brazilian black teenage characters accounted for 10% of all
black characters, Young Adults accounted for 38%, and Adults accounted
for 52% of the Brazilian black characters.
Gender of the Black Characters
Brazil U.S.A. Total
Gender # % # % # %
Male 13 62.0 16 57.0 29 59.0
Female 8 38.0 12 43.0 20 41.0
Total 21 100.0 28 100.0 49 100.0
X2 = (1, N = 49) = .000179, p > .05
Black characters by age groups
Age Group # % # % Total %
Adult 11 52.0 7 25.0 18 37.0
Young Adults 8 38.0 7 25.0 15 31.0
Children 0 0.0 9 32.0 9 18.0
Teenager 2 10.0 3 11.0 5 10.0
Elderly 0 0.0 2 7.0 2 4.0
Total 21 100.0 28 100.0 49 100.0
X2 = (4, N = 49) = 11.38, p < .03
For the American advertisements, out of the 28 black characters analyzed,
9 (32%) were Children, 3 (11%) were black Teenagers, 7 (25%) were
Adults, 7 (25%) were Adult, and 2 (7%) were Elderly black characters
table 4). Brazilian ads tend to have more adult and young adult
characters, while U.S. television ads tend to include all age groups
= (4, N = 49) = 11.38, p < .03].
Overall, the results of this study show that black people are more
visible on commercials of U.S. television news programs than those of
Brazil, but differences are not of extraordinary proportions. This
representation of black characters in the United States is proportional
to the U.S. black population, while in Brazil their representation
far short of being proportional. U.S. television commercials
blacks from different age groups. In Brazil, black children and
characters do not appear in commercials.
Television advertisements of the two countries also differ along the
lines of the professional portrayal of blacks. They do not differ
in the amount of female black characters included in the ads, nor in
roles blacks serve in television commercialsDthey serve
minor role. This tends to reinforce findings from a 1970 study
& Greenberg, 1970).
On the whole, the results of this study show that there are not as many
blacks as one would expect in television commercials, especially in
Brazil, and when blacks are represented, they serve in minor roles.
Generally, television ads in the main newscasts of major television
networks of the two nations tend to reflect cultural and societal norms
Bennett, Lerome. (1965). Confrontation: Black and white. Baltimore,
Culley, James D. & Bennet, Rex. (1975). The use of stereotypes in mass
advertising: Blacks in magazine, newspaper and television ads. Paper
Presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Advertising.
Knoxville, Tennessee. (Eric Document Number ED 148320)
Cutler, Bob D. & Javalgi, Rajshekhar G. (1992). A cross-cultural
analysis of the
visual components of print advertising: The United States and the
European Community. Journal of Advertising Research, 32 (1), 71-80.
Cutler, Bob D.; Javalgi, Rajshekhar G. & Erramilli, M. Krishna. (1992).
components of print advertising: A five-country cross-cultural
Analysis. European Journal of Marketing, 26 (4), 7-20.
Dominick, Joseph R. & Greenberg, Bradley S. (1970). Three seasons of
on Television. Journal of Advertising Research, 2, 21-27.
Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatistica (IBGE). (1987). Pinad
Kottak, P. Conrad. (1990). Prime time society: An anthropological
of television and culture. Belmont, Ca.: Wadsworth.
Leslie, Michael. (1992). Representation of blacks on prime time
television in Brazil. Howard Journal of Communications, 4(1/2), pp.
Tansay, Richard, Hyman, Michael R., & Zinkhan, M. George. (1990).
themes in Brazilian and U.S. auto ads: A cross-cultural comparison.
Journal of Advertising,19 (2), 30-39.
Toledo, P. Roberto. (1993, June). O Sonho do Mudar de Lugar no Pais
[The dream of changing the country's place]. Veja.
Wagley, Charles. (1963). An introduction to Brazil. New York: Columbia
Wilkes, Robert E. & Valencia, Humberto. (1989). Hispanics and Blacks in
television commercials. Journal of Advertising, 18 (1), 19-25.
World Almanac. (1993). pp. 383/736.
Zinkhan, George M.; Cox, Keith K. & Hong, Jae W. (1986). Changes in
stereotypes: Black and white in magazines advertisements. Journalism
Quarterly, 63 (3), 586-72
Zinkhan, M. George; Qualls, William J. & Biswas, Adhijit. (1990). The
use of blacks in magazine and television advertising: 1946 to 1986.
Journalism Quarterly, 67 (3), 547-553.
The unit of analysis is characters portrayed on commercials during the
major evening newscast of the American national TV network ABC, and
Brazilian national TV networks, except the network's own material.
In order to analyze the units, a coding procedure was developed, and is
composed of 9 items:
I. Nation. Either U.S. Television (ABC), or Brazilian TV (Record,
Bandeirante, and SBT).
III. Type of products advertised. The type of products advertised
are classified into 12 categories:
1. Basic Necessities such ads include food, clothes, shoes, medicine,
cleaning products, store networks (retail, outlet), etc.
2. SuperfluousDbeauty products, jewelry, watches, toys, etc.
3. LeisureDtraveling packages, resorts, hotels, cruises and movies.
4. Home electronic equipmentD including computers, TV sets, VCRs,
Camcorders, Stereos, etc.
5. Educational/Cultural: books, schools, seminars, plays, movies. 6.
Financial: include credit cards, banks, life insurance, or any
organization which is related to money such as lottery.
7. Public ads: Ads presented by governmental sources (Army, Navy,
etc.), and non-profit organizations (Red Cross, American Heart
8. Auto related: cars, auto equipment, gas, etc.
9. Political advertisements: This type of advertisement includes
ads for political campaigns.
10. Construction materials, real estate, etc.
11. Business products. Office furnitures, copiers and office
12. Other. These are ads that cannot be classified in any of the
IV. Number of characters. The number of characters is the total
number of people portraying any type of character in order to sell
product or organization. This does not include cartoons, and
background people. People portraying any type of character are those
with a speaking part, or, they are of primary or secondary
the voice over ad.
V. Number of black characters. This is the total number of black
people portraying any type of character in order to sell or
product or organization. This item follows the same definition
item IV for people portraying any type of character.
VI. Black character role. This item is divided into two parts:
1. Main black characters. Are those who lead, anchor, or appear in
the major part of the advertisement.
2. Minor characters. Those are the characters who are led or
anchored by the main character. They usually appear in the scene
show the product announced by the main characters. They take a
smaller part in the advertisement than the main characters, or are
in support of the main characters.
VII. Sex of the Black charactersDMale or Female.
VIII. Black character portrayal. This item is divided into seven
1. Highly educated professionals. This type of characters
include doctors, lawyers, teachers, business people, and other
2. White collar workers. These are characters with office related
work (secretaries, telephone operators, etc.).
3. Blue collar workers. This type includes factory workers,
cooks, maids, truck drivers, etc.
4. Others. These are characters whose profession is not clearly
5. Professional athletes. These are characters portrayed as
skilled in exercise, or games requiring vigorous strength, agility,
IX. Age groups of black characters. The black age group is divided
into 5 different classes:
1. Children (up to 12 years old).
2. Teenager (from 13 to 19 years old).
3. Young adult (from 20 to 34 years old).
4. Adult (from 35 to 55 years old).
5. Elderly (over 55 years old).