Behind the briefing: Black women in advertising

Image courtesy of Negra Rosa fanpage
Image courtesy of Negra Rosa fanpage

Note from BW of Brazil: When one lives in a country in which the idea of a “racial democracy” is constantly being propagated (either by elites or afterwards by common people who are the targets of such propaganda), it is sometimes difficult to realize just how much sexism and white supremacy dominate every realm of the society. Thus, if a woman lacking consciousness enters various environments of power and always sees men in positions of power, the fact may not even register to her. It’s pretty normal. In the same way, when one is not conscious of the fact that they are black, seeing white people always in control of certain environments doesn’t appear to be anything strange. This setting could be as normal as water is to a fish. But once one takes consciousness of the pattern, it can become as consuming as the temperature on a 100 degree (fahrenheit) or 40 degree (celsius) day.

In other words, you can’t avoid it because its power surrounds you. This is kind of how white supremacy works in Brazil. Everyone knows the power structure is white, but it’s so common that often times no one even notices. For instance, I’m sure most people don’t really think of what skin color a doctor or street sweeper will most likely have, but this difference is pretty obvious once you think about it. It was pretty obvious to one black child we featured here. So how does this concept apply to advertising in a super Eurocentric country like Brazil? And, not being white, how does one work in this environment or change it once becoming conscious of it? Below is how one woman sees it…

Behind the briefing: Black women in advertising

by Larissa Santiago

Larissa Santiago
Larissa Santiago

Originally posted in Blogueiras Negras

I graduated in social communication with an emphasis in advertising. I graduated in 2009 and I remember that a year before I was thinking what the theme of my work would be for completion of the course (TCC). I remember that at the time, I could choose between a work group (which would imply the construction of a marketing plan and communication for a real company) or an individual writing.

Despite not understanding it right, I explained to a professor that I would write about the black image in advertising. To which she told me “there is already a lot of work stacked here in the library with that theme. Yours will be one more.” After that and evaluating that it would be “easier”, I chose to conduct group work.

I always interned in the area and have always been passionate about customer service. The internships gave me an amazing experience, but until then I had not become black.

The junior company had welcomed me and given me many opportunities and paid internships were appearing slowly. I confess that my experience as a black woman behind the processes of advertising would only come later.

One of my early shocks in life was in the interview to intern for a large agency in Salvador (Bahia). Besides myself, there were 2 boys and 1 girl (all white) waiting at the front desk which was empty. I waited for the secretary to return when she asked me if I had anything to deliver. I told her I was there for the selection of an intern and she immediately smiled and said she thought I was coleta (1) person. For once I didn’t get the opening, but it had never crossed my mind that there was something strange in that episode.

Years later I would be astonished at the quantity of blacks in a large agency in another state. And I kept asking myself several times where black communication professionals holding the positions of creation, media, production and service were. Incidentally, this last professional [to whom I owe my admiration and advertising experience] deals with two aspects that I consider the most important in an agency.

The first is client contact. Service is that person who will be around the whole time, talking, presenting ideas, drinking coffee and conducting meetings. This means client attendance must always be aligned, neat and [the notorious phrase] have boa aparência (look good or good appearance).

The second aspect is that this same professional needs to represent the client in the agency and the agency of the client, in a schizophrenic movement of arguing from one to the other’s ideas and opinions about what is being created and will be aired. Is being on defense and attack at the same time, needing to be versatile and intelligent.

That said, it’s important to realize client attendance, more than other professionals, must pass this assessment of appearance and good communication, which is based on much of what the owners of the agency (yes, they are responsible for hiring) think about standards of appearance and the like. This professional will not only be evaluated for competence in developing the work, but mainly for being pretty, young, impeccable, in other words, part of the standard of beauty (the standard that we know who is white, cisgender and hetero-normative).

This is only the tip of the big racist iceberg that large that has melted very little in Brazilian advertising agencies. The service is just one of many professions that are reflective of the segregatory thought of communications in this country.

O negro na propaganda - Óticas do Povo

Passing from the meeting room and into the hallways, we arrive at creation. The room of mystery and creativity is also the stronghold of the lack of reference or we can say the excessive reference of the same: annuals filled with advertisements with standard models, hyper-sexualized clichés and exacerbated sexisms. The minds of young men and women seem impenetrable and the subliminal racist idea that “black does not sell” is never refuted in the brainstorms of life.

These two professions that work most directly with the client – and his/her ideas – are, as I said, the reflection of a racist, lazy society and creator of outdated models. No wonder, client attendance can only interfere in that setting if there is a request of the client order. At creation, it’s fitting to meet these expectations in order not to go outside of the “image” of the brand, which often means the reproduction of all the standards and repeated models throughout the history of that client.

So, the question that won’t go away: how do you change the mentality of agencies and clients? How do you overcome the barriers of pre-conceived models?

There is no other way out but to occupy (positions)! Every time I worked in agencies or even when I managed my own business I was rejected in some ideas, in others I succeeded. There is no way to insert the image of blacks – be it in family, in the toothpaste commercial, or even in the Month of the Black Consciousness – without having a black person sitting in the chair, creating, producing. It is not possible to disassociate the image of the black woman to a beer, Carnival or that motel of unscrupulous name without having a black woman in creation, in client attendance.

Only our critical eye, our boldness and creativity can offer a new possibility, a new image of ourselves. Advertising and communication needs to realize that we are also consumers (although this discourse being in the chairs of universities for decades) and we need to identify ourselves in order to buy. It’s already past the time of black families appearing on TV, in newspapers; of young blacks starring in advertisements of the vestibular (college entrance exam) at the beginning of the year; of having black women in the bath and table sessions of major supermarket chains.

It is sad to realize that there are still professions and agencies who seem alienated and continue reproducing abstruse discourses, such as promoting a campaign for the Month of Human Consciousness.

Is occupying the solution? Not only that! You need to equip these professionals with critical sense, to make them see who they are and what space they occupy within the profession and beyond: will it be that you, a black person at the agency, already saw yourself in some advertisement? Is it not time to question, propose, demand?

Or do you find beautiful Angela Davis criticizing: “if someone who knows nothing about Brazil, only watched TV, he would think that there are only whites here” – is this really beautiful for our face?

I don’t know what goes through your whitened heads, but it is unfortunate to realize that Brazilian racism is noticeable from miles away.

For this (to happen), dear future professional colleagues: do write about the image of blacks in advertising! Analyze what has changed, what has improved, which has gotten worse. Use magazines, newspapers, supermarket inserts. Talk about us and update the creation annuals with more and more black faces.

Get inspired by real life and make briefings worthy of committed professionals; create intelligent parts without racism, sexism or any ism of that sort. Because behind a big job there can be indeed be a bunch of great professionals.

Source: Blogueiras Negras


1.Profissional responsible for carrying files, papers or other types of objects to the agency’s business partners (that may be graphic, vehicles, newspapers); a type of motoboy (delivery boy on motorcycle/moped).

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


    • The issue is also relevant. Davi is important, but so is the structural racism that causes situations like Davi’s to continue to happen unchecked. It it necessary to treat the symptoms AND the underlying causes for the disease. The absence of Black voices and faces in the places where they matter most is directly related to the fact that there is not wide media coverage of “yet another” missing Black child.

    • “Dude:

      I TOO am frustrated with the situation about Davi. Over the years, there have been a number of issues and incidents that I felt the MNU did little or nothing about.

      Davi is yet another in a long line of killed or disappeared black youth. Sometimes I wonder if black activists simply feel powerless on this issue in a sort of “what can we do?” sort of way. There is clearly an agenda at play here against the black population. And the reaction is not only the MNU; it seems that Brazilians in general don’t really react to these murders/disappearances. Is it because it is all too common and people are just overwhelmed? Is it fear? A sense of helplessness? I don’t have the answer. But it just seems as if you are pointing the finger at the blog with the constant “irrelevent” comments. I am not belittling your frustration as it IS indeed a tragedy. I search for new information on any developments but I personally haven’t seen any.

      This blog is not part of the Movimento Negro. Also, it is not based in Bahia. The objective is simply to share information on whats going on in Brazil from a racial perspective. As such, this blog not being a part of the MNU and not being in Bahia, I think posting “irrelevent” on every post on this blog is perhaps misguided.

      The information from this blog comes from other primary news sources that get the stories. It is amazing because protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the murder of Mike Brown are still ongoing, but beyond a few reports about Davi, there’s nothing. It is indeed a shameful situation on all sides!

      • Gatas, You are right. I was (am) completely furious about the situation with Davi, but it is no reason why other issues should not be important. I confess I have let my rage take me away here. It’s indeed really frustrating. Keep up the good work and good posts.

  1. I remember experiencing this structural racism so vividly when I saw this commercial for Lifebuoy soap, in which darker kids were seen as the dirty kids in need of soap. And of course, it is the “clean” white kids who are running around “poor” neighborhoods handing out soap, on their way to meet Neymar at the stadium…I am still shocked when I look at it…

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