The veiled racism of advertising agencies

apc3b3s polc3aamica com modelos loiros prefeitura muda publicidade de festa 2
apc3b3s polc3aamica com modelos loiros prefeitura muda publicidade de festa 2

Após polêmica com modelos loiros, prefeitura muda publicidade de festa (2)

Note from BW of Brazil: Advertising in Brazil follows a similar standard that one finds in most other important areas: a preference for white skin. As emphasize this point, the image featured above is taken from a controversy that happened last January. Annually, the city of Santo Amaro (northeastern state of Bahia) celebrates the “Lavagem da Purificação” (or Purification Festival) with the washing ceremony of the Mother Church. The religious ritual is a tribute to the city’s patron saint, Our Lady Purificação. But when the image of the event divulged by the city’s official Facebook page featured a group of young blonds, people question the choice of such an image in a city that has such a large black population. The state of Bahia is recognized in Brazil and around the world as Brazil’s African center due its strong cultural connections with the continent and a population that is 76% Afro-Brazilian. So why not feature a photo that’s more representative of the population such as the photo below taken from an Lavagem da Purificação event from February of 2012? 

Lavagem da Purificação (February 5, 2012)

Note pleased with the image, one person commented “Festa, Devoção, Fé (Festa da Purificação de Santo Amaro) (meaning Party, Devotion, Faith – Feast of the Santo Amaro Purification) and racism! Look at the poster of a party in Santo Amaro. What is this, production? Are they throwing bleach on us?” “According to the picture, Santo Amaro is in: A) Bahia; B) Sweden; C) Germany; D) Norway,” wrote another.

Após polêmica com modelos loiros, prefeitura muda publicidade de festa (3)
The event poster featuring blonds drew heavy criticism and was eventually replaced with other images featuring blacks and Indians.

The fact is, it’s not the first time a blatant preference has come across in Brazil. We’ve seen it in a previous beauty contest held in Bahia. We saw it in a governor’s campaign that specifically requested white women. We saw it in an agency calling itself Agência Africa although its staff featured no people who appeared to have any ancestors from the continent. We’ve even seen Africa as the inspiration for a fashion show featuring almost exclusively white-skinned models. And let’s not forget the 2014 World Cup commercial! With all of this in mind, the advertising world’s preference for whiteness should come as no surprise to anyone. 

The veiled racism of advertising agencies

Our market “has no moral stature” to create campaigns for blacks and browns in Brazil

By Daniel Sollero

Daniel Sollero (2)
Daniel Sollero

It’s annoying but for one hour we would have to talk about this. You who are now in your agency, take a look at the departments of Creation, Planning, Services and Media and tell me the approximate percentage of negros (blacks) or mulatos/pardos (mulattos/mixed/browns) that is around there. Do you have any? I always joked in the agencies that passed through that I had entered by quotas. Everyone laughed. But they preferred not to understand the sarcasm of my statement. There are almost no blacks in advertising agencies.

First of all, there’s nothing more I need to say in that I am against racial quotas in Brazil. Our people are so mixed, but so mixed that there aren’t so many people without a black ancestor in the country. (EDIT: Only adding that it’s due to the analysis of the subjectivity of “being black” of the quota system. As what happened in 2007 at UnB) If they want to put quotas in colleges or anywhere else, I think it would be cooler if it were a quota according to family income. Then yes it would be really inclusive and poor whites could also have benefits. But I understand that there is a fault related to the whole history of slavery of our country and that made some things became almost true for some people. One of them is that mulato/pardo (mulatto/brown/mixed) is equal to preto (black). Black is equal to poor. And the poor doesn’t have. This is a stupidity, thoughtlessness and superficiality so big that it is unacceptable that a country as mixed as ours believes and practices this kind of “veiled” racism.

Do you want to know if you are racist even saying you’re not? Imagine two scenes:


  1. A black man in a suit in an elevator with other non-black people also in suits. Do you think he’s the driver/security or that he is an executive like the others? And if he starts to speak another language fluently, would your reaction be the same if other people in the elevator did the same? If you think he’s the security or driver and you would not be surprised with others speaking another language, I have something to tell you. Sorry, man, but you are racist and part of the problem.
  2. There’s an empty subway train (I know, this doesn’t exist but it’s an example. It could be a deserted street), in the next station a black man wearing a t-shirt with the most popular team in your city. On the other station enters a non-black with the same team shirt. Do you felt unsafe in both situations in the same way or only when the combo “black + popular team shirt” got on the train? And if the non-black got on first, would this change anything? Do you understand what I mean? If you feel insecure around blacks, it’s racism. And it has implications for the labor market when you will hire someone for your team.

I won’t talk about campaigns about racism, but, historically, blacks are not represented correctly in advertising. A lot of people have written about it. Brazil is racist and the market is cruel. White is rich. Black is poor. And damn those who don’t follow this rule. Easy simplifying like this, right? But that may be only part of the truth.

When someone chooses not to hire the black professional (even when this one is more qualified), this one helps to consolidate this premise that black is poor and uneducated.

When you say that at the end of the selection process that you’re more empathetic with the candidate and you always hire non-blacks (either because they don’t reach the final phase or because you choose the non-black), you also help to consolidate the image. And this has nothing to do with wanting to hire by quotas or anything similar. It has to do with equality. Only that.


Now go to the finance or administrative department or the cleaning department of your agency and try to see the percentage of negros or mulatos/pardos. Is this percentage higher or lower than the Creation, Planning, Services and Media departments? Based on questions made informally to several people in recent years, the percentage of negros and mulatos/pardos should be higher. Much higher, some would say. But what does this say about the advertising agencies in Brazil? That they are racist? Perhaps. But, joking with a serious thing, which tells me is that the agency “has no moral stature” for creating campaigns that speak to negros and mulatos/pardos in Brazil simply because for not having negros among their employees to effectively plan, create and execute the campaigns or for not understanding what it is to be black in this country.

I take care of a service of magazines called Stack Magazines in which they send a different magazine each month. One day I received the magazine Hello Mr a magazine about “men who date men”. And my great challenge to reading the magazine was having to make a transposition for women in any text that speaks of relationships. And talking to my gay friends, I noticed that they do it all the time reading men’s magazines that have articles about relationships, etc. and may not even notice anymore. The key turns by itself. But one thing that I myself didn’t notice is that black people also do this by consuming much of the content that is produced and published in the country. And that includes advertising.

I remember to this day when they launched the magazine Raça (or Raça Brasil). The first Brazilian publication focused on blacks. I found it amazing. It looked like a giant shift in the publishing market. And it was but today it’s just another niche. How many campaigns openly for black (other than the census) have you seen on TV? I have the impression that we are preaching to the converted. I also remember when more blacks started to appear in advertising. Often times they were still portrayed in the standard stereotypes of samba, futebol, maids and later the preto descolado (hip black guy) with different hair (usually dread or black-power – afro), when it spoke to the youth public and the black that almost got there (what does that mean anyway?) wearing a polo/dress shirt for campaign about buying your own home somewhere on the periphery of large cities. Never was there a black buying an apartment in the most affluent region. What reminds me of a scene from the series Aquarius, where in the racist US of the 1960s a guy pays black families to walk in white neighborhoods to devalue properties and he, when buying real estate from those who want to get out of that area, makes more profit in the resale.


But the problem unfortunately is not just advertising. I noticed that many private schools don’t have black teachers. Seriously. Take the best private schools and see how many have black teachers there are for children. It’s rare to see one. If schools aren’t thinking about it, they are part of the problem too. If all references of negros and mulatos/pardos that children have in private schools are security, servers, porters, etc., how can we hope they understand that all are equal, that skin color doesn’t say profession and that everyone can be whatever they want?

I watched a super well done documentary called White Wash in which the director wanted to understand why there weren’t (or were few) black American surfers and even swimmers. He excluded the Hawaiian black surfers and the story is amazing and comes from the slave ships coming from Africa. It’s really worth watching this movie because bad or good it’s being done in advertising in Brazil. The few that come to enter the market are not enough to change the scenario.

During my entire adolescence I shaved my head with maquina 1 or 2 (1). My hair is not very curly and I shaved my head straight up. I just let my hair grow and got a kind of Afro at some 28 years of age and when people talked about something I said that I was from the film Cidade de Deus (City of God). It was easier to make a joke than trying to explain something of which I didn’t even know the reason. But the curious thing is that it was liberating. The fact that I left the hair big and not paying attention to the jokes made me more confident about my appearance.

I am a mulato/pardo and I consider myself preto. I was the only (or one of the only) pardo/negro of various groups of friends that I hung out with. At school, in college, in the bands that I played, I was always the different one.

I had the typical life of a resident of Rio’s south zone but I was a pardo, treated like a negro, moreninho (you know when they put their hand on their arm to describe you?) And I was fortunate to have parents who could afford this life for me.

Practically all my friends had it, I had it too. I studied in private schools and took courses in a private college, I did college exchange programs and so on. A privileged life that also had racism.

A white mother, university professor (to me always a badass of psychology) and a mulato/pardo/negro administrator and born entrepreneur father (as cool as her). Both attended college, grad school, masters and etc. Race was never something that was taken into account at home but I remember few negros/mulatos/pardos friends where I studied. I just noted that I was “different” from my friends later when the typical teenage jokes started. Although I dressed like my friends, would frequent the same places, pay everything equal to everyone else, there was always one or another “joke” of racist content. About cabelo “ruim” (“bad” hair) that doesn’t move, about doing a “coisa do preto” (black thing) and so on (2).

My son is a mulato/pardo like me, with brown hair like that of his mother and curly. At age five he was exposed to the first situations of racism for being the mulato/pardo in the middle of such a white São Paulo elite. Today at seven he lets his hair grow and says that his hair is his trademark. He says that he wants to be publicity agent when he grows up. Perhaps this next generation he can do what mine failed to do: change the way negros and mulatos/pardos are portrayed, contracted and respected in the most mixed country in the world.

In time, read this article in Galileo (magazine): You are racist – you just don’t know it yet. Maybe you will understand better what happens in the day-to-day of a good part of the population.

Source: B9, G1


  1. Reference to a close crop haircut in which the barber’s clipper guard is only a few levels above completely shaving someone’s head.
  2. Very intriguing that Daniel simultaneously argues that preto and pardo are not equal but then goes on to describe the bouts of racism he has experienced over the course of his life. The Movimento Negro generally defines the black population as the combination of pretos and pardos because these two groups are nearly identical in nearly all social statistics. Daniel seems to acknowledge this when he writes that he was “a pardo, treated like a negro”. 
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. Qual a percentagem de negros é que deve existir, nos modelos dos anúncios? Qual a percentagem de negros na população brasileira? Pode permitir-se que a percentagem de negros nos anúncios seja superior à percentagem de negros na população em geral?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.