The (Usual) Advertiser Comes Correct

Posted on June 22, 2011 by

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By Anthony Dean-Harris

I’ve been seeing a commercial make the rounds lately that almost looks like there’s a continually emerging dawn of racial diversity in popular culture. I take great joy when I see black people in commercials. Really, I take pride when I see anyone other than white people in commercials. I like it when some marketing executive somewhere says, “Hey, I bet Indian women probably buy coffee, too. Let’s try selling to them this time and see what happens.” Of course, that one’s probably going to take a while, but I’m black and male so it’s nice to see black males in commercials. Essentially, I like diversity in media because it’s a sign that the media is acknowledging the rest of the world isn’t as monochromatic as folks would like to believe it is.

What I like even more is when someone puts real effort behind putting diversity in media. It used to be all it took to appease black folks was to make a different set of commercials to toss on BET and we’d be happy. That was never enough for me. Why did white children get a computer-generated Kool-Aid Guy and black folks only got a generic family gathering and a smiley face drawn on the growing condensation of a pitcher? I’m happy black folks got a commercial of their own but I’d be even happier when they got a commercial with a real budget.

That’s why I’m really liking this new cell phone commercial.

It’s an interesting idea sprung from the seed of a common complaint—having a cheap, childlike phone is embarrassing. It does everything a good commercial should do to curry interest and instill need in a material good—your phone isn’t good enough. When you see your phone, you should definitely upgrade. How on earth are you going to be seen as a professional with that toy you keep in your pocket? It’s certainly attention grabbing and a conversation starter; I mean, I’m writing a short essay about it. There was clearly a big budget behind this. Someone hired actors, made sets, rented a bus, made puppets, hired puppeteers, and wrote a song. This is leaps and bounds from black girls with baby perms bopping around. Even the time slots in which this appears is significant– this airs during standard primetime television or shows I normally watch like The Daily Show, not just mid-Saturday morning when there’s nothing on except reruns of Girlfriends (a show that still stands up quite well, might I add) when standard baritone-voiced black dude is trying to sell me a Toyota Camry. Someone tried to sell a phone to a wide audience with an interesting idea but made all the central figures in the commercial black. We live in the future… Almost.

Unfortunately, I can’t help but be caught up by one factor—this is all for a non-contract phone service. Why isn’t someone trying to sell me a better phone from a larger phone company like AT&T or Verizon? Sure, when the iPhone 4 got Facetime, Apple threw us a bone, but that should be the first step of other companies stepping up and making efforts with the rest of the world instead of the folks who normally are looking for our business. A fancy Boost Mobile commercial feels to me like the most dressed up check cashing place on the block.

Now, would I have felt better if there were white people in this commercial? Probably not. Would the premise of the commercial had made sense if it were by a major carrier? No, the premise of the commercial is that grown up phones are still cheap and accessible. While I may have gotten my BlackBerry for a penny off Amazon, I’m certainly paying over a hundred bucks a month for the EDGE network and I never talk on the phone. So while T-Mobile is likely screwing me, they probably can’t take the high ground when it comes to rates, so Boost Mobile isn’t in the wrong here.

So why am I so conflicted that a good idea is used for a good purpose other than the fact that it’s from the same old folk? If you have the answer to that, you’ve completely mastered DuBoisian double consciousness.

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