February 20, 2010

Even Hot Chocolate

Family Bonding coffee ad

by contributor Stan Banos

I’m not claiming this is the absolute first- though it’s most definitely the first commercial print ad I’ve ever seen featuring a biracial European and African American family (be interested if any of you know of others). Couple of things of note- first, it runs in the December 2009 issue of National Geographic magazine; and although ultimately ubiquitous in libraries, thrift stores and third grade art collages, Nat Geo’s original audience can be seen as an educated, somewhat “upscale” lot, and the product itself (a cappuccino maker), one directed at an upscale taste and market.

The photograph is quite interesting as far as its composition.

The child, whose complexion is similar to his father’s, is in considerably closer proximity to him than his mother, thus acknowledging his sense of identity as a person of color. His mother however is pictured reaching out and making contact with him, leaving no doubt of her pride and connection- of course, those slightly more “pessimistic” amongst us would point out that this was done merely to divide the composition in half to isolate the smiling attractive blonde with said product and ensure the requisite status identification. And no doubt, there are those that would point out that dad is barely in the picture altogether- the visual focus straight center on mom.

Whichever way you look at it, it is very clever and manipulative usage of visual/graphic elements in this “post racial” commercial advertisement that noticeably goes beyond the usual public service message and the confines of the 9-5 workplace, and straight into the sanctity of the American home. How long until more mainstream companies and products advertise similar visuals on larger more mainstream venues?

Guess we still got a ways to go before dad can actually lay hold and officially proclaim ownership of that fancy biracial coffee maker (hold the cafe au lait racial “jokes,” please). But it’s still a welcomed first step from the usual sanctimonious script- as exemplified by Hollywood’s The Blind Side, where the magnanimous white woman rescues, validates, and bestows salvation upon the helpless African American man child.

Stan Banos publishes Reciprocity Failure and Expiration Notice  (with Mark Page).

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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