In the wake of the 2020 George Floyd protests, television ads look much different. Businesses have figured out it’s good for business to have more minority representation in their ads. Commercials for literally every product are now more open to featuring African Americans, Asians, Latinos, and other people of color.
But a recent study published in the Emory Law Journal argues there are some instances where too much minority representation. Namely, in ads for businesses the authors deem illegitimate.
The study, “Advertising Injustices: Marketing Race and Credit in America,” claims advertisements for lenders who service high-risk, bad-credit individuals are an affront to “civil rights” because their materials feature too many African Americans and Latinos.
“Today, racial and ethnic minorities oversubscribe to high-cost lending products like payday loans and underuse more affordable credit options that traditional banks offer,” the study reads.
“Two empirical studies we conducted of advertising by banks and payday lenders suggest that payday lenders steer African Americans and Latinos to their products while banks market to whites,” the study reads.
The authors, Law Professor Jim Hawkins and law student Tiffany Penner, both from the University of Houston Law Center, argue the reason more people of color use these services is because payday lenders market more directly to them. And they do so by featuring more people that look like them in their ads than traditional banks do.
In the course of the study, the authors had subjects look at photographs of advertisements, judging the race of the models in the pictures. The authors then extrapolated from this that alternative financial services providers are racist because they use people their subjects judged to be minorities in ads too much, but also other lenders, like traditional banks, are racist because they don’t depict minorities enough.
“While other social justice reforms require complicated solutions or deep social and cultural transformations, reforming advertising laws is a relatively simple way to make an immediate and meaningful impact on the economic lives of minorities,” the authors write. Presumably those laws would require hiring fewer people of color to be in their advertisements.
Importantly, the authors never actually even bothered to verify the actual race of people in the advertisements they showed the participants. Thus, the results are subjective, based on what some white people think people from other races look like. (Further, the authors state that if there was a disagreement on the racial/ethnic background of the “model” in the advertising, they “often” went with the majority opinion, implying that sometimes they went with the minority opinion.)
Of course, payday lenders do a lot of their business in poorer neighborhoods, because that’s where the people that need their services are most likely to live. After I finished college, I was unable to even get a checking account, so I used the payday lender at the end of the block – and although their fees were high, they were my only option to cash my paychecks. These places provide a service to people with sketchy credit histories (my inability to balance a checkbook in college was my downfall), which is a service they can’t get from a regular bank.
But the Emory Law Journal study looks a lot like activism masquerading as academic research. Before the authors present any evidence or offer any theory to explain their findings, they use phrases like “this must change” and “needs to end” in regard to lender advertising, claiming that it “entrenches racial subordination.” It appears that the authors have reached a conclusion before they gathered any evidence.
We are in a weird place today in academia, where the “woke” positions are ones that southern segregationists would have appreciated. Campuses everywhere are setting up segregated dorms and unions, and now research is backing fewer minorities in advertising campaigns. If your research would be cheered on by David Duke, you might want to reconsider how you got there.
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