Advertisers Love Ethnic Ambiguity

They claim to support diversity and inclusion, but favoring a specific type of light-skinned model is colorism

Casira Copes
Published in
5 min readApr 15, 2021


Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

You’ve seen this woman before.

Maybe not this exact woman, but a version of her.

Lightly tan skin. Big loose curls. Definitely not a White woman. Maybe a Black woman? Mixed with some other race? The elusive Blasian?

It doesn’t matter. She is the Diversity™ you need for your next ad campaign. Ethnic ambiguity is in right now, and it’s time to capitalize on it. The ad was for skincare, right? Or maybe makeup. Something in the beauty aisle.

If you use a darker woman, White people won’t think your product is for them. You’re not trying to corner the “urban” market right now. (Besides, your products don’t really work on dark skin anyway, and no one needs to know that yet.)

But if you use all White women, Twitter will crucify you for your lack of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion™. The R-word will be thrown out, and the PR agency you’ll need to clean up the mess will cost a fortune.

Yes, this woman is the solution.

So what’s the problem?

The scenario I painted above is what I can imagine runs through the minds of many a creative director and casting agent for ad campaigns. As someone who graduated with a degree in advertising, I know the importance placed on imagery and visual aesthetics with “wide appeal” to a target audience — something that’s somehow both apolitical but not so tone-deaf as to incur the virtual backlash of a nation. Not unless manufactured outrage is a part of your promotional strategy. (And we can’t knock the value of controversy in the news cycle, can we?)

It is within this capitalistic and socially ambitious space that colorism thrives.

Colorism is the practice of favoring people of color who have lighter skin tones over those who are darker. It’s distinct from racism (although obviously highly related), and an issue with a high degree of prevalence in the advertising industry. Adriana Waterston from the market research agency Horowitz Research discussed this in an essay last year entitled “‘Colorism,’ A Major



Casira Copes

Bisexual Black Feminist | BLK INK Editor-in-Chief |