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Inside the Biracial Advertising Boom

Biracial couples and families are becoming increasingly common. Companies are using them in advertisements to reflect that reality, and to sell to those who value diversity.

State Farm

Infiniti USA recently released an advertisement featuring a dad repeatedly heading out to grab more food for a holiday meal with his wife and two daughters.

First it’s sweet potatoes, then shrimp, and finally the wife takes over to get a pecan pie. It’s a fairly straightforward 30-second advertisement riffing off of the idea that the husband and wife love to drive their cars so much they look forward to these types of trivial errands.

The unique part has to do with the actors who play this adoring family: The father is white, the mother is black, and their teenage daughters are biracial.

By casting the ad in such a way, Infiniti has joined a growing list of companies selling everything from breakfast cereal to cars to clothing that portray the American family in TV advertisements as more than a single race.

But why are all these companies jumping on the diversity bandwagon?

The commercials can certainly help to attract consumers who come from biracial families or relationships. They are also increasingly more representative of the world we’re living in today.

But perhaps the biggest selling point is they help to attract the broad base of customers whose values align with those portrayed through these ads—inclusion and diversity, explained Americus Reed, marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

“That’s a large group of people that are out there, that have this sense of attitude and belief that would make them say, ‘Hey that’s cool that company X or Y is actually doing this,’” he said in a recent phone interview.

It’s becoming increasingly important for brands to make their values clear to customers, explained Reed. The public is no longer simply interested in which product might be slightly better; they also want to feel good about the company’s values.

A 2016 report by pregnancy and parenting website BabyCenter and market research company YouGov, found 80 percent of the some 2,000 parents surveyed were pleased to see diverse families in ads. And 72 percent of them said “a brand that shares their values is an important factor in their purchasing decisions.”

In October, Tide and Calvin Klein released two very different commercials, but both featured a biracial family.

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While the detergent’s ad showed a white husband with his black wife using Tide PODS to quickly clean their daughter’s laundry before leaving for a trip, Calvin Klein advertised its Eternity fragrance with Jake Gyllenhaal reciting an e.e. cummings poem with model Liya Kebede, who plays his black wife, to their young daughter, played by a 4-year-old called Leila.

Mark Jones, president and creative director of Jones Advertising, whose clients include Microsoft, said the reasoning behind these companies featuring this type of diversity is likely twofold: They may be trying to show they’re more progressive, while also projecting inclusivity, so they can potentially speak to a broader array of consumers.

“I think people might be saying ‘we welcome you,’” he said. “In other words, we respect you and you’re safe to come here. We want your business.”

But it could also be much simpler than that.

In a 2016 commercial for Chase, the viewer follows the relationship between a white boy and a black girl who grow from hand-holding as young children on their way to school, to a joyful marriage as adults. It’s advertising the company’s investment guidance through the message: Some things are worth waiting for.

When asked why they made this casting decision, Erich Timmerman, spokesman for Chase, said: “We want our ads to reflect our diverse customer base and to look like the world we live in.”

Biracial couples and families are becoming increasingly common in the U.S., so featuring them in advertisements is indeed reflecting a key part of our society.

In 2015, 1 in 6 newlyweds married a person who was a different race or ethnicity, according to a Pew Research Center report released last summer. And 11 million people in the country were in biracial marriages in 2015.

In a Toyota owner testimonial for Mirai released in late 2016, the company featured a white man with his Asian wife talking about their decision to drive a hydrogen-fueled car.

When these companies make this type of advertising decision, it’s a strategic one, said Reed. They recognize that there will be people turned off by this type of advertising, but consider it more important to reach and connect with the audience that shares such values as diversity and inclusion.

There have certainly been people angry at these advertisements.

State Farm’s “engagement” advertisement, featuring a black man and white woman, predictably attracted criticism from racists.

In 2013, when General Mills featured a little girl named Gracie with her white mother and black father in an adorable Cheerios commercial, there was a flood of negative comments, many of them racist. What was the company’s response? It released another ad with the same cast the following year.

In 2016, when Old Navy released an advertisement featuring a child with his white father and black mother, some social media users called it “anti-white propaganda” and said it promoted “white genocide.”

While the days of negativity are not gone, the fact that brands continue to feature this diversity means they’re having success. In fact, Reed predicted that this trend is likely just going to keep increasing.

“You’ll see more and more of them and it’s just going to kind of become the new normal,” he said.