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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

I heart advertising. To name a few of my favorites: billboards, online pop-ups, subliminal messages.

But there's a special place inside my circulatory system for TV commercials. I find a unique purity in the way they shamelessly strive to manipulate the viewer. No seduction at all - just 30 seconds of projectile content.

A study at the University of Alabama says UF's Gator Nation TV ads show diversity better than other schools, as the Alligator reported on Friday.

"The television advertisements produced by most major universities depict their campuses as overwhelmingly white, privileged environments, likely deterring many minority students from applying," as an online article from The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

Wow, great news for UF. But there is one oddity: There's more diversity in our TV ad than there is in our actual student body. In other words, our ad misleads better than the rest.

I'm talking about the "Go" commercial: "Go start a Fortune 500 company. Go write the great American novel. Go cure cancer. Go to Mars." I'd prefer, "Go carve driftwood on the seashore so long as it makes you happy." But anyway, I wondered how these characters, who presumably applied to, attended and graduated from UF, would have identified themselves.

Three characters were "white (not Hispanic origin)," two males and one female total. I spotted two "black (not Hispanic origin)" actors, though one was a young person and probably hadn't attended UF yet. I also counted three "Asian or Pacific Islander" folks - two males and one female.

Oh, and at least one "other" showed up.

I guess someone forgot to tell the ad firm that women now outnumber men at UF - 53 percent to 47 percent. And why no representation of our some 6,000 Hispanic students, you guys? The study didn't say UF was good at showing diversity, just "better." Also, the "show" of diversity doesn't have to equal real diversity.

Statistically, UF is an overwhelmingly white, privileged environment - the very thing researchers say UF doesn't show like other schools do. Six out of 10 UF students are white and the median household income for UF students' families is $100,000 a year.

Ah, but the genius of this ad is its focus on individuals. By going from person to person, they avoid showing any groups of students. Within such groups (and in other ads), minorities are generally depicted only as token members.

The study says this kind of "tokenism" is likely to deter minority students from applying. But we don't have to deal with the problem of tokenism because our ads avoid it, right?

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Well, actually, TV ads aren't real, so tokenism may be a real problem the ads are glossing over. But, either way, UF still wants the public to know it is diverse beyond its own reach. Seems like false advertising is OK so long as they're lying to make themselves appear more politically correct.

Unless the ad is a vision for the future, and true diversity will only come when we actually cure cancer on Mars. Or maybe I'm just missing the point. I hope the "Go" ad will encourage minority students to apply, but I wish it wasn't under such constructed circumstances. The experience of diversity on campus should supersede any artificial message on TV.

Just because the public relations arm of UF can depict diversity in its TV ads doesn't mean we've achieved anything but a successful marketing campaign.

And maybe that success should tell us we're spending too much time on image and not enough on substance.

Vincent Massaro is a journalism senior. His column appears on Mondays.

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