When Commercials Actually Meant Something…

The advertising industry is often snubbed for not properly representing – or even appealing to – diverse communities. Even though present-day commercials like Jerry Rice’s performance in this Popeyes ad show that we still have a long way to go, others such as the iconic #BlackGirlMagic feature in last year’s Apple ad show that with the right team – and conscious participants – we can appeal to our communities without simultaneously disrespecting them.

We wanted to see how this was done in year’s past and came across an absolute gem from the 1970s: Frederick Douglass making a cameo in an Afro Sheen commercial. Not only did these folks get it right by selling a Black product using Black people, it also incorporated Black history! And you know we can’t get enough of that!

Afro Sheen was created in the 1960s by George Ellis Johnson in the middle of a wave of Black hair admiration and empowerment. It was one of the first natural hair care product lines for Black people (yes, before Carol’s Daughter or Miss Jessie’s), and the product line supported a variety of Black hairstyles: cornrows, afro puffs, and more. The product used advertising to promote messages of Black unity and empowerment, casting all Black actors and empowering Black couples through positive images on the screen. Not only that, the company also featured references to Black history: like here with Frederick Douglass, here with Queen Sheeba, and this total ode to true, Black beauty right here.