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Facebook's Racial Marketing Strategy for Straight Outta Compton Revealed at SXSW

Rolling Stone
N.W.A. are a mainstay of hip-hop, and represent an important part of African American cultural history, but their significance transcends race. Evidently, according to the marketing team behind Straight Outta Compton, the recent biopic about the group, they don't, and you shouldn't even expect white people to know who they are.

At a seminar during SXSW Doug Neil, a digital marketing executive for Universal, revealed that two different Facebook trailers for the film were developed. The trailer targeted at African Americans and Hispanics was entirely centered around N.W.A. as a group, whilst the one for white people focused on Dre and Cube, and not even necessarily their music, as supposedly that demographic were more familiar with them as the face of Beats and an actor, respectively.

What's even worse is that the 'white trailer' places far, far more emphasis on the violence in the film, almost framing it as a gangster movie. Meanwhile, the 'black trailer' includes clips of the actual group members talking about the music and the "protest art" nature of it, given the surroundings it was developed in. This powerful, important statement is completely undercut by the fact that it was only included to appeal to black and Latino audiences.

This abhorrent marketing technique has been a part of Facebook's arsenal for around 2 years now, and currently they actually offer different ethnic demographic 'packages' to advertisers. There are four: African American, Asian American, Hispanic and non-multicultural, which, sickeningly, refers to white people. Throughout all the written information on this, including the tutorial, Facebook deliberately sidestep any terms that might suggest that it's racial marketing, instead opting for the term 'ethnic affinity'. Anyone who's ever read 1984 will understand why that's so unsettling.

Facebook would argue that it's the cultural interests that are the focal point, rather than the race, but the more of the material you read, the more blindingly obvious it is that it's actually almost entirely based on race. How do they figure out your race in the first place though? Thankfully, they've yet to roll out some sort of skin pigment scanner for photos, but the truth of it is still fairly grim. It goes by your friends, likes, groups you join and general areas of interest.

Now, I am white, my cultural heritage is a bit of mixed bag if you trace it far enough back, but as far as censuses and whatnot are concerned, I'm white. I listen to a huge amount of hip-hop, funk, jazz, soul, jungle, reggae and dub. I read a lot of material about African American civil rights, both contemporary and otherwise, I'm a member of a Facebook group which supports activism against institutionalised racism in prisons, particularly against black people and a lot of the articles I share (and write, on occasion) are on similar subjects. Under these parameters, it's entirely possible that Facebook would tag me as black.

Would the material marketed to me on that basis appeal to me more, given my interests? Perhaps, but that bears absolutely no relevance to my race. Do I read those kinds of books and share those articles because I listen to hip-hop? Perhaps there's a connection due to lyrical content, but it would be extremely glib, and borderline offensive, to suggest that my interests, or anyone else's, are inherently black

Segregating your target audiences by race might well be effective in some contexts. It seems fine when you consider that people with similar interests, but a different racial background, would fall under the same umbrella, but it's when you realise that someone who falls into, say, the Asian American category might start getting shown ads for anime programs, despite having never registered any interest in them before, that you can start talking about profiling.

The worst offense committed by the Straight Outta Compton campaign was to make the white-targeted trailer more focused on violence, as if those audiences would naturally assume that African Americans in LA are violent, or get more of a kick out of watching them commit said violence. It's tantamount to the way that Native Americans were almost always typecast as bloodthirsty savages in early Westerns, and that was 50 or 60 years ago, when computers still had to be transported by train and you had to build a new one to process every new algorithm.

Fundamentally, trying to make a blanket statement on any culture's interests, ethnic or otherwise, is an extremely reductive approach, and it's indicative of the cynical, money hungry ethos that Facebook have now adopted.

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @Songbird_Callum

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Facebook's Racial Marketing Strategy for Straight Outta Compton Revealed at SXSW Reviewed by Unknown on Monday, March 21, 2016 Rating: 5
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