The Native American Stereotype Displayed In Advertisements

Innocence, naturalness, tamable, predatory; these are the words used to describe Native Americans, being frequently conveyed though modern day advertising.  Many advertising companies take advantage of the quintessential Indian image to sell their products.  While this advertising technique may seem harmless, it is actually a form of racism that greatly stereotypes the Native American race.  The article “Winnebagos, Cherokees, Apaches, and Dakotas: The Persistence of Stereotyping of American Indians in American Advertising Brands” by Debra Merskin observes these trends by analyzing the use of the Indian image in well established products, such as Land O’ Lakes, Sue Bee Honey, and Crazy Horse Malt Liquor.  By using images of the “artificially idealistic” Indian, advertisers reinforce an already longstanding ideology of Natives Americans, countering the effort to eliminate viewing them as a “separate and single other” (160).

Merskin states that racism against Native Americans has been in existence since the dislocation efforts in the 1800s.  These beliefs have since been reinforced through children’s toys, songs, and games, such as “Cowboys and Indians.”  Unfortunately, this leads to a “stable cultural convention that is taught and learned by members of a society” (Kates & Shaw-Garlock, 1999, p.34).  The advertising market has played a prominent role in worsening this issue.  Merskin notes that advertising is about developing images that make connection with the consumer.  Advertisers will go to any length in order to increase the commodity value of a product.  In order to entice consumers, it is important to associate a particular image with a brand name to help buyers remember a product.  These images are created because they “resonate with the social and cultural values of a society” (162).  This technique has proven to be very effective. However, when certain images are used, such as those portraying Native Americans, stereotypes are instilled in a consumer’s mind, often representing an “US verses THEM dichotomy” (162).  This ideology then focuses on separatism, which further divides those with white skin, from other minorities.

There are several different stereotypes of the Native American race that have developed in our culture.  The first is the “bloodthirsty and lawless savage,” which is frequently illustrated among western films (163).  These characters are often depicted as the enemy to a handsome cowboy, of who will be defeated by the end of the film.  The next stereotype amongst Native Americans is the “Indian princess,” which creates a vulnerable and innocent character who eventually assimilates to western culture (163).  An example of this is can be seen in the character Pocahontas.  This tamable image is not the impression that Native Americans wish to give off, yet this is the representation they have acquired.  Merskin consequently suggests, “historically constructed images and beliefs about American Indians are at the essence of stereotypical thinking that are easily translated into product images” (163).

Land O’ Lakes and Sioux Bee Honey are two brands in particular that use the stereotypical female Indian figure to sell their products.  Land O’ Lakes is one of the first brands to use the mystique of the Indian to sell their product.   The fictional character used for this brand is an “Indian maiden.”  The young woman used to represent Land O’ Lakes brand is dressed in traditional American Indian attire, and simplistically gazes upward with a smile on her face.  The Indian maiden gives off the impression of youth, nature, and purity which is then transferred to the commodity being sold.  Similarly, Sue Bee Honey uses the “Indian princess” stereotype to embed the idea of purity into their product.  With the product being honey, it is often associated with concepts of nature.  Therefore, the socially constructed meaning of the Indian maiden fits in perfectly with the wholesome product.  While this generic Indian image may help sell Land O’ Lakes and Sioux Bee Honey products, it is also reinforcing a longstanding stereotype.

While Crazy Horse Malt Liquor gives off a different Indian representation, it is still a stereotype of Native Americans.  In this instance, the Chief Crazy Horse is used to sell liquor, fabricating the idea that if a consumer drinks this liquor, they will be as mighty as an Indian chief, who symbolizes the wildness of the western frontier.  This particular character raised a great amount of controversy due to their use of a real person.  Through the association with the fierce face of Chief Crazy Horse, the “bloodthirsty savage” image is portrayed.  Many critique this character representation due to the impression that it emanates.  Chief Crazy Horse was a respected leader of who was a major symbol of the westward expansion.  Furthermore, Chief Crazy Horse strongly objected the use of alcohol and was thought to have warned his tribe about the damaging effects of liquor (166).  Therefore many believe that his image is unjustly illustrated on the Crazy Horse Malt Liquor logo.

Americans have been stereotyping Native Americans for so long, that it has become an expected notion in our culture. An advertisement used by brands such as Land O’ Lakes, Sioux Bee Honey, and Crazy Horse Malt Liquor reinforces a stereotype of Native Americans.  I found this article to be very convincing as it opened my eyes to the still prominent racism that exists in this country.  I believe the way products are advertised is heavily dependent on socially constructed images, whether it is pertained to gender, social status, nationality, or ethnicity.   Debra Merskin’s article examines just one aspect of the racist images that are being presented to the American public today.  She convincingly provides analyses of specific brands that use the racist views of Americans to their advantage, in order to sell their product.  Advertisements such as these prevent people from viewing Native Americans as real people.  While images of American Indians on everyday product may be overlooked, they are only reinforcing our predetermined views on specific races.  Characters such as the ones exemplified in Merskin’s article should be omitted or changed to prevent younger generations from developing the stereotype as well, continuing this racist trend.