Research Articles

Social Advertising and Social Change: Campaigns about Racism in Latin America and Mexico



This article discusses the role of social issue advertising as a tool for social change. It especially focuses on the case of campaigns on racism in Latin America, with a specific focus on racism within Mexico.

Analysing Latin American campaigns carried out between 2000 and 2017, this article uses a comparative methodology to identify how the campaigns address the issue of racism. This paper also contemplates campaigns specific to Mexico and the difficulties and successful strategies that have been developed. In order to have a greater impact on the public sphere, it seeks to identify the perspectives that influence the campaign designs as well as develop creative strategies for future campaigns on racism in Mexico.

This text also addresses ideas regarding social change, progress and development. Furthermore, it explores the differences between commercial advertising and social issue advertising, discussing common problems faced by social issue campaigns in Mexico and Latin America.

Keywords: Mexico, anti-racism, Latin America, campaigns on racism, social change, social issue advertising

How to Cite: Fernández Guerra, F. (2020) “Social Advertising and Social Change: Campaigns about Racism in Latin America and Mexico”, Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture. 15(2). doi:


The relationship between advertising and society is perpetual. Advertising influences the social structure by generating fashion trends, stereotypes, ideals and habits which it then superimposes onto products or social goods ready to be consumed. This gives advertising an important role in social change as it transforms ideas and influences the behaviour of certain social groups (Alvarado, 2005).

The advertising discourse, especially in its commercial form, not only manages to transform certain practices, attitudes and social structures, but also imposes and perpetuates them. For example, the promotion of tobacco consumption among women in the 1940s was not a passing trend, but rather became a habit of consumption. This is also seen in the generation and reproduction of stereotypes and social models (Feliu, 2004). Social models within advertising are frequently presented through stereotypes: thin beauty models often associated with anorexia; family models largely reflecting heterosexual co-parenting; and racial models composed of predominantly white people.

Thus, the advertising system contributes to the reproduction of certain social structures that are part of the status quo (Herman and Chomsky, 2006 [1998]). The type of status quo that advertising currently reproduces, especially in commercial advertising, is capitalist. In other words, it is based on an economic and political system that benefits powerful elites (politicians and businessmen) who, in turn, significantly control the advertising system worldwide.

This article addresses the relationship between advertising and social issues, discussing how social issue advertising can be used as a tool for change. It considers the way social change in Latin America and Mexico has been understood as a linear process of development in which ‘delayed’ civilisations must aspire to be closer to ‘advanced ones’. It goes on to contemplate how this viewpoint perpetuates racist discourses (from the 16th to 20th centuries) through the existence of ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ races that have structurally permeated Latin American societies. Furthermore, it analyses how these structures affect campaigns on racism, often encountering tensions when efforts for social change clash with the structures that underpin these societies.

A comparative methodology is used to analyse campaigns carried out from 2000 to 2017 to contrast the ways they address the issue of racism. This paper contemplates campaigns specific to Mexico, including the difficulties encountered and successful strategies that have been developed. It also pays special attention to how future campaign strategies can be adapted to have a greater impact on the issue of racism in Mexico.

Feliu (2004: 3) points out that the relationship between advertising and social issues can be approached from three perspectives: the social aspect of advertising; social issues in advertising; and the publicity of social issues. These are defined as follows:

  1. ‘The social aspect’ of advertising refers to the irrefutable fact that, as a communicative practice, advertising is exercised and reproduced in society. That is, advertising is a social phenomenon. An example would be the aforementioned campaign to increase tobacco consumption among women in the 1940s.

  2. ‘Social issues’ in advertising refers to a type of advertising called ‘advertising with a cause’. This type of advertising mixes a social cause with a commercial component. For example, promoting HIV prevention with a condom brand.

  3. The ‘publicity of social issues’ is framed in what we refer to as social advertising. Feliu (2004: 4) mentions that this reference refers to a specific category of advertising called ‘public service advertising’ which was created in the United States in 1942 by the Ad Council. According to Feliu, the creation of this advertising category resulted in the development of social advertising which focuses on the social issue far more than any commercial component.

Kotler and Roberto (1992) state that advertising created with the specific intention of supporting social causes is not a new phenomenon. They mention that ‘campaigns were already launched in ancient Greece and Rome to free slaves.’ Moreover, during the Industrial Revolution, campaigns were carried out in England to evade prison for debts; grant voting rights to women; and abolish child labour. They also note that in the United States, during the 19th century, notable campaigns were launched to abolish slavery, prohibit and moderate drinking and persuade the Federal Government to regulate the quality of food and pharmaceutical products.

Sorribas and Sabaté (2006) state that from the 1950s onwards, social advertising was developed in a systematic way, and Alvarado (2010: 662) affirms that this development occurred mainly in the United States, Canada and the European Union. In this regard, López de la Cerda (2004: 83) points out that it is in the 1980s when social advertising grew rapidly in so-called ‘developing countries’.

For the purposes of this article, we understand social advertising as that which seeks to: persuade or influence certain social groups or targets; modify their habits, attitudes, stereotypes or ideologies; and achieve positive social changes for the common good to improve the lives of humans and other living beings on an individual and social level (López de la Cerda, 2004; Sorribas and Sabaté, 2006; Alvarado, 2010). It could be said that, in the same way that commercial advertising is an ‘artificial accelerator of consumption’, social advertising is an ‘artificial accelerator of change’ based on its persuasive force that is expressed in two ways: persuasion and deterrence.

When communication pursues a collective interest, it seeks to achieve mobilisation as an act of freedom, starting with joining up intentions for a shared purpose through the public act of citizen participation. The objective of this type of communication is to summon and attract desire so that it partakes in the mobilisation from its own standpoint, with its own arguments and according to its own interests (Botero, 2006: 8). It is in this context that social communication requires a strategy that makes every mobilisation project understandable, and is where social advertising becomes a tool for change.

For the purposes of this study, we understand social change to be any transformation observed over time, which affects, in a permanent or provisional way, the structure and functioning of the organisation of a given community. A change occurs when the relationship models between human beings are altered, when this requires a modification in the social structure and in the meanings and values of a society (Gutiérrez, 2013). These changes can be beneficial or harmful; incremental and planned or sudden; and generated from above or from below social structures (Sztompka, 1995).

In Western European thinking, it was assumed at the end of the Middle Ages that, with rational knowledge, humans would be able to influence nature and their surrounding reality. Change, then, would manifest itself in the domination and control of nature, and by applying knowledge to achieve improvements in society (Bacon, 2000: 285). On the other hand, in cultures such as the pre-Hispanic, human beings are represented as part of a totality, thereby creating an ecosystem in which human, animal and plant populations coexist in a system of biological and energetic interactions. There is, therefore, more predisposition to change as a result of these interactions (Singer, 1991: 20).

During the last five centuries, the dominant ideology in the western world has propelled the domination and control of human beings over nature, leaving other worldviews aside. However, it should be noted that the concept of social change has been explored within different social sciences and its meaning changes depending on the ontological, epistemological and methodological approaches used (Spencer, 1864; Pareto, 1916, among others).

The current disenchantment of ideas related to modernity is evident in 21st century thinkers. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, industrialisation, urbanisation and modernisation were treated as synonymous with development and progress. Despite this, many people have been disappointed with the supposed progress of society due to various issues: the world wars, the millions of murders in local and global conflicts, unemployment, poverty, hunger, epidemics, increasing drug addiction, ecological destruction and recurring dictatorships (Alexandre, 1990:15). This overwhelming reality has replaced the concept of ‘progress’ with that of ‘crisis’. One of the consequences of the normalisation of ‘crisis’ is the rupture of optimistic narratives on social change and historical evolution (Holton, 1990: 43).

Fortunately, the concept of social change has been revamped by various decolonial movements and intellectuals, such as Quijano (2000), Dussel (2000), Mendoza (2010) and Rivera (2018), who have emphasised the contexts of domination and colonialism. They have also exposed how ‘linear processes’ were favoured with the presumption that there are some civilisations that are more developed than others; the latter, voluntarily or involuntarily, needing to attain the levels of the former. This decolonial thought, promoted from Latin America, questions European modernity by reflecting on its antithesis: the coloniality of power, knowledge and being in America, and the impact of this on the global colonial subject.

Ideas on race, held for more than five centuries, have also been reassessed. In 2000, advances in human genome studies were made public: from a genetic point of view, all people, regardless of skin colour and geographic origin, are 99.8% the same. The differences between human beings are contained in 0.2% of our genome, and it is this 0.2% that determines differences in skin colour, eye colour, physical build and size (Hoffman, 1994).

This has reconfirmed what sociology, cultural anthropology, anti-racism movements, feminist theories and decolonial theories have been asserting since the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, racism, understood according to Moreno (2016) as power and privilege relationships that distribute resources under the pretext that human differences exist and thus establish the legitimacy of some to subordinate others, persists as a sociopolitical phenomenon that permeates society. It can lead to very damaging circumstances when interconnected with issues such as poverty, gender, sexuality and migration.

Racist ideas are far from becoming extinct: as Van Dijk (2007) points out, racism is an ideology that has been deep rooted in social structures for centuries. As an ideology, it is a learning system that serves as the basis for racist and discriminatory social practices both in semiotic examples (discursive, gestural, etc.) and empirical ones (racist violence, beatings, murders, etc.). In Latin America, different studies have shown that people tend to recognise discrimination in their societies but it is not attributed to characteristics associated with race or ethnicity. Rather, it is attributed to other social conditions such as poverty, thus evidencing the denial of racism (Van Dijk, 2007). As Dulitzky (2000) points out:

The manifestations of racism vary between cultures, contexts and historical moments. However, there is one element in common: in practically all cultures, countries and regions, its existence is denied.

In Latin America, where racism surged as a result of colonial processes, racial categories are not always easily identifiable since they are interchanged with socio-cultural categories. However, membership to a certain racial or ethnic group predicts the quality of life its members will enjoy; a clear indicator of racism and discrimination (Zárate, 2009).

In social issue advertising, racism is an ideological system with deep social, political and historical roots. Considering its extensive timeline, it is fair to say that it has only recently been given the attention it deserves. According to Kotler and Roberto (1992), it is not until the 1990s when more campaigns on racism began to appear in various countries.

Campaigns on racism in Latin America

In order to discern the strategic approaches and contexts of campaigns against racism in Latin America over recent years, an internet search was carried out to identify institutional or social campaigns concerning racism in Latin America from 2000 to 2017. Thirty-five campaigns were identified and classified using a systematic comparative methodology. This research process is based on the differentiation of phenomena in order to establish similarities and differences; identify common elements and regularities between different cases (or their differences); establish limited generalisations; and, thus, reach more comprehensive explanations of past or present phenomena (Makón, 2004: 8). It is systematic because the number of case studies is defined (Julià: 1989: 76).

Table 1 (in Appendix 1) lists the campaigns identified along with their slogans and information on who created them. It shows that of the 35 campaigns on racism reviewed,1 20% were launched between 2000 and 2010, while 80% were carried out during the following seven years, from 2011 to 2017. The highest concentration of campaigns was in 2011, representing 25.7% of the total identified. This shows a clear upward trend in placing racism on the agenda in public opinion and the international arena. Notably, in 2001, the International Year of Mobilisation against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance were celebrated in addition to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa. At this conference, states were specifically urged:

…when appropriate in collaboration with other relevant bodies, to allocate financial resources to anti-racism education and information campaigns that promote the values of acceptance, tolerance, diversity and respect for the cultures of all indigenous peoples who live within their national borders (Report of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, 2001: 117).

The UN Assembly declared the period from 1995 to 2004 as the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People. 2011 was proclaimed the International Year for People of African Descent; the period from 2015 to 2024 the International Decade for People of African Descent; and 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Table 1 also reveals that 37.1% of the total number of campaigns reviewed were carried out by governments; 28.5% by non-governmental organisations or institutions; 14.2% by governments in alliance with organisations; 11.4% by agencies and international organisations; and 8.5% by international agencies in alliance with other organisations. In other words, governments, both alone and within alliances, promoted 42.7% of the campaigns, whilst international agencies and organisations, both alone and in partnerships, accounted for 20%. Figure 1, that is shown below, exhibits the images of some of these campaigns. (See Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1
Figure 1

Images of campaigns about racism in Latin America from 2000 to 2017.

In comparing the campaigns (see Table 2), various factors were considered: the way racism was perceived in the campaign (stance on skin colour, discrimination vs. racism, racism and intersectionality, etc.); the campaign’s target group (specific groups, racist people, people who suffer the consequences of racism, the general population); and the campaign’s aim (raise awareness, persuade, make a call to action, etc). The campaigns were grouped under the following headings: (See Table 2).

Table 2

Grouping of campaigns according to their strategic approach on racism.

Category No. of Campaigns Percentage
Campaigns about racism in soccer 7 20%
Campaigns that talk about discrimination and, within this framework, address racism 7 20%
Campaigns that emphasise that skin colour influences the way people are treated 6 17.1%
Campaigns that emphasise that skin colour should not influence the way people are treated 5 14.2%
Campaigns that propose specific actions against racism 5 14.2%
Campaigns about racism towards Afro-descendent people 3 8.5%
Campaigns aimed at helping racist people to stop being racist 1 2.8%
Campaigns that address racism from an intersectional perspective 1 2.8%
Total Campaigns 35 100%
  • (Source: Author’s own elaboration).

The first line on Table 2 shows racism in soccer as constituting 20% of the campaigns. Soccer games are public spaces in which racist insults towards players, generally Afro-descendants, frequently arise. However, it is striking that Latin American campaigns on the subject are only enunciative with slogans such as ‘Report Racism in Soccer’, ‘Stop racism’, and ‘Say no to racism’. Only the ‘#WeAreAllMonkeys’ (2014) campaign carried out by Dani Alves and Neymar, both Brazilians playing for F.C. Barcelona at the time, went beyond the ‘Stop racism’ line to generate concrete action. This campaign arose as a response to a banana thrown at Dani Alves in the stadium which he picked up and ate. Consequently, Neymar took a video of himself eating a banana with his son which went viral and was replicated by several players eating bananas as an act of solidarity.

Table 2 also reveals two positions the campaigns took concerning the way people are treated based on their skin colour and physical characteristics. On the one hand, there were six campaigns whose message stated that skin colour shouldn’t make a difference in the way people are treated; underlining a message of equality instead of difference. Examples of this include the Bolivian campaign with its slogan, ‘We are closer to being alike than different, it is our obligation to treat each other equally’ (2011); the campaign against racism in Uruguay with its slogan ‘Skin colour does not say who we are, racism does’ (2011); and the UN campaign, ‘Let’s fight against racism’ that took place in various Latin American countries including Mexico in 2011, with its slogan: ‘Appearances are deceiving. Let’s fight against racism!’.

On the other hand, there are five campaigns explicitly addressing the way people are treated differently due to the colour of their skin and physical characteristics. In many cases, these campaigns also state that it is important to understand why this difference occurs in order to be able to change it. Several campaigns carried out in the last decade have such an approach, for example, the Brazilian campaign developed by UNICEF ‘For a childhood without racism’ (2010) which highlights the diverse life conditions of children according to their skin colour and heritage. The campaign ‘Racism in Mexico’ (2011), carried out by 11.11 Social Change for the Mexican Council to Prevent Discrimination (hereafter, CONAPRED), intended to replicate ‘The Doll Experiment’ carried out by Kenneth and Mamie Clark in the United States in 1939 in segregated schools, under the title ‘Viral Racism in Mexico’. Similarly, the campaign ‘This is how we experience racism’ (2014), carried out by the Collective for the Elimination of Racism in Mexico, COPERA, with the hashtag ‘#WeAreRacistsWhen’, invited people to create signs about racist experiences. The Brazilian campaign ‘Feel it under your skin’ (2015) argues that ‘You can’t fight that which is said not to exist’, and the Bolivian campaign was designed to enforce the law against racism and discrimination in Tarija (2015), promoted by the Vice-Ministry of Decolonisation.

Another focus observed in the campaigns is to approach racism within a wider discussion of discrimination rather than address it as the main issue. As previously mentioned, this form of campaign highlights the way racism is denied in Latin America. Five of the seven campaigns identified in this category are Mexican, and they will therefore be further analysed later in this paper. The other campaigns in this category include the ‘National Campaign against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination from Dominican Republic’ (2006) with the slogan ‘For a multicultural world, without discrimination; Let’s celebrate diversity’, addressing ideologies of multiculturalism and diversity (UNESCO, 2001). Similarly, the campaign promoted by Amnesty International in Paraguay using the slogan ‘Death treats us all equally, life should too’ (2012) refers to categories of rich or poor, heterosexual or homosexual and black or white, all without naming racism as the issue.

On the other hand, there are five campaigns that specifically name racism and include a ‘call to action’. These campaigns, with the exception of one, were implemented within the last decade:

In the campaigns referring directly to racism against Afro-descendants, including the two campaigns in Colombia in 2009 and 2015 and the ‘Communication Campaign for the International Year for People of African Descent’ (2011) in Ecuador, the campaign dates clearly correlate to the UN Declaration on the 2011 International Year for People of African Descent and the International Decade for People of African Descent from 2015 to 2024. In Mexico, these declarations have led to clear actions and campaigns to support this population. Several of these campaigns and activities relate to censuses and Afro-descendant populations in countries such as the Dominican Republic, Chile, Colombia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador and, recently, Mexico.

Finally, Figure 1 highlights two campaigns whose strategies, at least until April 2017, were the least common for messages about racism in Latin America. First, the Ecuadorian campaign ‘Together in Diversity’ (2011) with the slogan: ‘For an Ecuador free from racism (let’s not discriminate against the racist)’. In this campaign, the focus shifts from the person who suffers racism to those who exercise it in attempt to increase their self-awareness. This is a very original and interesting campaign in terms of its approach to the subject. The other example is the Guatemalan Campaign ‘My commitment is’ (2017) promoted by Tzununija, OxFam, RedNovi, KALA, and AMUTED. The underlying message of this campaign is: ‘My commitment is to end violence and racism against indigenous women’ intersecting racism and sexism. This was the only campaign that had an intersectional slant, understood as the multiplicity of the personal and collective oppressions and power relations that exist in our daily lives (Crenshaw, 1991). This is one of the main areas of work pending in Mexico’s anti-racism agenda.

Campaigns on racism in Mexico

As seen in Table 1, campaigns on racism in Mexico begin a decade later than in other Latin American countries. These campaigns started in 2011 and, by April 2017, nine campaigns had been implemented. These campaigns can be grouped into four strategic approaches on racism:

  1. 55%2 are campaigns that refer to discrimination and, within this framework, approach racism: ‘Tweetbullets’ (2012), ‘We all have prejudices, but not all of us discriminate’ (2012), ‘#WithoutTags’ (2014), ‘A thousand faces against racism and discrimination’ (2014) and ‘Because 2 is + than 1, let’s add up against racism’ (2014).

  2. 33% are campaigns that indicate that skin colour and physical characteristics affect the way people are treated: ‘Racism in Mexico’ (2011), ‘This is how we experience racism’ (2014) and ‘Face Racism’ (2016).

  3. 11% are campaigns that indicate that skin colour and physical characteristics should not influence the way people are treated: ‘Appearances are deceiving. Let’s fight against racism!’ (2010).

  4. 11% are campaigns about racism in soccer: ‘Embraced by soccer’ (2016).

Half of the above campaigns produce a rhetoric of discrimination in order to avoid directly addressing the issue of racism. This avoidance lies within the historic denial of racism in Mexican society. As Moreno (2012: 19) points out, deracialisation, the process of racial and racist normalisation, has allowed Mexican people to express and be convinced that in Mexico there is no racism because ‘we are all mestizos and we are mixed’. Subsequently, Mexican people do not often consider themselves as racial subjects, but as national and citizen subjects. Of course, in this miscegenation there are some mixtures that are ‘better’ than others. It is enough to review the colonial caste system (Navarro, 1989) to understand why there are still expressions in Mexico such as ‘We must improve the race…’.

As the Collective for the Elimination of Racism in Mexico, COPERA (2016) states, Mexican miscegenation is anti-colonial, which is not the same as anti-racist.

The position of the Mexican state and its public policies, until recently, also denied the existence of racism. An example of this is the Declaration of the Mexican government before the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) at the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1996. Here, the Mexican representative declares the following in reference to the armed uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in 1994; a breakthrough in the visibility of the indigenous population in the country:

…since the beginning of the conflict, the Federal Government had recognised the reason for a series of motives that had incited members of indigenous communities to the rebellion; reasons that stem from economic and social marginalisation, and that have nothing to do with neither racism nor racial discrimination (Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 1996).

In other words, it was a matter of poverty and marginalisation alone rather than racism; a belief still strongly supported by various social sectors in Mexico and Latin America.

The National Survey on Discrimination in Mexico (hereafter, ENADIS) indicated in its 2010 results that 61.5 million people (54.8%)3 stated that others were insulted because of the colour of their skin, and 16.8 million people (21.5%) felt that their rights had not been respected due to the colour of their skin (CONAPRED, 2010). Yet, it is striking that just one year later, the campaign ‘Racism in Mexico’ (2011) and more specifically the video ‘Viral Racism in Mexico’, viewed more than 6 million times on YouTube, generated such a strong debate about whether or not racism even existed in the country.

According to the National Institute of Indigenous Languages, Mexico currently has an indigenous population of 25 million people and, according to the 2015 Intercensal Survey of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, an Afro-descendant population of approximately 1.5 million people. According to this survey, 1.725 million people speak Nahuatl in Mexico. However, this language, which is not studied in public schools, is at risk of extinction along with 51 more indigenous languages in the country.4

Accordingly, the campaigns conclude that skin colour and phenotype influence the way people are treated. The campaigns make an important contribution to increasing the possibility of social change in relation to racism in Mexico. These campaigns encourage a discussion on structural racism, privilege and pigmentocracy, defined as the relationship between skin tone and symbolism in any given social context or power relationship (Lipschütz, 1975). In an ideal world and within many campaigns, skin colour and physical characteristics should not affect the way people are treated. As demonstrated in the 2011 Project on Ethnicity and Race in Latin America (PERLA), the 2015 Social Mobility Survey and the 2010 and 2017 National Discrimination Surveys (ENADIS), however, this ideal is not the reality.

In this sense, society must accept and highlight that there are structural and systematic exclusion practices that are activated in response to values given to facial features and body characteristics (Moreno, 2016). Sizing and naming the problem and its origins facilitates work on racism by deconstructing the idea of aspirational whiteness, an idea still so widely used and exploited by commercial advertising in Mexico, and breaking down the idea of a one-directional path of development.


As mentioned in this paper, Mexico implemented campaigns on racism almost ten years after other Latin American countries. Nevertheless, the campaigns, books, research papers, media coverage and workshops on racism that have emerged in the last decade have pushed Mexico’s anti-racism agenda in a positive direction. However, there is still a long way to go to see real social change.

This paper has described some obstacles and recommendations in respect to the design and implementation of campaigns against racism in Mexico, ones which can be extrapolated to Latin America in several cases.

Among the most common obstacles facing social issue advertising campaigns are:

  1. Short-termism and lack of continuity

  2. Lack of evaluation and systematisation

  3. The use of social issue advertising for electoral purposes

Short-termism and the lack of continuity prevent the design of mid and long-term campaigns, with short-term campaigns being the norm in Mexico. The duration of a campaign and its repetition are key factors required to raise awareness, motivate action, change an established habit or acquire a new one, and this can rarely be generated in a short-term way (Alvarado, 2010).

The lack of campaign continuity is what Feliu (2014: 10) refers to as ‘the excessively conjunctural nature of social advertising’. As such, underscoring the need to establish a communication policy that discourages social issue campaigns from responding to public opinion image interests or serving a media agenda rather than collective needs. As an example, CONAPRED’s campaign following the ‘Viral Racism in Mexico’ was based on discrimination rather than racism, thus breaking the continuity of the message.

The lack of evaluation and systematisation of social campaigns, at least in the case of Mexican advertising, means that experiences are lost and the same mistakes are repeated. The culture of recording, evaluating and systemising institutional and social campaigns in Mexico is less than 20 years old. It is necessary to promote research on social issue campaigns and evaluate them, as is already happening in other places.5

Finally, the use of advertising for social and non-electoral purposes makes it necessary to differentiate between institutional or governmental advertising (whose purpose is to communicate public policies or social issue messages for the collective benefit) and electoral advertising, whose purpose is to obtain political power (Fernández Guerra, 2007). Unfortunately, it is very common for electoral campaigns to continue when a government has been elected. Thus, social issue advertising is used as a pretext to promote a hidden agenda such as continuing to endorse those who hold public office or government.

These three obstacles have undoubtedly been present in campaigns on racism in Latin America, making their role as social change agents even more complex.

Regarding recommendations and strategies in the design and implementation of campaigns on racism, the following are worth mentioning:

  1. Evolving and adapting future campaigns on racism in Mexico.

    • – Changing the focus from discussing discrimination in general, to stating that skin colour and physical characteristics do impact the way people are treated; an idea that still requires clear positioning.

    • – Proposing specific actions against racism, as has been done in ‘call to action’ campaigns in countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay and Peru. Denouncing racist behaviours in health and education services may be a start. Schools in Mexico are perceived as ‘neutral’ and anti-racism spaces, when in many cases, schools are spaces where racist behaviour is reproduced (Velasco Cruz, 2016). This is an aspect that must be discussed and exposed. The Brazilian campaign ‘Racism is bad for your health. Report it!’, with the slogan ‘Don’t be silent’, is an interesting example exposing racism in public health services.

    • – Approaching campaigns on racism from an intersectional perspective, such as the 2016 Guatemalan Campaign on racism and violence against indigenous women. Capitalism could not have developed in the way it did without racism and sexism. Both ideas are cornerstones of society, thus, working with them has a real transforming power (Moreno, 2016). In a male chauvinist and feminicide society such as the Mexican scenario, it becomes urgent to carry out campaigns where intersectionalities between racism, sexism, sexual diversity and class are raised. A recent experience with intersectionalities in campaigns is seen in the Census 2020 and the Afro-descendant people in Mexico called ‘AfroCenso MX’. In this campaign, racist issues were addressed, including sexual diversity in the representation of Afro-descendent people in Mexico, and gender-inclusive language was used throughout the campaign.6

    • – Generating campaigns that consider how we should approach our internalised racism. The Ecuador campaign ‘Together in Diversity’ (2011) is interesting in this regard since it focuses attention on the one who carries out the racist act, delving into how this issue can be approached with dialogue and awareness.

    • – Generating campaigns that address the issue of privileges and whiteness.

  2. Understanding racism campaigns as a dialogue and not as a one-directional message.

    This implies opening up a space where the message recipients can explain how they feel and why they act in certain ways. It also means that the change agent should be aware that he/she is opening up this possibility. This is the reason why this article opts for the term ‘campaigns on racism’ and not ‘anti-racism campaigns’, establishing a more open posture towards the topic.

    This creates an understanding of social communication as a vehicle to catalyse processes of change, empower individuals, strengthen communities and listen to voices that have not been previously heard (Rodríguez, 2002: 24). It is also important to consider the timing and atmosphere of each campaign, keeping an eye out for unforeseen windows of opportunity that arise throughout the campaign.

  3. Identifying which dimension of racism the campaign will address.

    Another important task is to identify which dimension of racism the campaign will work on: emotional or structural. The strategy, tone and message vary according to this. As observed in Table 1 each dimension determines the type of actions and solutions chosen (Bautista and Saldivar, 2016). For example, in the ‘Tweetbullets’ campaign on the harm caused by discriminatory offenses and insults, racism is approached from the emotional dimension, while in the ‘Racism is bad for your health: Report it!’ campaign from Brazil, work is being done on the structural dimension of racism.

  4. Avoiding the re-victimisation of people in the campaign.

    It is very important that, in these campaigns, people are not re-victimised, folklorised or stereotyped. For example, in the campaign ‘AfroCenso MX’ already mentioned, one of the strategic guidelines was to break stereotypes and folklorisation towards Afro-descendants in Mexico. This, together with the positive tone reaffirming personal power instead of re-victimising this population, was key to the successful reception of the message.

    The pretesting of the message on the target population is essential in social issue campaigns because this is where adjustments are made to tone, strategy and message. The information and insights obtained when the materials are pretested makes it a very important tool.

  5. Considering the risk and well-being of those portrayed in a campaign.

    Showing people from everyday life in campaigns on racism, to whom the target population may relate in an empathetic way, can be very positive. Nevertheless, it can also be a very sensitive issue: people that appear in the campaign can be made to feel vulnerable because their identities are exposed on a topic that generates emotions such as anger, pain and fear, especially if the campaign is shared on social media.

  6. Alliances

    While alliances are critical for these types of campaigns, it is also crucial to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of such alliances, as well as the costs entailed when seeking the best way to support the campaigns. When working with allies, the central message of the campaign must be unified. The first impression of a campaign is paramount to its success, so clarity in its launch and in the pronouncements made by allies is essential.

The author’s experience reveals that a greater number of allies implies greater potential for resonance, but also greater possibilities of conflict due to personal agendas and different approaches to the subject. Therefore, it is necessary to coordinate and establish written agreements detailing the commitments, dates, responsibilities, execution and delivery of results. If this is achieved, and voices are unified, there is a much greater chance that the message will get through successfully.

Finally, campaign impact measurement observes to what extent the campaign message impacts people’s attitudes or beliefs (Donovan and Vlais, 2006). This provides very valuable information regarding possibilities, times and strategies for generating social change engaging with racism.

Table 1

Campaigns on racism in Latin America from 2000 to 2017.

Year Country Campaign
2003 Peru Campaign: Report Racism in Soccer.
Slogan: Report Racism in Soccer.
Organisation: Ministry of Culture with the soccer players and professional soccer teams union.
2003 Uruguay Campaign: Let’s erase racism from language.
Slogan: Let’s erase racism from language.
Organisation: Afro-Uruguayan Culture House with support from the Spanish Development Cooperation Agency (AECID). Agency: Notable Publicidad.
2006 Dominican
National Campaign Against Racism and All Discrimination.
Slogan: ‘For a multicultural world, without discrimination; Let’s celebrate diversity’.
Organisation: European Union, Jesuit Service for Refugees and Migrants.
2009 Colombia Campaign: National Campaign against Racism and Racial Discrimination against Afro-Colombians.
Slogan: You are also part of the fight against racial discrimination.
Organisation: CARACOL TV.
2009 Colombia Vaccination Campaign Against Racism and Indifference.
Slogan: I am already vaccinated against racism and indifference.
Organisation: Cultural Foundation Black Colombia and the Ministry of the Interior and Justice.
2010 Brazil Campaign: For a childhood without racism.
Organisation: UNICEF.
2010 Ecuador Campaign: Together in Diversity.
Slogan: For an Ecuador free from Racism (Let’s not discriminate against the racist).
Organisation: Ministry of Sports, Secretariat of Peoples, Social Movements and Citizen Participation of the Government of Ecuador.
2011 Latin America and Europe Campaign: Let’s fight against racism.
Slogan: Appearances are deceiving. Let’s fight against racism!
Organisation: United Nations
2011 Bolivia Campaign against racism and discrimination.
Slogan: We are closer to being alike than different, it’s our obligation to treat each other equally.
Organisation: Education, Culture, Tourism and Sports Commission of the Municipal Council of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia.
2011 Uruguay Campaign Against Racism in Uruguay.
Slogan: The colour of the skin does not say who we are, racism does.
Organisation: Mundo Afro. Advertising agency: Perfil
2011 Brazil Campaign: Racial equality is a right.
Slogan: Racial equality is a right.
Secretariat of Policies to Promote Racial Equality.
2011 Ecuador Communication Campaign for the International Year for People of African Descent.
Organisation: Secretariat of Peoples, Social Movements and Citizen Participation of the Government of Ecuador.
2011 Mexico Campaign: Racism in Mexico.
Slogan: For a society free of racism.
Organisation: National Council to Prevent Discrimination. Agency: 11.11 Social Change.
2011 Mexico Campaign: Let’s fight against racism.
Slogan: Appearances are deceiving. Let’s fight against racism!
Organisation: United Nations Information, Center for Mexico, Cuba, and Dominican Republic, United Nations.
Campaign: Chao Racism.
Organisation: FEDEPRAN.
Campaign: Sign up against Racism.
Slogan: Sign up against Racism.
Organisation: National Association of Advertisers of Peru (ANDA), National Council of Advertising Self-regulation of Peru (CONAR) and Center for Afro-Peruvian Studies and Promotion.
2012 Paraguay Campaign: Death treats us all equally, so should life. ‘Join the fight against discrimination. Report it!’.
Organisation: International Amnesty.
Campaign: Tweetbullets.
Organisation: The Memory and Tolerance Museum, Ogilvy Agency.
Campaign: We all have prejudices, but not all of us discriminate.
Organisation: The Memory and Tolerance Museum.
2012 Colombia Campaign: Stay alert against racism in soccer.
Organisation: Ministry of Culture.
2014 Mexico Campaign: This is how we experience racism.
Slogan: #WeAreRacistsWhen.
Organisation: Collective to Eliminate Racism in Mexico, COPERA.
2014 Latin America and Spain Campaign: #WeAreAllMonkeys.
Organised by: Brazilian soccer players Neymar and Dani Alves from Barcelona FC, and replicated by players in various Latin American countries.
2014 Mexico Campaign: Because 2 is + than 1, Let’s add up against racism.
Organisation: Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination in Mexico City.
Campaign: #WithoutTags.
Slogan: Discrimination does not define us.
Organisation: National Council to Prevent Discrimination.
Campaign: A thousand faces against racism and discrimination.
Organisation: Una Sangre.
2014 Brazil Campaign: Racism is bad for your health. Report it!
Slogan: Don’t be silent.
Organisation: Ministry of Health.
2014 Brazil Campaign: A cup without racism.
Organisation: Federal Government.
2015 Brazil Campaign: Feel it under your skin.
Slogan: You can’t fight what is said to not exist.
Organisation: Ernesto Xavier and friends.
2015 Bolivia Campaign: Against racism and discrimination in Tarija.
Organisation: Vice Ministry of Decolonisation.
2015 Colombia Campaign: The hour against racism.
Organisation: Ministry of the Interior.
2015 Chile Campaign: Chile, the field where we all play.
Organisation: University of Chile, Jesuit Migrant Service.
2016 Argentina Campaign: Soccer united against discrimination.
Organisation: National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism, Argentine Soccer Association.
2016 Mexico Campaign: Embraced by soccer.
Organisation: Mexican Soccer Federation.
2016 Mexico Campaign: Face Racism.
Mexico City Ministry of Culture; Council to Prevent Discrimination in Mexico City and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
2017 Guatemala Campaign: My commitment is.
Slogan: My commitment is.
Organisation: Tzununija, Oxfam, RedNovi, KALA and AMUTED.
  • (Source: Author’s construction, 2020).


  1. Of the 35 campaigns carried out, 7 (20%) were implemented between 2000 and 2010, and 28 (80%) between 2011 and 2017. In 2011 alone, there were 9 campaigns (25.7%).
  2. Of the 9 campaigns carried out, 5 (55%) refer to discrimination rather than addressing racism directly, 3 (33%) indicate that skin colour and physical characteristics affect the way people are treated; 1 (11%) indicates that skin colour and physical characteristics should not affect the way people are treated, and 1 campaign (11%) addresses racism in soccer.
  3. These figures are obtained from calculating the percentage indicated in 2010 ENADIS, with the total population in Mexico that year, which according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography in Mexico (INEGI 2010), was 112,336,538 people.
  4. Agonizan 51 lenguas indígenas. El Universal, available at: (Accessed on 21 December 2016).
  5. On evaluation of public communication campaigns, Guidelines for Formative Evaluation Research in Campaign Design, available at: (Accessed June 2016).
  6. Campaign launched by the Collective for the Elimination of Racism in Mexico COPERA, 11.11 Cambio Social, W.F., Kellogg Foundation, with the participation of Race and Equality and COLMEX and the collaboration of diverse civil organisations working with Afro-descendent people, CONAPRED and Mexico’s Senate, available at (accessed May 2020).

Competing Interests

The author has no competing interests to declare.

Author Information

Fabiola Fernandez Guerra Carrillo is a researcher and social advertiser with a doctoral degree in advertising and public relations, Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona; Master Degree in Public Policy, Facultad Latinoamerica de Ciencias Sociales. She is director of 11.11 Social Change an agency specialized in social advertising founded in 2007: She is also founder partner of Share a Wave, an NGO that works with women on foster homes: and is a member of the Collective for the Elimination of Racism in Mexico, COPERA (, that undertakes projects and workshops about racism in Mexico since 2011.


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