Different paths led me to undertake this research and write a book about
advertising. I had watched many ads with youth and their families during
fieldwork for my book Desi Land in Silicon Valley, on satellite and cable
television channels and programming blocks that were explicitly made
for and aimed at South Asian American audiences. I wondered who made
these ads, whom they thought they were reaching, and where this adver-
tising fit in the broader American commercial media landscape. As a long-
time viewer of live televised sports, I had also become attuned to how ads
had changed over years, especially the increased inclusion of minorities in
ads that previously featured mostly, if not exclusively, white talent. The ap-
pearance and speech styles of some actors suggested their ethnic or racial
identity, while others seemed intentionally difficult to place; corporations
seemed to deliberately shift brand identity to foster a broader range of con-
sumer identification.
I decided to pursue this project about advertising development and pro-
duction because of my interest in race and representation as well as media
and consumption. Advertising brought these concerns together, and a
production- based perspective allowed me to consider the cultural and
linguistic semiotics of the process. I began fieldwork for this book in the
spring of 2008, when the effects of the financial crash were becoming a new
economic and social reality, when the United States was on the verge of
electing its first black president, and when smartphones and social media
claimed their place as a household presence. My position as a university
professor made most people I met favorably disposed to my research; it
evoked a level of respect that I did not have to earn but did have to main-
tain. I did this in large part by being as inconspicuous as possible and re-
specting whatever boundaries were drawn for me. The limits of the data I
was able to collect, as well as that which I am able to discuss, are evident
throughout the book.
This is a book about the complex dynamics of imagining and repre-
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