Few businesses set out to be deliberately racist in their advertisements. However, unawareness, subtle prejudice and feeble attempts at humor can quickly backfire. Racism in advertising is not always illegal, but it almost always results in a public relations nightmare. If your advertisement hints at discrimination within your company, you could be slapped with a lawsuit. Carefully monitor any ads your company puts out, and consider consulting with a diversity or racism expert to double-check for racist stereotypes.

Racism in advertising is not in itself illegal, but that doesn't mean it's wise. Other laws, such as defamation law and similar torts, can be used to bring a lawsuit against you. For example, if you make a racist advertisement that targets a specific person, you could be sued. If racist advertising relates to employment decisions within your company, you could also land in legal trouble. For example, if you put out an ad requesting only white employees or indicating that you pay racial minorities less than other workers, you could be sued for employment discrimination.

Public Relations Issues

Perhaps the biggest risk of racist advertisements is a public backlash. Social media allows consumers to act rapidly to draw attention to your ad. Even if you quickly pull the ad, there will be a record of it. Consumers might boycott your products, demand an apology, circulate petitions or encourage other companies that do business with your company to stop. If you publish a racist advertisement, act quickly to correct the problem. Don't defend the ad; issue an apology that takes responsibility and emphasizes the importance of racial diversity and mutual respect.

Sponsorship Issues

Racist ads sometimes cause consumers to target the businesses your ads sponsor. If you don't act quickly, these companies might refuse to accept future ad campaigns or require you to pre-screen your ads with them. This can diminish your access to the market and make it more difficult to exercise creative control over your advertisements.

Preventing Racism

No matter how innocuous you think they might be, never play on racist stereotypes in your ads -- even outdated ones. Show your advertisements to a diverse testing audience and ask for feedback. If you hear even a suggestion of racism, pull the ad and start over. A corporate diversity officer and diversity training can also help make you more aware of racial issues, which makes it easier to detect subtle racism creeping into your ads.