Willie or Won't He?
October 14, 2009 7:51 AM   Subscribe

What are some examples of racism [subtle, or not-so-subtle] in advertising?

I am aware of some of the web results, but I would like more examples. Recent adverts appreciated.
posted by quelindo to Media & Arts (43 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
The Tragic Moolatte
posted by aswego at 7:56 AM on October 14, 2009

Tali Mendelberg has a great book (even for nonacademics) on the implicit use of race in political campaigns.
posted by quodlibet at 7:57 AM on October 14, 2009

That "trim your bush" commercial.
posted by pullayup at 7:58 AM on October 14, 2009

Crap! I was thinking of the "mow your lawn" commercial, and didn't bother to watch it. sorry, and ignore that.
posted by pullayup at 8:00 AM on October 14, 2009

Racialicious is nearly completely devoted to examples of that.
posted by lunit at 8:02 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Obama's first political ad in the general election ("Country I Love") was a clear attempt at trying to appeal to white people. A lot of shots of him interacting with whites. I remember a photo of Obama looking his whitest, with bright light on his face. (Not that I object to him being portrayed as white -- after all, he is white.) Soothing, non-dissonant, country/folk acoustic guitar in the background. And so on.

Jesse Helms's famous "(white) hands" ad about affirmative action. (It's probably in one of your links, but I haven't checked, and someone had to mention it).
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:03 AM on October 14, 2009

Aunt Jemima syrup and Uncle Ben's rice. And here's a slideshow about the history of racist spokescharacters.
posted by decathecting at 8:06 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've always found the Axe "chocolate" body spray ad to be racist in a way that I can't exactly describe, but just a general sense of hinkiness.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:11 AM on October 14, 2009

That "trim your bush" commercial.

....I think that'd be sexist rather than racist, no?

To the OP: get a copy of the film C.S.A. It has some fascinating "parodies" of racially-toned ads -- or so you think, until the end when it goes through a list of which of the 'fake products" they've featured actually were real.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:14 AM on October 14, 2009

Sociological Images - http://contexts.org/socimages - usually has current examples of this sort of thing.
posted by jilld at 8:16 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Try the ASA website. My job is to avoid people getting offended by advertising on the TV, so we try and screen out anything that might be construed as racist, but it's hard to tell sometimes. 'Comedy' accents and national stereotypes get the no.
posted by mippy at 8:18 AM on October 14, 2009

There's the botched Photoshop job from Microsoft Poland that made the rounds this summer.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:25 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd say Charles Barkley snarling the line "flakey white stuff" in this Right Guard commercial qualifies.
posted by Scoo at 8:34 AM on October 14, 2009

Sony got in a certain amount of trouble for running this ad. It was as they introduced their white version of the PSP.
posted by opsin at 8:37 AM on October 14, 2009

Sony's Playstation division's had a lot of trouble with this in recent years. Besides the billboard in your first link (which only ever went up in Belgium, I think), there were the PSP graffiti ads (which were mostly in "urban" neighborhoods), and a number of PSP TV commercials featuring squirrels that are pretty clearly black stereotypes:

It's nut you can play outside!
Madden PSP commercial
Daxter commercial

...there might be more, but those are the ones that spring to mind.
posted by Target Practice at 8:41 AM on October 14, 2009

That "trim your bush" commercial.

....I think that'd be sexist rather than racist, no?

It's arguably pretty racist, too... the black girl with the afro describes her "bush" as "really big", while the Asian girl giggles self-consciously and describes hers as "mighty small".

OP: The blog Sociological Images posts a lot of stuff that you might find interesting. I was particularly struck by these Australian denim ads featuring throngs of stereotypical Asians.
posted by arianell at 8:51 AM on October 14, 2009

Look around and you see how few campaigns feature mixed-race couples. IKEA was notable early on for inclusion of mixed race couples in it's dead tree shoots, but you still won't see them in blue collar US brands. Notably, almost all mixed race couples shown are female POCs and white males; black men with white women is still taboo in advertising from what I can see.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:56 AM on October 14, 2009

Mod note: comment removed - do not answer this question if all you want to do is be jerks to other commenters. you have metatalk or email if you need them.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:00 AM on October 14, 2009

It's arguably pretty racist, too... the black girl with the afro describes her "bush" as "really big", while the Asian girl giggles self-consciously and describes hers as "mighty small".

Really? I didn't get any racist vibe at all from this one. I guess I'd like to see your argument. Individuals giggling about their personal amount of pubic hair seems pretty far removed from any conceivable "racism" to me.
posted by Aquaman at 9:25 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I kinda think the Popeye's Chicken commercial was a bit on the racist (or perhaps stereotypical) side.

Apparently others think so as well.
posted by Sassyfras at 9:26 AM on October 14, 2009

I find there are a lot of stereotypical representations of black people - women in particular - as the down-to-earth, no-nonsense, 'sassy' deflating voice in commercials. "MMmmm-hmmm!" "Girlfriend, you better...," tooth-sucking, eye-rolling, sarcastic muttering under the breath, etc. I don't have a TV right now so I can't be specific about ads, but it's a common enough trope.
posted by Miko at 9:26 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Try looking at the "Ebony and Ivory" tag on Photoshop disasters. There is a longstanding tradition of replacing black people with white people for the Polish versions of ads, as well as skin-lightening and other goofs that expose the seams of how advertisers think when they're preparing an ad for the market.
posted by hermitosis at 9:40 AM on October 14, 2009

In Chile we have a brand of toilet paper that uses a stereotypical drawing of a black man's face as an emblem.

I can't find the original TV ad but I remember it was something like 'I wash and wash but I'm unable to look like a noble(man): white'. This one is one of their last ads before they stopped advertising on TV (using the black man at least).
posted by Memo at 10:09 AM on October 14, 2009

This is the most amazing thing I have ever seen a bank use as advertising. I forget which bank & exactly where, but it's on SW 6th in the Pioneer Square-or-slightly-north area of Portland.
posted by opossumnus at 10:12 AM on October 14, 2009

McDonalds targets African Americans pretty heavily. I wouldn't call their targeted ads overtly racist, but they definitely trade in stereotypes. 365 Black is a good example of this (Bonus: Keith Sweat singing a love song about Chicken McNuggets).

Kiss My Black Ads has some good examples of targeted ads, some of which may or may not be racist.
posted by electroboy at 10:27 AM on October 14, 2009

I was going to say the KFC "grilled" commercial with the kung-fu Asian dudes, but it looks like Racialicious has got it covered.
posted by orme at 10:28 AM on October 14, 2009

Oh right, and then there's this:
Three national DJs will battle it out online at McDonald's 365Black.com from September 7 through November 22, giving consumers an opportunity to vote for the DJs' old school, new school and R&B mixes at the web site, and a chance to win big prizes.

The DJs each will represent a McDonald's famous burger: Los Angeles-based DJ Spinderella, of legendary 80's hip-hop fame, represents the Big Mac(TM); Bryan Michael Cox, a Grammy Award-winning songwriter and producer out of Houston and Atlanta, represents the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese(TM); and Miami-based DJ Irie, the only official DJ for the pro-basketball team Miami Heat and the official DJ for actor and R&B artist Jamie Foxx, represents the newest burger, the Angus Third Pounder(TM)
...which is just bizarre.
posted by electroboy at 10:30 AM on October 14, 2009

Ah, here's the example I was thinking of. I hesitate to call it overtly racist, just sort of tone deaf and out of touch.
posted by electroboy at 10:44 AM on October 14, 2009

Also, the Spike Lee-produced Drop Squad parodied the targeted ad pretty effectively.
posted by electroboy at 10:53 AM on October 14, 2009

Dolmio pasta sauce adverts in the UK have racist portrayals (played out by puppets) of Italians. Had trouble finding them as most of the ones on youtube have been redubbed to be 'funny'.
posted by slimepuppy at 11:07 AM on October 14, 2009

Ah yes, I forgot when I was traveling in Argentina that I many a time had to explain that products like Blancaflor would not be acceptable in the United States. No one could understand why.
posted by cloeburner at 11:08 AM on October 14, 2009

Hey Memo, is that guy speaking Portuguese in the Noble commercial?
posted by cloeburner at 11:18 AM on October 14, 2009

Not advertising, but a product/brand itself: when I lived in Taiwan in the mid-'80s, "Darkie" Toothpaste was readily available. The (English) name has since been changed to "Darlie."
posted by anthom at 12:08 PM on October 14, 2009

Spain has Conguitos, which have, in recent years, been made very slightly less offensive. IIRC the former version (70s-80s) had the mascot posing in front of a grass hut and holding an enormous spear.
posted by elizardbits at 1:54 PM on October 14, 2009

I did work for a brand name company a few years ago that sent out a mailer showing a couple kissing. They lightened the skin tone of one person in the picture by a huge amount. But resellers refused to distribute the mailer. All of the resellers who refused were in the same US geographic region. Every last one of them said, "Not that I have a problem with it! But I can't send that out to my customers. You don't understand...you're up in Canada." Same story from ever reseller who refused.

The company refused to change the ad. The resellers were furious.

I had mixed feelings. The only reason the company was sending out the ad was because they saw it as provocative and explosive. I saw that as exploitation. On the other hand, I didn't think it was ethical for resellers to refuse to use the ad. I was pretty disgusted with the whole matter.

The Moolatte debaucle is interesting. I had #1 position in Google for moolatte for ages and I think that was a problem for somebody, given the questions I raised.
posted by acoutu at 2:17 PM on October 14, 2009

cloeburner: "Hey Memo, is that guy speaking Portuguese in the Noble commercial?"

Spanish, with a heavy portuguese accent.
posted by Memo at 2:26 PM on October 14, 2009

A 2000 ad for nPower was racist against redhead/Irish people. I can see you there laughing! But seriously, callousness like this can be really painful to a redheaded kid trying to fit into the world.
posted by cda at 2:36 PM on October 14, 2009

from today, white models in black face for French Vogue
posted by caddis at 2:45 PM on October 14, 2009

The McDonalds ads are a good start. The "white" adds tend to be at least a touch multicultural, whereas the "black" ads feature only black people, which has always struck me as odd.

A friend of mine who worked as a copywriter for a grocery chain in Chicago explained that the circulars included in the Sunday paper were radically different for upper class, predominantly white neighborhoods than poorer, largely black neighborhoods. In the circular distributed in the north suburbs, the fliers would heavily feature steaks and other expensive cuts of meat, while, for example, fliers on the south side would stress cheaper food at volume, usually chicken thighs and legs.

Not sure if you'd consider that racist, classist, or marketing research.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:07 PM on October 14, 2009

There's a tourism commercial for Myrtle Beach on tv these days that only has white people in it.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:19 PM on October 14, 2009

Oh, man, I have actually tried to find this particular example online before and was SHOCKED when I couldn't, because I thought there'd be a ton of "wtf" comments, but in the past five or ten years there was this series of Sprite ads that used a black racial caricature doll named Miles Thirst as a mascot to appeal to the "hip hop" crowd. Most of those commercials made me think, "Is this an example of covert-but-malicious-intent racism, or well-intentioned-effort-from-someone-who's-clueless racism?" There was one commercial in particular, though, that I can no longer remember that made my jaw drop and I thought okay, that's just asshole-racist. I've never been able to find a clip of it online, just one or two of the others.

But, more recently a Sprite ad was banned in Germany (NSFW) because it featured a white woman giving oral sex to a black man and getting sprayed in the face with Sprite in lieu of semen. Whether this is actually racist is up to you; some people feel that white-woman-with-black-man is fetishistic or has all these twists on power balance and plays on racial fears all that, but others (I'm tentatively in this camp) feel that interracial relationships exist and there's nothing wrong with showing them in a commercial and that's NOT why it's a horrible commercial anyway. I rather feel that if a company is going to make commercials that are degrading to women then they may as well be multicultural, but hey.

Sprite is a real gem, isn't it?
posted by Nattie at 4:54 PM on October 14, 2009

Correction: that "Sprite" ad wasn't really used by Sprite, let alone banned; it was done on spec by an ad company that was probably just out for the publicity--the soft drink company had nothing to do with it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:45 PM on October 15, 2009

Just remembered - it's twenty or so years old now, but the Kia-Ora 'too orangey for crows' would never get on TV today.
posted by mippy at 4:40 AM on October 16, 2009

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