Okay, so is this a fatal mistake?  Not really.

It’s just dumb.

Oh, fuck it.  This calls for Angry Black Man mode.

If you’re wondering how something like this happened, I’ll tell you.  Because those lily white, running-to-catch-the Hamptons-Jitney crowd at McCann don’t have one fucking clue about anyone who doesn’t look like them.  Sadly, I don’t think really give a fuck.

I mean, it’s 2007 for crissakes!  You mean to tell me that no one had an iota of an inkling that this ad was leveraging some tired stereotypes?  Such as:

  1. White guy=in charge manager
  2. Black guys=physical specimens signifying performance at this beck and call

My wife saw the ad and said, “Looks like a slave ship.”

And, what, there aren’t any white sprinters?

If there was ever an indication that the industry has a diversity
problem, this is it.  Any company supposedly committed to diversity
should have a workforce that mirrors to country its work is supposed to
engage.  Not because it’s the politically correct thing to do, but
because the marketplace has fragmented into niches that self-organize
around needs, interest, lifestyles, even among one ethnicity.  Which
means that agencies like McCann need to have people from these various
constituencies around, because it helps everyone become sensitized to
the multiple meanings that images can carry.

So is it really any surprise, though, that an ad like this slips out,
when Madison Avenue is basically reminiscing about the good ol’ days as
portrayed in “Mad Men” (here and here)?

Yeah, it’s 2007.  But, in general, white people are ill-equipped to
talk about, let alone deal with, issues of race.  And when they do,
they tend to do a piss-poor job of it.  So, issues of race come up and
you get two reactions:

  1. Ignore it/Don’t say anything
  2. Talk about how you really understand racial issues because of all the
    so-called diversity in your family.  I was in a meeting once where a
    one woman said, “My family’s Croatian, Romanian and Greek.”  As if that
    gave her bona fides.  I’m sitting there thinking, “Bitch, nobody sees
    anything but a white girl.”

Which brings me to the core issue: White privilege.  You muthafuckas
are, for the most part, blissfully unaware of the assumptions you make
about people and situations, particularly those involving race.  And
even if you were, I seriously doubt you’d deal with them honestly.
These assumptions certainly play out during the hiring process.  I
know, because I’ve been on the receiving end of them.

The growth in the industry will really come when agencies learn how to
better serve this browning country of ours.  The first step will be to
learn to recognize tired, 20th century notions.

After all, “Brown is the new White.”

Hat tip to Piers at PSFK and the crew at AgencySpy for bringing this to my attention.

Posted by Rob Fields

  • May

    While I agree that this ad is completely fucked up, it looks like all of the sprinters are black only because they just used one model. Goes to show that saving a buck or two sometimes is so not worth it.

  • You are right, next time the should only use one black person in their ad to every 13 white people. Did you ever stop to ask yourself that the reason why you find racism in this ad is because you are a racist?
    Since you are already under the assumption that I am not honest because I am white, feel free to use me as an example of the white “muthafuckas” that you hate. Have a nice day.

  • Bill, your being reductive doesn’t change the facts: It was a dumb mistake, and it happened because there’s ZERO sensitivity to how anyone but a small group of insiders would view the ad. And there’s a lack of sensitivity because the industry, by and large, only pays lip service to the issue of diversity and staffing that better reflects the diversity of the many publics it has to engage on behalf of its clients.
    And let’s be clear: I don’t hate you or anyone for that matter. In fact, I don’t even know you. However, I do have a level of frustration at whoever created dumb shit like this. I mean, it IS 2007, isn’t it? Why are should I have to be faced with something like this? Particularly from an industry that traffics in creating meaning through images?
    You might begin by asking yourself why you’re so unwilling to consider my POV. The ad DOES trade on certain stereotypes. Your acknowledging it doesn’t change it. I saw something, as did other people. Because YOU don’t see anything wrong with it, does that make us wrong?
    Because this country really doesn’t like to talk about race and diversity issue, there will be many more uncomfortable– painful,even–discussions. But they’re necessary, even if they’re said in a way that people like you find difficult to hear. They’re necessary because this wonderful country of ours has a long way to go to live up to the ideals it espouses.

  • Thank you for responding to me with a level head and a higher amount of respect than you conveyed in your post. I don’t believe our country has as long of a way to go as you think. Just like your post was not focus grouped for white people the intel ad was probably not focus grouped for black people. But every ad does not have to be sensitive and focused to the largest amount of people. I’m sure if intel was publishing an ad in a predominately black customer publication they would have used a different approach.
    I think it is a shame that we must cater to different races so as not to offend. The best way would be to cater to a group that we all belong to, Americans (for those of us that live in America.) We were divided in our past and I believe we (Americans) have made huge strives forward in race relations, where we have failed is to reverse course. Personally I see more racism coming from other than white races than I ever see from white people. I know in the past it was the other way around, however I truly believe that as white people improved, other races moved in declared some sort of moral authority, declared that they could not be racists because of the past, and became racists themselves. I really hope we can all agree that their are racists in all races and we can simple marginalize that small minority of racists and those of us that are able to leave the past where it belongs (in the past) can move on and see each other for our strengths instead of our weaknesses.
    I personally do not see the racism you see in this ad, kind of like I suspect you do not see racism in the fact that there are more blacks playing in the NBA than whites. I see nothing wrong with what some people might see as inequality in the NBA. I enjoy seeing the best players, if the majority of those better players are black then great, it doesn’t make it racism.

  • There’s some insight: People of color are sooo much more racist than white people. Riiiight. . .
    No, we can’t agree that there are racists in all races. The definition of a racist is someone who’s in a position to make policy that affects large swaths of a given population. Bigots, yes. But not all of us get to be racists.
    What’s really sad here is that you’ve used every comment as an opportunity to deny the validity of my response and reaction to this ad. We will not be able to move the discussion forward because you’re steady trying to convince me that I’m wrong. Are you aware that this is a typical white response? “There’s no way this could be true! And I see racism from all people.” Spare me.
    Thanks for stopping by, but I think you should go back to things you more comfortable, and more capable of, talking about.

  • Does the root of racism lie in the eye of the beholder or in the intent of the speaker (advertiser)?
    Is someone who looks at this ad and sees nothing but an ad ignorantly racist or progressively colorblind?

  • Craig,
    Thanks for stopping by. To answer your question, I think that you have to revist the definition of communication. That is: sender + message + receiver. If any one of these elements fails, then there’s no communication. There’s a lot of writing about where the roots of racism lie. However, if bunch of people viewed the ad and saw something other than/in addition to what was intended, there’s a communications problem, one that stems, I think, from ignorance of the multiple meanings that images can hold.

  • Bob van Pelt

    “Looks like a slave ship” seems perfectly apt to me. This is not a dumb mistake, this is deliberate. At that level, everything is deliberate. It is perhaps simply trying to say “we are so above and beyond racism these days, and we are so color blind, we don’t even have to be sensitive anymore.” Wrong. You always have to be sensitive about issues of race, and encourage diversity in all its forms, forever. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. It needs major exposure.

  • Roberto Cea

    I’d be more concerned about the 3 head-on collisions this image really represents. Mediocre communication.

  • Mike

    I love an angry rant about stereotyping that includes broad stereotypes like:
    “You muthafuckas are, for the most part, blissfully unaware of the assumptions you make about people and situations, particularly those involving race.”
    Anyone seen Avenue Q?