So there are these two commercials I’ve seen where the black guy saves the day with tech solutions.  There’s this one from TimeWarner Business Class cloud services:

The other one is a logistics commercial, UPS, I believe.  A bunch of people, mostly men in white shirts and ties, along with a woman, are sitting in a meeting realizing that there will be a problem if a customer’s shoes are delivered when she’s not there to receive them.  What to do? None of them know. But then the camera flashes to an black guy, his shirt darker, also in a tie and with glasses and large afro.  You can tell he’s not in the meeting because he’s, literally, not at the table.  Could he be from the mailroom?  An IT guy?  We don’t know.  All we know is that he shares what to him is an obvious solution to the group’s problem: “Just use ______ [Again, I’m not sure of the company].”  Everyone looks around and agrees that’s a great solution.  End of spot.

The question is: Who are these two black guys who’ve been brought in to save the day?  It’s interesting to me because of how both are used. Of course, there are black pitchmen: Think of Allstate’s use of Dennis Haysbert.  But here, the black guys are used to visually contrast the befuddled “traditionalists”. They’re meant to visually signal outside-the-box thinking: First, they don’t look like, at as far as uniform, any of the other meeting participants.  And in both cases, I think the spots’ creators trade on notion of “black cool” (hat tip to Rebecca Walker) because these technology solutions are made to look incredibly easy to implement. The message: The brotha ain’t stressed, so no need for you to be either.

It’s an interesting use of race as a visual shorthand for positive business solutions.

I wonder if this guy will show up in other places.  Let me know if you spot him.

Posted by Rob Fields

  • Anna

    Funny, that you mention it. I noticed this, but not with as nice an overtone. There’s a cell phone commercial where a white woman is narrating about prices of tiers, plas, etc. and then the spot closes with her saying, “and I know a good deal when I see one,” over her shoulder, as she walks off with her black husband…I froze when I saw that. I was not sure how it was to be “read.” I saw this one after the mailroom guy/conference table crew spot you reference above. This is definitely not the Magical Negro, nor the hyper kinetic supercool badass, it’s like a Black Rocker dude, geek cool, like skateboard geek, Black Kids On Bikes dude. He needs a shorter name. Ideas?

    • Perhaps these commercials are beginning to reflect the world as known to Millennials who, as we know, have much more liberal views (in some regards) to issues of race, gender and sexuality.

  • Just had a thought. What would be your response if Apple did another Mac v. PC campaign, but used Key & Peele?

    • Oh, it would definitely be interesting to see the two of them do the Apple commercial. It would, I think, bring an entirely different look, feel and tone. Also, I think Apple would have to pick a new fight since the Mac/PC war is over (didn’t Macs win that one?). Now, it’d be more Apple vs Android.