CLOSE-UP PERSPECTIVE: O&M’s Half Monty only muddles the bigger race issue

Is Ogilvy & Mather racist? After it went the full monty with its Ford dealer commercial - or, as one viewer has claimed, the four-sixths monty for not casting a black stripper - the agency is charged with the crime.

Is Ogilvy & Mather racist? After it went the full monty with its

Ford dealer commercial - or, as one viewer has claimed, the four-sixths

monty for not casting a black stripper - the agency is charged with the

crime.



Several other accusations have been levelled at O&M over the past two

years. First, underestimation of the sensitivities of its former client,

Guinness, for an ad that ran in FHM depicting a sadomasochistic Tory

supporter hanging from a ceiling.



Second, underestimation of the potential reaction to another Guinness ad

which showed a two-headed fish alongside a quote that nuclear power was

safe. Third, racism, following the blunder in 1996 in which white faces

were superimposed on black ones in a Ford promotional brochure.



Fourth, as of last week, racism again.



Of all the accusations, the least justified is that of racism for the

Full Monty spoof. The ad received one complaint which went straight to

the car maker (rather than to the Independent Television Commission or

the agency, as is usual) suggesting that the complainant is likely to be

a competitor dealer who spotted the opportunity for some mayhem.



Ford’s insistence that the ad be pulled probably owes more to its

history of sensitive industrial relations in the context of race than to

this single complaint. Like many UK companies it fears it will be

accused of racism by even addressing the issue. However, it could have

pointed to ample evidence of balanced casting which shows it puts other

advertisers to shame in this area. First, two ads in the Fiesta

’features’ campaign: one showing a pair of black identical twins, the

other an elderly Asian man. Second, one of the Escort ’what do you do in

yours?’ series featuring a black photographer zooming around in her

Escort. Hardly a case for ’racial awareness courses’ for O&M staff as

Ford has loftily decreed.



However, most advertising is not without fault in this area. Has much

changed since 1994 when Saatchi & Saatchi created a test commercial for

the Commission for Racial Equality whose gist was, ’According to

advertisers, black people don’t eat, sleep, drink, shave, read, drive or

do anything at all’? True, Asian faces can advertise soft drinks - but

only within the setting of a corner shop (Snapple) or a Bollywood film

(Oasis). A family of Asian scousers can recommend Homepride curry sauce

- but only in strong regional accents.



In Britain minorities comprise just over 5 per cent of the population

and the British ethnic community is forecast to double to six million

within the next 30 years. But would big clients happily cast these faces

in commercials for a bank, a major food retailer or a lager? I doubt

it.



Stefano Hatfield’s column has moved to page 51.