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
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
Stefano Hatfield’s column has moved to page 51.