Between the Lines: Race in ads is a tricky issue

There's a certain irony in the fact that while the ad industry is under pressure (and rightly so) to represent a diverse range of ethnic groups in its campaigns, the Advertising Standards Authority has criticised one advertiser for going too far the other way (page one).

The news that the insurance company Lifestyle Services has been forced to withdraw a leaflet featuring four black men in a police identity parade is a keen illustration of how the communications industry can still get it so wrong. The leaflet has been accused of implying that black men are criminals, and the ASA concurs. Lifestyle Services has since withdrawn all copies of the leaflet.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, it underlines the increasingly sensitive backdrop against which ads are judged. With religion, race and colour dominating the headlines and the political agenda, advertisers and agencies need to be more careful than ever about their portrayal of ethnic groups. The chances of offending someone appear to be increasing by the day.