Tesco has defended its decision to cut a black couple out of a recent ad for its "Food love stories" campaign, which caused a backlash on social media.
Model and actress Vanessa Vanderpuye posted on Instagram Stories yesterday that she had been cut from a scene that she filmed for a Tesco commercial. An image of the scene [pictured, above], which journalist Nadine White posted on Twitter, features Vanderpuye and co-star Ezekiel Ewulo playing a couple.
Vanderpuye said on Instagram that she was disappointed that the supermarket had cut the scene without telling her or her agent ahead of time: “For me it was disappointing because in my heart I know why they cut us from the commercial, which is so sad.
“I’m always the token black girl and I always have a white husband… So to be casted as a dark skinned couple for the new Tesco commercial, I was so excited because I’ve never seen that before on UK TV screens.”
Vanderpuye also claimed that there had been conversation in the casting room about her afro hairstyle.
The scene was from an ad in Tesco’s ongoing “Food love stories” campaign that was released in October, not its Christmas commercial, as some Twitter users assumed. The work was created by Tesco's ad agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty London.
Campaign understands that the scene was cut to better fit the ad’s storyline and the decision was not influenced by the race or backgrounds of the actors.
A Tesco spokesperson said: “At Tesco, we believe that diversity in our business makes us stronger and our advertising campaigns are designed to represent everyone, showing the breadth of the communities and customers we serve.
"Our ‘Food love stories’ campaign has featured many stories from people of all backgrounds. We were sorry to hear that Vanessa was unhappy with the way our advert was edited, and we immediately reached out to her to explain the reasons and process behind the decision.”
Tesco has a history of featuring diverse casts in its advertising. In its "Food love stories" campaign specifically, 16% of stories have a black lead and 19% feature black characters, while 26% of the ads have BAME leads and 34% feature BAME characters.
Tesco's most recent Christmas campaign has a diverse cast, and in September, an ad for its Clubcard loyalty programme starred a black woman with an afro. A Tesco Mobile campaign released in July also featured a black family.
Earlier this year the supermarket also received racist abuse for a “Food love stories” ad about a Muslim family celebrating Ramadan.
The Tesco situation comes in the same week that Sainsbury’s faced racist comments online about its Christmas ad, “Gravy song”, featuring a black family. In her Instagram post, Vanderpuye praised the Sainsbury’s ad “because it just features a black family which we never really see”.
Sainsbury’s responded to the online abuse by saying: “We are proud that our advertising represents the diverse communities we serve, and this year’s Christmas campaign simply reflects three stories of three different families celebrating Christmas in their own way.
"Sainsbury’s is for everyone, and it’s important our advertising reflects this. The negative response of a vocal minority won’t stop us from representing modern Britain.”
However, despite the increased diversity of recent ad campaigns, Vanderpuye’s criticism of her experience with casting highlights some of the thorny issues that advertisers still face in their efforts to improve the representation of diverse populations.
As Campaign revealed in a piece about casting in September, some industry leaders and casting directors say advertising is still often guilty of tokenism, reinforcing stereotypes or pigeonholing people, despite a greater diversity of casts.
Vanderpuye’s observation that she is often cast as part of a mixed-race couple or that her hair wasn’t previously accepted on screen is an example of this.
Bayo Furlong, co-director of The Eye Casting, told Campaign at the time, highlighting the narrow view of some casting decisions: “When was the last time we saw a brief that didn’t have a mixed-race couple in it?”
Furlong said that it is imperative that brands and agencies ensure there is diversity behind the camera, not just on screen – a criticism that some social-media users have levelled at Sainsbury’s and other retailers despite the diversity of their Christmas ads.
“There are definitely more [diverse] people in front of the camera, but that hasn't necessarily changed behind the camera. You can make it look as if you’re doing proper change but it’s not proper change unless it goes through the whole industry,” Furlong said.