Tangent: Microsoft apologizes for photoshopping out black man from its Poland advertising. Contrast with McDonald’s Japan “Mr James”
Posted by debito on October 28th, 2009
Hi Blog. Bit of a tangent but not really. Here’s what happens when another multinational apparently caters to “regional sensibilities” — this time Microsoft photoshopping out an African-American in one of its ads to cater to a Polish audience.
Contrast with “Mr James“. We see none of the cultural relativity that the whole McDonald’s Japan “Mr James” issue got (or even claims of “just-deserts” from certain parties). And Microsoft even apologizes — something McDonald’s Japan has steadfastly refused to do (and still runs the “Mr James” campaign to this day; fortunately it finishes shortly). Any theories behind the difference?
(One that comes to mind is that people are loath to criticize an apparently more esoteric and impenetrable culture, but I can poke holes in that one pretty easily — even the report below claims “Poland is ethnically homogeneous”.)
Arudou Debito in Sapporo
(site is now pay-only)
Microsoft Photoshops Out Diversity for Polish Ad, Sparking Race Controversy
The picture’s poor editing made the gaffe more embarrassing for Microsoft, since the white man’s head was simply perched atop the original African American’s body, with his distinctly black hand still intact.
Microsoft has already apologized and removed the offending photo, and a spokeswoman in Poland insisted that, “We are a multiracial company and there isn’t a chance any of us are racist,” according to The Times of London. She claimed that the photo’s editors had already left the company before the uproar arose.
While controversy often crops up when race meets Photoshop, other recent snafus have caught advertisers overplaying, not whitewashing, diversity. Researchers at Augsburg College found, Inside Higher Ed reported last year, that “more than 75 percent of colleges appeared to overrepresent black students in viewbooks,” sometimes with the help of Photoshop. Similarly, the official Toronto Fun Guide made headlines earlier this summer for itsdigitally diversified cover, which replaced a Latino father with a black man in a family picture, according to Allison Hanes of the Canadian paper National Post. Toronto officials insisted that it was an “inclusive” act, obeying a 2008 policy to “show diversity” in city publications.
These incidents fit into a larger movement toward “visual diversity” in advertising. By juxtaposing different racial groups in ads, advertisers hope to appeal to multiple audiences at once, MSNBC explained, while also “conveying a message that corporate America is not just ‘in touch,’ racially speaking, but inclusive.” According to Melanie Shreffler, editor of advertising newsletter Marketing to the Emerging Majorities, America’s shifting demographics dictate this trend. Shreffler told MSNBC that advertisers “aren’t turning out multicultural ads for the good of society,” but rather they “recognize there is money involved” in marketing to America’s rapidly expanding minority groups.
Microsoft’s blunder, rather than contradicting Shreffler’s analysis, may confirm it. Unlike America, where Microsoft displayed the multicultural photo intact, Poland is ethnically homogenous, with almost 97 percent of its people identifying as Polish, according to the C.I.A. World Factbook.
Although the company apologized, the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters insisted that the incident “raises the uncomfortable specter of a corporate culture that condones discriminatory practices.”
They are not the only ones to accuse the ad industry of a discriminatory culture, despite industry initiatives to promote diversity. The Madison Avenue Project, a collaboration launched earlier this year between the NAACP and civil rights law firm Mehri & Skalet, found that African Americans earn 20 percent less than whites in advertising, and that the gap between black and white employment in the ad industry is 38 percent greater than in the overall labor market.