Tangent: Microsoft apologizes for photoshopping out black man from its Poland advertising. Contrast with McDonald’s Japan “Mr James”


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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

Original source:


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Archived at http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/business/2009/aug/Microsoft-Photoshops-Out-Diversity-for-Polish-Ad–Sparking-Race-Controversy.html


Microsoft Photoshops Out Diversity for Polish Ad, Sparking Race Controversy

The Globe and Mail, August 27, 2009 06:00 PM
by Jill Marcellus
Microsoft has apologized for replacing a black man’s head with that of a white man in a promotional photo on its Polish Web site, but concerns linger over diversity in advertising.
Sitting together and smiling over the slogan, “Empower your people with the IT tools they need,” an Asian man, an African-American man and a white woman harmoniously appear in a promotional photo on Microsoft’s U.S. Web site. When that same trio smiled over a translated slogan on the company’s Polish Web site, however, the black man’s head had been digitally exchanged for a younger white man’s face, reported BBC News.
Visual courtesy

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.

Earlier this month, BMW’s advertiser sparked its own racially-driven controversy when it excluded “urban” radio, traditionally associated with African-American audiences, as a market for its Mini Cooper advertisements, findingDulcinea reported. “No urban dictates,” defined by The Washington Times as a policy “issued by companies who associate urban listeners with a lifestyle that they are trying to avoid,” have been banned by the Federal Communications Commission.

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.


9 comments on “Tangent: Microsoft apologizes for photoshopping out black man from its Poland advertising. Contrast with McDonald’s Japan “Mr James”

  • maguro in meguro says:

    The latest Mr James commercial I’ve seen shows him enjoying an onsen, with two older Japanese men seemingly enthusiastic about having a singing foreigner in their communal bath. Doesn’t that help spread a positive image of a multi-ethnic Japan?

  • Maybe by refusing to apologize for Mr James, McDonalds is arguing that minority stereotypes and racism are a prevalent part of Japanese culture. Next I’d like to see McDonalds create an advertisement with a Philippino Mr James trying to desperately land a work visa at McDonalds. I wonder what the Huffington Post would have to say about that commercial….

  • Not a surprising article.

    I was in Poland recently on business and was surprised at the homogeneity of the population, or maybe I was just so used to being the minority in Japan that the lack of diversity was more apparent. Either way the place seemed very white.

    Regarding Microsoft’s gaffe, we have to give them credit for apologizing. Of course this is unacceptable, but I do find it interesting that the black guy’s body is intact with the white head. I wonder if this was done by the local folks in Europe or in the U.S. I think this is a bit more blatant than what McDonalds has done but at least Microsoft is stepping up and taking responsibility.

    I have read a couple of articles recently about strides being made in the U.S. on pay equality among races, however the articles state the issue now seems to be more related to demographics and the concentrations of the black community in certain urban areas in the U.S. Some people are suggesting now other approaches than the traditional affirmitive action programs may now be more appropriate. I think the key now lies in promoting equality in education. Not sure but progress forward is always good. I will see if I can find the articles.

    By the way I did not see the latest McDonalds ads…has anyone noticed if they have changed in any way at all? Maybe due to comments received by McDonalds?

    I see Poland as a parallel to Japan as both places are homogeneous populations (generally) however Poland does not need to contend to the island mentality.

    — No it certainly can’t do that. It has been invaded from the north (Swedes), the south (Ottoman Turks), the west (Nazi Germany) and the East (Soviet Russia).

  • I think it is right to over represent ethnic minorities in promotional literature in order to demonstrate inclusiveness, I don’t think doing so creates a kind of moral hazard in the way that positive discrimination against individuals does.

  • Staying on the Microsoft theme… does anyone know why the announcer says “you sure it’s not the Chinese version” when she sees Windows 7 not running correctly?


    (the irony here obvious in that it’s running on a Japanese branded PC [Sony] probably assembled by a Taiwanese company [Quanta or Compal] in a Chinese factory utilizing a panel manufactured in Korea [Sony/Samsung Joint Venture] with touchscreen technology from Taiwan – and people still always think they are buying 日本製 if it says Sony or Toshiba or NEC…)

  • Currently, McDonald’s is running a contest calling for foreign residents to send in their photos to win a chance at 1,000 yen. The photo of the foreigner who most closely resembles Mr. James wins…

    Are they trying to actually find a way to deny the claims of stereotyping by showing that “Yes, gaijin really do look like Mr. James, so it’s not discriminatory”?…

    Anyone else see this yet? I for one, am not participating…

    The text from their website:


    撮影した画像をキャンペーンサイトへ送ると、10万円が当たるチャンス!また、ハガキの応募でも10万円ゲットできるチャンスがあるよ!総額1億円が、合計1000 名の方に当たります。



    — Or maybe the actor playing “Mr James” is sick of being a shill and they’re looking for a replacement? Naw.

  • I’d like to add to my above post that it’s not necessarily the foreigner who will win the prize- Japanese are encouraged to take photos of any foreigner that might qualify and submit them by email…

  • i didnt think this was too bad-but encouraging people to run around snapping pictures of foreigners who look like mr james and send them in is a bit too much.

  • I thought the Japanese took privacy seriously, didn’t google recently get admonished for snapping happy? I guess this new “initiative” from McDonads will be like the game pokemon Snap, except gaijins will replace the pokemon………………


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