Friday, July 29, 2011

Was it Racist or Just Plain Retarded? Of Douches and Dummies.

SENSITIVITY DISCLAIMER:
The title of this post is not meant in any way to offend my many mentally challenged readers, so please stop being such fags.

SENSITIVITY DISCLAIMER II:
The disclaimer above was not meant in any way to offend my many gay readers. I defer to Louis CK.

The trouble the Richards Group finds itself in over the "Hail to the V" campaign for Summer's Eve is mostly because of the stereotyping of Black and Hispanic women. References to spending time on their hair or leopard thongs have been deemed insensitive. For me, the campaign is just stupid. "We'll have hand puppets mimicking vaginas!" someone told the Summer's Eve people. "OK," said the Summer's Eve rep, "But make sure you have a Black puppet and a Hispanic puppet."

It's got to suck when your agency lands an account like Summer's Eve. Some poor copywriter in Dallas got handed a brief that read, "Make the product appealing to a broad range of women, with emphasis toward Blacks and Hispanics. Client prefers a fresh, humorous voice. Need a campaign title and corresponding microsite that expresses the power and pride of having a vagina." That poor copywriter was probably a white girl and she is probably not putting "Hail to the V" in her book. Any guys working on that account were teased at lunch by the other guys in the shop, "Hey, Alan. You working on the Summer's Eve account, right?" And the whole table explodes with laughter as they repeatedly call Alan a douche.

I think the stereotyping charge, while valid, clouds the broader problem that the whole approach was just off. This is not a product where humor really works. But as long as the issue is that one hand puppet is a Black stereotype and another is a Latina stereotype, let's talk about that. I used to do voiceover (and will still if anyone wants me to) and as far as I can tell, Richards used a Black woman and a Latina for the roles of the talking vagina puppets.

I've probably pointed this out here before, but when will the stereotyping of Italians stop in advertising? Seems every local pizza joint has a mama saying, "Eat, Eat!" or a mafioso wannabe threatening you with violence. Rarely are the actors playing these roles actually Italian. And how about those bad Irish accented ads around St. Pat's day? They all sound like leprechauns. Jamaicans can't catch a break in advertising either, with some dork doing his "mon" voice for an ad for a beach bar. But for whatever reason, those stereotypes persist and no one really gets alarmed.

I tuned in (online) briefly to a radio station where I was once employed. An ad for a Mexican restaurant was played featuring a very white man doing a very bad and over the top Mexican accent. I wondered who approved it and if the Mexican restaurant was really Mexican owned, because no Mexican should've approved that ad. Cajun accents are imitated badly all over the country in ads, and even a giant and successful chain like Outback Steakhouse insists on having their jingle singers overemphasize the Australian accent as they sing, "Leyts gaueau dayown to thee Owutbayck Stayeakhowyse nowyu!" People don't really  have accents when they sing, unless they're really trying to, like when those chumps Green Day try to pretend they're British punkers.

So when Richards hired the actors to play the roles of the vagina puppets, did the Black woman read her lines and say, "Seriously? You're going with 'spend time on your hair'?" She should have. Did the Hispanic actor tell the copywriter, "I think this leopard thong line is a little stereotyped, don't you?" She should've at least protested the "ayi-ayi-ayi" opening. According the the Atlanta Post,

"The jive-talking black hand depicting an African-American vagina did not sit too well with the feminine products market. Nor did the saucy misrepresentation of a Latina vagina."

Now Richards has pulled the ads and is busy doing damage control, insisting that the ads were not racist. They'll be fired soon by Summer's Eve, I would bet.

Richards took half a step in the right direction by at least using authentic voices, if not authentic words. I'm not Black or Hispanic, so my opinion as to the racism of this campaign doesn't and shouldn't apply. As High Jive at MultiCultClassics has repeatedly said in one form or another,

"When will the culturally clueless of the ad world realize that no one can decide for others whether or not something is racist? To declare that something is not racist demonstrates arrogance of the highest order. In fact, it often makes the person declaring something is not racist actually look like a racist."

The problem, HighJive has always pointed out (as did Larry Woodward in a recent piece) is that minorities are woefully underrepresented in decision making roles in the advertising industry. That's true, but still, you've got to be one stupid White decision maker to have approved what Richards did for Summer's Eve.

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