Recently a Chinese advert made its way onto the Internet and was immediately labelled “The Most Racist Advert of all Time.” A bold claim, especially since the advert is a direct steal of an advert done in Italy in 2009, except that the preferred racial role has been swapped. Take a quick look.

Well, what did you think? Which is more racist? More importantly, what are you going to do about it? It’s the latter question that proves to be the most difficult to execute, especially in this scenario where the offender is thousands of miles away. After all, it’s so easy to complain, and it’s lots of fun, but when the rubber hits the road there isn’t a complainant in sight.

We live in an over-connected, over-nuanced and over-Photoshopped miniverse where many advertisers just don’t care if they cause offence, and worse, many consumers don’t care either. Late last year a company called 2Cheap Cars placed an ad on TV that could have been seen as racist as it featured a Pakeha (white) girl dressed in a Kapa Haka (Maori) outfit. The company stood by its viewpoint that the ad wasn't racist and didn’t budge when criticised. To be honest I don’t see it as racist. I find it offensive because it’s one of those mindless, bottom of the barrel types of ads, designed to aggravate and annoy to gain brand presence. Anyway, what do I know. Paul White, the “Marketing Expert at Auckland University” said 2Cheap Cars’ strategy was a well proven one, used by many advertisers (he refers to Harvey Norman) and if they wanted to do it then they can go right ahead.

Paul White’s statement is ludicrous, outdated and ignorant. Much of last century’s advertising towards woman was sexist beyond words. Does that mean that today’s advertisers should carry on following this outdated and moronic methodology or should they change the approach of their advertising? It looks like a bit of both. There are now far less adverts showing woman as vacuum cleaner lovers but heaps more of woman trying to shove huge hotdogs down their throats or flashing their underwear. So it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.

I’ve always felt that the advertising industry is very lax about governing their creative output. There isn’t really an industry body (except our own morality) that keeps us in check, regardless of where we advertise. And that brings me back to 2Cheap Cars. This weekend I was strolling along Tamaki Drive in Mission Bay when I heard one of their awful adverts blaring from the back of a truck. 2Cheap Cars have gone mobile and were blasting advertising messages from speakers mounted to the sides of a truck. Is that the best they could do to be heard? In the end, 2Cheap will most likely be spoken of in the same breath as a streaker at an All Blacks’ game. And that’s cool ‘cos that’s what they want.

So, which is the biggest sin in advertising? Some might say lack of originality or complaining too much on your blog but my experience in New Zealand is that Apathy is the biggest offender, followed by Sexism, Racism and then Blasphemy. The reason Apathy comes out on top is that no one gives a damn. Let me rephrase that, no one gives a damn about doing more than just shaking their heads and moaning on Social Media. Sexism comes second mostly because it’s easy to spot. Racism is a bit harder because it’s better disguised. Blasphemy is last because that whole thing is dying out, plus you’ll never know who’ll take offence at your message and how they’ll react to your blaspheming. The last thing any business needs is a delivery of anthrax in the mail.

The truth is that advertising is far too powerful, regardless of whether 2Cheap Cars or Vodafone or Greenpeace are doing it. Unfortunately, we as consumers, gave it all that power. Isn’t it time we took the power back?


What do you think of this image: ignorant, sexist, racist or blasphemous? I’d say it’s blasphemous, but I see the others too. What about you? Leave a note in the comments and we can discuss.