Earlier today we asked whether the new practice of releasing Super Bowl ad spots before the big game was a good PR move. Now further developments make the question seem even more relevant: multiple brands have already attracted accusations of racism based on these teasers.
First Volkswagen faced a racial insensitivity backlash for its “painfully white dude speaks with Jamaican accent, mon” spot:
Now Coke faces the same sort of outrage over its Mad Max-style “crazy desert race” ad, which happens to include some unfortunate footage of a stereotypical Arab man pulling a camel.
One thing is clear: both commercials revolve around generalizations–especially the first one. Reducing a complex and notoriously troubled nation like Jamaica down to a “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” vibe is a little misguided, even if your target audience is all tourists. Was this the agency’s intention? No. But that doesn’t really matter.
The Coke spot inspired Warren David, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, to ask “Why is it that Arabs are always shown as either oil-rich sheiks, terrorists, or belly dancers”? While the dude in the video didn’t look particularly rich, we can certainly see where he’s coming from.
Also: The Coke campaign asks viewers to vote to determine the winner of the race, but “The Arab” is not an option. He’s a character in the video but he can’t win! If there were a ballot we would write him in.
We don’t find these commercials to be particularly racist, and we certainly don’t expect the brands or agencies involved to change them before Sunday. But we do wonder whether they anticipated the backlash. For example, Arabs drink Coke too–and the brand just shot itself in the foot on their behalf.
Are they offensive? Not really. Are they good? We’ll get back to you on that one…