Ad of the Day: People of Color Finally Get White Privilege on Demand With White Squad

MTV tackles race in an entertaining and pointed campaign

Thought provoking, exceptionally well executed and controversial, MTV's satirical "White Squad" is one of the best social-issues campaigns in recent memory.

Part of the cable network's broader "Look Different" anti-prejudice initiative, "White Squad," which broke on Wednesday, has already generated lots of attention in social and traditional media. It posits a Geek Squad-style team of chalk-hued, corporate-consultant types eager to assist people of color with stuff like hailing cabs, renting apartments and courtroom appearances.

"Is your skin color holding you back?" asks an eager, earnest, bespectacled white guy at the start of a 90-second commercial for the nonexistent service. "I'd like to tell you about a new solution to racial inequality: White Squad—professional white advantage services." The group's "carefully selected white representatives," we're told, will serve as "your stand-ins for life's racially unbalanced situations."

Scenes of grinning, non-threatening, fair-skinned Squad members "standing in" for non-whites are offset by a series of disturbing real-world stats: Whites have 20 percent more housing options, a 67 percent lower incarceration rate and receive 40 percent more private college scholarships.

This stuff is good, from the pitch-perfect line deliveries (never goofy or over the top) and open floor plan of the Squad's very vanilla office, right down to their ubiquitous black-on-white happy-face lapel pins.

The web experience offers plenty of tongue-in-cheek "informational" layers to explore. Under "Our Team," for example, we meet the pinstriped-suited "Middle-Aged White Male … Everything about his appearance says 'Credit Worthy,' and he'll ensure maximum advantage during any interactions with banking institutions. He's often given a better deal than he requests!"

Clicking the "Schedule appointment" button reveals the truth: The White Squad was created "to illustrate how white privilege works and how it impacts people's lives." There are many such conduits on the site, as well as on the 1-855-WHT-SQAD "help line," pointing users to MTV's "Look Different" hub for more information and resources. The MTV documentary White People, made by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and activist Jose Antonio Vargas, and airing on July 22, also gets a plug.

Party in New York developed the campaign. Evan SIlver and Howard Grandison directed the spot via production house Reform School.

Public reaction to "White Squad" has run the gamut. Many praise its cheeky approach while others blast MTV for creating a humorous springboard around such serious, divisive issues. Some have leveled charges of reverse racism (for picking on white people, I guess), and a few folks found the campaign so convincing, they wondered—fleetingly, one hopes—if the service was real.

As the site says, "White privilege is real. White Squad is fiction." Even so, it speaks uncomfortable truths in a highly entertaining fashion, sparking discussion and, hopefully, moving users to give some thought to matters many of us would just as soon ignore. The creative is never crass or condescending. Rather, it respects the intelligence of its audience, rewarding users' curiosity (and willingness to open their minds).

If "White Squad" cuts too close to the bone or provokes discomfort, that surely means it's having the desired effect.


Client: MTV

Agency: Party New York

Executive Creative Director: Masa Kawamura

Creative Director and Copywriter: Jamie Carreiro

Technical Director: Qanta Shimizu

Design Director and Programmer: Eiji Muroichi

Executive Producer: Jamie Nami Kim

Project Manager: Suzette Lee

Production Company: Reform School

Directors: Howard Grandison & Evan Silver

Executive Producer: Josh Greenberg

Line Producer: Aaron Rosenbloom

Director of Photography: Clint Byrne

Art Director: Nicole Heffron

Sound: Rob Corso

Editorial Company: Nomad Editing Co.

Editor: Tyler Peck

Assistant Editor: James Lee

Executive Producer: Tommy Murov

Post Producer: Weston Ver Steeg


@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.