A sarcastic spoof on the Intel ad below
If you think the era of political correctness has taught advertisers to create campaigns that are more sensitive and intelligent, think again. They are still quite happy to play into fears and stereotypes associated with race. While political ads are notoriously racist – even in the current presidential election – ads promoting everything from cars to office equipment to breakfast cereal have been laced with negative overtones. And while some ads are sneakily suggestive, others are almost unbelievably shameless. Here’s a look at some of the most racist commercials and advertisements in recent years, along with some vintage clips that still shock people with their racist messages.
Keep in mind that these are just a small selection of the many racist ads that have shamefully been allowed to air. Because many of these ads are routinely taken down, some of your favorites might not be on the list. However, if you find any others that deserve mention, feel free to leave a comment.
1. VW Terrorist
One of the most racist commercials in recent history is particularly appalling. Volkswagon features an Arab terrorist in its ad campaign for the new Polo automobile. The terrorist attempts to be a suicide bomber at the scene of a busy restaurant, but his plan is thwarted because the Polo, despite being small, is just too strong for his bomb.
2. Harold Ford
You know those black boys – perennially immature sex hounds and nothing more. Always looking to show off flashy clothes, hang out with terrorists and score with blonde chicks. Don’t even get started on their porn addiction. At least, those are the racist stereotypes this Republican attack ad against Tennessee Senate hopeful Harold Ford blatantly portrays. All the actors in the film are white and attack Ford’s character, save for the one African-American woman…who only seems to care about Ford’s good looks. Most appalling is the young blonde woman talking about how she met Harold at the Playboy mansion – and she ends the attack ad by whispering in a sexy voice, “Harold, call me.” The ad caused a huge controversy for its none-too-subtle exploitation of miscegenation fears.
Unfortunately, the racist attacks on Harold Ford didn’t end there. In a classic game of attacking the victim, this Corker political ad tries to argue that voting for Harold Ford is inherently racist…because Harold Ford is crying about racism and that makes his campaign all about race, which is completely racist. What?
4. Willie Horton
Racist campaign ads are nothing new for the Republican party, however. The Grand Old Party had a grand old habit of playing on racial prejudice – and tying prevailing negative stereotypes of African-Americans directly to Democrats. In one of the most famous racist ads of all time, the Willie Horton ad of 1988 played into beliefs about African-American men being nothing more than dangerous criminals – and made Dukakis seem like the weak, acquiescent leader asleep at the wheel as black convicts were on the loose raping women. In reality Dukakis had nothing to do with the unfortunate lapse in prison management, but the ad successfully played into racist fears.
5. Helms’ Hands
In another racist ad from the Republican Party, Jesse Helms’ “Hands” ad depicts a victimized white man losing out on a job to an unqualified minority despite being the best man for the job. “You needed that job,” the voiceover states, implying that a white man has a family to provide for while ungrateful minorities help themselves to jobs thanks to the racist support of the federal government.
Unfortunately, politicians’ racist tactics haven’t disappeared since the Dukakis and Ford spectacles. Old habits seem to die hard. Currently, John McCain’s campaign is engaging in consistent, if rather subtle use of racist overtones. McCain’s ads depicting Obama as a frivolous celebrity along the likes asian stereotype ads for women's fashion of Paris Hilton or Britney Spears may not be overtly racist but clearly seek to diminish Obama as a serious political leader and presidential contender. (Both camps vehemently deny use of the “race card”, however.) What is clear is that the McCain campaign is actively trying to paint Obama as an upstart and an outsider who is not a true patriotic American. For example, in a recent ad showing Obama photoshopped on Mt. Rushmore, the dollar bill and the Statue of Liberty, the message is clear – Obama is not the typical, historical American leader. McCain’s ad suggests that Obama plans Photoshop his way into the White House. His camp insists the ad isn’t racist, but the pictures do convey a strong racial undertone.
A little history: in 2000, John McCain himself was a victim of a racial smear attack at the hands of Karl Rove. While McCain was touring with his adopted Bangladeshi daughter in South Carolina, Rove’s army engaged in a rumor campaign that implied the child was his illegitimate black offspring. It worked.
7. Emobile Japan
Racist, or not? This Japanese commercial depicting Barack Obama as a monkey (the guy can’t catch a break!) caused a recent furor. But the company says it has a tradition of depicting people as monkeys…making the American reaction ironically telling. Or is the ad racist after all?
8. Australian Beer Ad
Promoting “whale safe beer”, this utterly unnecessary racist ad not only minimizes the importance of marine conservation but relies on gratuitous violence and racial stereotyping to gets its message across. Guys, beer isn’t that hard to sell. Why not feature a hot chick like any normal beer ad? Blood, whales and mockery at the sushi joint seems like a bizarre – and hateful – way to promote beer.
9. Coloreria Italiana
Engadget famously called out Sony’s multi-vignette PSP campaign in 2006 as being clearly racist. The ads were promoting the new ceramic white PSP. The ads featured an aggressive, strong-looking white woman clawing, clutching and otherwise dominating a subordinate black woman. The campaign was universally panned as racist and Sony yanked the ads, apologizing for its lack of sensitivity.
11. South Oak Dodge
Still, there’s nothing so ridiculous as small-town racism. In this local car dealership ad, the Superman costume-wearing dealer warns against foreign import automobiles and demonstrates his ability to kick some Asian ass. That heavily accented Sumo wrestler and his fleet of foreign cars don’t stand a chance against American cars.
Sony isn’t the only tech company guilty of racist advertising. Intel launched a national campaign in 2007 that was almost unbelievable in its symbolism – but it was most definitely real. A white manager (master?) stands over six black athletes who bow in perfect symmetry before him. Though Intel claims 100% innocence, it’s baffling why the company’s advertising direction would include such powerful slave imagery.
13. Sales Genie
Sales Genie is guilty of several blatantly racist ads. Unfortunately, embedding has been disabled by one (you can still see it at Calacanis’ Mahalo). The above Super Bowl ad depicts a pair of pandas with overblown “Chinese” accents. Blogger Jeff Bercovici notes that the Sales Genie CEO Vin Gupta actually creates these intentionally tasteless ads.
14. Vintage Racism
One of the most racist ads dates back to the Beatnik era, and depicts a “savage” getting excited about a snack bar. The use of Native Americans and “red man” or “red skin” stereotypes in advertising continued well into recent times.
15. Racism Is Kool
This Kool-Aid ad offended many with the stereotypical hip-hop basketball-court vignette. Kool Aid is often referred to as “ghetto juice” and this ad played into the slur.
16. Lucky Charms
Food has served as a rich vein for racist advertising opportunities. During the 1800s, Irish Americans faced heavy social and labor discrimination. Commonly held stereotypes held that the Irish were greedy, selfish, superstitious, perverted and thieving. It’s unfortunate that a children’s cereal brand, the popular Lucky Charms, none-too-subtly plays into these outdated prejudices. This particular commercial is particularly cheery, but the Lucky Charms leprechaun character is in fact reinforcing racist stereotype.
Another vintage ad, this one for Jello, depicted a Chinese baby unable to properly pronounce “Jello”. At the time, no feathers were ruffled – cultural groups from Italians to Asians to Jews were fair game for television advertisements as late as the 1970s.
18. Drug Dealer Monster
This public service ad warning children about the dangers of drugs only serves to make black men out to be terrifying monsters. Sensitive viewers were understandably offended.
19. National Vanguard
Before disbanding in 2007, National Vanguard ran the following ad promoting the interests of an apparently suffering, marginalized white America. The ad promises to help white Americans find a “bright” future “for a change”.
20. Most Racist Moments on TV
Though the previous commercials and political ads are famous, racism pops up everywhere in television spots, ads, and commentary. This curated roundup shows some of the most casual – and egregious – examples of racism, including Imus’ famous “nappy headed hos” comment.
Fox News is another contender, with the recent Michelle Malkin “baby mama” debacle being just one example. In our 24/7 infotainment television era, the lines between advertising and journalism are becoming increasingly blurred.
21. The McDonald’s “Southern Style” Sandwich
McDonald’s created a Southern Style sandwich, which is really just fried chicken, and critics have panned the subtle racism. In one ad, which has been pulled, two African-American women rhapsodize about Grandma’s fried chicken and how much they just love Southern style chicken. After being called racist, McDonald’s stopped the ad and it’s mysteriously nowhere to be found online. Instead, it’s been replaced by a slightly less racist but really weird ad. And what the heck is “Southern Style” flavor anyway?
22. Black Toothpaste
This bizarre Asian commercial reminds viewers that “appearances can be deceiving”. A black man acts as a Good Samaritan before turning into black toothpaste. If you’re thinking, “Huh?” you’re not alone.
This offensive Whiskas ad was removed because it portrays an Asian woman as being stupid in comparison to her white boyfriend.
24. Rachael Ray
Is American’s sweetheart actually promoting terrorism? Dunkin’ Donuts recently ran an ad campaign in which the always-chipper Ray was wearing a paisley scarf. It didn’t take long for Michelle Malkin of Fox News to assert that the scarf was the traditional garb of Middle Eastern terrorists. Was Dunkin’ Donuts sending a message? Promoting terrorism? Speaking out against the President or perhaps the Iraq War? No. As it turns out, Ray’s fashion assistant simply thought the scarf was pretty. And in fact, the scarf is commonly warn by many people throughout many nations in Asia and the Middle East. Talk about a tempest in a teapot. Dunkin Donuts nevertheless removed the ad in order to still the ridiculous rumor mill.
25. Public Storage Knows Jews Are Cheap
For Your Consideration: Most Anti-Semitic Commercial Ever | Viral | SPIKE.com
This Public Storage ad reinforces the negative stereotype that Jewish people are cheap and stingy. In the ad, a Jewish woman complains about how everything used to be so much more affordable, and prices these days are just outrageous – but not at Public Storage!
26. Bonus: Racism in Advertising
This 6-minute indie critique examines how advertisers play into what different groups of people feel comfortable with and simultaneously try to maintain differences and direct group identification with and attraction to certain brands or values.
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