Ever since Cadburys Dairy Milk brought the world the drumming Gorilla, they have proved that they are not frightened of controversy. However, I’m sure that the reaction to their latest advert will have taken them, and their ad agency Fallon, by surprise.
The advert was first shown on British TV on the18th September 2009, and was designed to celebrate the brand’s commitment to Fair Trade. However, as described by the Independent the video: “features a giant, negroid rotating head that unleashes mass dancing among what appear to be highly excitable people in an African village.”
This led to very mixed reactions. Samples of these are captured on the comments page of Creative Review. The first few are largely positive, however as you scroll down the webpage, other perspectives begin to appear:
“It’s a shame they don’t show Ghana as a richer country. Africa does have cities with wealth. It’s not just poor rural areas. Still… nice advert, apart from the stereotypes. “
Marie Johnson – despite some dodgy spelling – breaks it down succulently:
“I really dislike this advert. Everytime it comes on I get angry. It’s very stereotypical and it is not at all enjoyable to watch from a Black British piont of view at all. What on earth is the piont of people bursting into dance just because of Cabury’s fair trade? I hate the image of an ‘Black’ face made up from a cocobean? It is not clever, cool or creative it’s just stupid, ulgy and piontless.”
She wasn’t alone. I have to admit that part of my motivation for starting this blog was to have a rant against the advert for it’s simplistic representations of African people and culture.
In the end, the Advertising Standards Authority received 29 complaints, but following an investigation, a spokesman dismissed these saying: “Although the council acknowledges that Cadbury had used stereotypes in their ads, they felt that the stereotypes were not harmful or offensive.”
The irony is I am sure that the people behind the production believed that – as stated by the Cadburys spokesman – the advert was a: “joyous and uplifting portrayal of Ghanaian culture and something which Ghanaians can feel proud of”
Others have pointed out that it was made with the full participation of Ghanaian artists and creative’s, so how could the negative backlash not have been predicted?
For me, it comes back to the issue of representation – or the lack of it within the UK advertising industry.
Let me just state for the record, I worked at Fallon a few years back and I loved it there. I also happen to think that they are one of the most creative agencies on the planet. And I’m sure that the people there now would be horrified at the idea that they had produced something that others would call racist.
But – and it’s a big but – like just about every other creative agency in town, when I was there, they were struggling to recruit from a more diverse talent pool.
To his credit, the head honcho Robert Senior acknowledged this at the time, and even set me up with a small team to help come up with creative ideas to address this issue. This is what led to my discovering Robin Wight’s Ideas Foundation, and I’ve been a Board member of that organisation ever since.
John Hegarty recently described the Ideas Foundation as Robin Wight’s best idea, stating that:
“This is about much more than just ethnic disadvantage: it’s about ethnic necessity. We can’t afford to waste any of the creative potential of British people”
I can’t help but wonder whether the creative potential of a more diverse range of British people would have produced a very different advert to promote Cadburys Fair Trade, and avoided the debacle in the first place.
Perhaps Robin is right – advertising really does need saving.