I know this is trivial. You can just consider this post a rant if you want. It may not even be racism, but it is offensive nonetheless. I can’t believe an agency like JWT would stoop this low to produce such cheap humor.
0:15 minute of the ad is what I find tasteless.
I mean… where’s the humor? That the guy who’s supposed to be a Nepali was so stupid that he didn’t even know Nepal’s not playing in the cricket World Cup?
Anyway, here is the gist of the campaign - Frito-Lay India Pvt. Ltd. has just launched their new commercial this month entitled “Kaun jeetega World Cup”. Six new flavours were launched - India, Sri Lanka, West Indies, Australia, England and South Africa.
Australia’s Herb ‘n’ Lime
South Africa’s Peri Peri Sauce
Sri Lanka’s Sweet Onion Sauce
England’s Grilled Cheese
West Indies’ Hot & Sweet Chilli
India’s Magic Masala
Pepsico launches six new Lay's flavours for the ICC World Cup
"We are the global snacks partner with the ICC World Cup in 2011. That's why we are building on this relationship. As a global snacks partner, we are leveraging the association to give consumer experiences and build our brand image," Pepsico Foods India Marketing Director Vidur Vyas told reporters.
The TVC script followed the usual routine without straying from the branding - Cast your brand ambassadors together, introduce the six new flavors, add elements of surprise, play the patriotic card, and so on and so forth. I have no issue with the ad, except for the one part mentioned above.
So everybody started shouting the names of different countries they support for the World Cup (which you realize later is actually the names of the flavors). And then one guy shouted Nepal, to which another person from the crowd slapped him and told him Nepal is not playing in the World Cup, in a very condescending tone.
I noticed it right then the dissimilarity in flow. The guy who shouted Nepal had mongoloid features, hence anybody would immediately assume he’s a Nepali. So I guess people of different nationalities were rooting for their respective countries. But the others who shouted England, etc do not look like people from such places at all. In fact they were all Indians.
In advertising, to make it easier and simple for people to understand, we usually feature stereotypes in our ads. This is definitely the part of my job I am not that proud of. When we do that, we are treading on very thin ice, especially when it comes to cultural identification in such a diverse country as India.
So many questions came up from the above incident alone. Why couldn’t it be somebody with an “Indian face” who shouted “Nepal”? Why did it have to be Nepal? Why couldn’t it be foreigners who were cheering for England etc?
And the most important question of all – why include that part in the first place? What did it achieve? It humiliated the guy and made him look stupid so that we could all laugh at him? The same way we always laugh at people with mongoloid features and call them watchmen, kanchha, momo? Humiliating people of Mongoloid origin is not something new even today.
And here’s one of the biggest misconceptions about Nepal. So many of them do not have mongoloid features at all. Nepal is a beautiful country, rich in culture and diversity. You will not be able to differentiate between many of them and “typical Indians” who are of the Aryan-Dravidian stock. But in many of the North Eastern states like Mizoram, Nagaland etc, the majority are of the Mongoloid stock. They are all Indians, but ironically, they’re the ones called Nepalis by others. If you’re from the NE, you would have definitely heard your fair share of crude “watchman jokes”.
See, I am not trying to stir up a worm’s nest or open a can of hornets here… whateva. I’m not going on a protest or hunger strike protesting this ad. I’m just trying to see it from a different perspective here, the way someone who is not from Nepal or the North East would see it. But if you’re from those places and you see this ad, those are the first thoughts that come flashing through your head. Not a very pleasant sight indeed.
Working in an ad agency, I know we have to do a lot of stuff we don’t particularly enjoy doing. For example, suppose you strongly believe that people should not be discriminated based on their skin color, and then comes along a cosmetic brand with pockets full of money. No matter which concept you give, the client will still want a concept that talks about how “being fair” is more beautiful than being dark-skinned.
Even if you refuse to touch the account due to your strong beliefs and principles, there will always be many others who are willing to take over and leave you behind in this dog-eat-dog world. One thing I have learnt from working in an agency – it is not for the meek at heart.
Don Draper from Mad Men puts this across beautifully. Season 4 Episode 9 – One of their main clients is Filmore Auto Parts. America at that time was still recovering from its dark history of discrimination. When Peggy and the others handling the account learnt that Filmore Auto Parts does not hire colored people, they approached their Creative Director Don Draper asking him why they are doing business with a racist company.
Don Draper replied, “Our job is to make men like Fillmore Auto, not Fillmore Auto like colored people.”
Likewise, maybe it’s not JWT’s fault that the ad came out like this. Maybe it was the client who insisted on using that person to ridicule. Maybe it was just an innocent mistake – that they wanted to ridicule somebody but unfortunately that person happened to be somebody who had already been ridiculed almost every day of his life.
As an agency, where exactly do we draw the line when it comes to stereotypes? Yesterday it was about people with darker complexion and Sardarjis. Today it is about people with small eyes. Tomorrow… who knows? Of course if you ask the people involved, it usually leads nowhere -
Ask the ad agency why they are using such stereotypes and they will probably reply, “Look boss, I too want to change the mindset of the people and move away from all this stereotype bull$hit, but it is the client who wants it like this and there’s nothing we can do. If we don’t do it, he doesn’t pay us. It’s as simple as that. I’m sorry.”
Ask the client why he insists on this, and he will probably say, “You know how that hurts me too. But from our marketing research, that’s what people want to see. How can I show something that does not appeal to the people. If they don’t like it, they don’t buy my product. It’s as simple as that. I’m sorry.”
Ask the people why they want to see that, and they will probably reply, “Hey don’t blame us for having such a biased perception about people. It’s because of all those damn advertising agencies that keep feeding us with such nonsense.”
Ah… see? It leads to a three-way “chicken or egg” rhetorical circle, with no one knowing who lit the first spark. I’m just wondering how much further we will go before all this blows over. Rather than play the blame game, maybe it’s high time we draw a line somewhere. I don’t know how, I don’t know where.
Anyway, racial discrimination or not, this ad still makes me pretty uncomfortable and it is my prerogative to change the channels whenever this ad comes on. This action seems to be the only solution for now.
I’m ending this post with two beautiful music videos I came across yesterday –
One is called North East Star. It’s like the North East India version of an “Incredible India” ad. Awesome it is.
The other is called “Silent National Anthem” by Mudra. This is freaking amazing! Kudos Mudra. (Plus it sure feels good as hell to know one of my friends was one of the main brains behind this idea!)
Have a great weekend.