Advertising experts are warning businesses to think carefully about evoking potential stereotypes in their promotions after the advertising watchdog banned a radio advertisement from a Queensland concreting business that featured an Asian character named “Mr Ping Pong” because it was found to have mocked those of Asian descent.
Complainants said the radio spot depicted “negative stereotypes” of the Asian community, taking issue with the central character of the ad, a man who identifies himself as “Mr Ping Pong” and calls up the business requesting a repair job with the explanation that “Mama has bog in driveway”.
The representative from TP Concreting in the ad then responds by saying, “She did what?”, which the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) said implies the belief that the prospective client’s mother has gone to the toilet on the driveway.
In the ad, the man speaks with an Asian accent and offers sushi to the business in the course of the conversation.
The advertiser responded to the complaint with the assertion that the material was not racist in any way, pointing out the character speaks in English and the references to sushi are no different than mentioning “a Vegemite sandwich”.
When reviewing the ad, the ASB considered section 2.1 of the advertising standards code, which states “advertisements shall not portray or depict material in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual preference, religion, disability, mental illness or political belief”.
The case looked at a number of elements of the advertisement, including the character’s name, accent, offer of sushi and the explanation that “Mama has bog in driveway”.
After considering the elements of the ad as a whole, the majority of the board decided the ad was making fun of the difference between Western and Asian cultures and should be taken off air for breaching section 2.1 of the standards code.
TP Concreting has since taken the ad off the air, telling the ASB that it did not realise the material would be inappropriate. SmartCompany contacted the business for comment this morning but did not receive a response prior to publication.
“Anachronistic” ad had nothing to do with concreting, say experts
Advertising experts tell SmartCompany this case shows that in the current climate, ads that put a focus on racial features are quick to prompt customer complaints.
“It’s 2017, so the idea of creating comedy around mocking someone’s ethnicity is inappropriate, offensive and thoroughly anachronistic,” says Melbourne University academic and advertising expert Lauren Rosewarne.
Michelle Gamble from Marketing Angels agrees, and says one of the issues in this case is that there is no connection between the characters and the service being offered.
“It’s just bad advertising, because it doesn’t differentiate that business at all,” she says.
“I doubt they were even trying for shock, it was probably more being naive.”
While most advertisers now understand racial stereotyping is inappropriate to include in their materials, there are other stereotypes that might hurt a brand that pop up more often, says Gamble.
“As it relates to race, we’re moving away from these issues, but I think with gender, we still have a long way to go. Even talking about ‘busy working mums’, why aren’t we thinking about ‘busy working parents’?”
When it comes to ensuring advertisers don’t fall into the trap of releasing content that is unintentionally offensive, Gamble says the easiest and more cost-effective solution is to run it past as many people as possible before it gets released.
“You don’t have to pay for expensive focus groups, but you want to be able to [show it] to people from different ages and different backgrounds,” she says.