National tyre dealer Tyreright has pulled an ad after the Advertising Standards Boards ruled its representation of an Asian man “mocked and ridiculed” him.
In the ad, Tyreright’s brand spokesman, comedian Vince Sorrenti, explains the benefits of using Tyreright to an Asian man standing in front of what appears to be a rice field, who then asks in broken English if the process of fitting a tyre will take a ‘wong’ time.
While racism is still an ongoing issue in Australian business, the watchdog noted it had previously dismissed complaints made over ads that depicted characters speaking in strong accents, finding in two cases the use of accents had not amounted to racism.
But the ASB ruled the way in which Sorrenti repeats the word ‘wong’ back to the man, who is standing in front of two people wearing Asian field worker hats, amounted to ridicule and was discriminatory and vilified Asians.
A complaint to the ASB read: “I personally feel that this message, about getting $30 back if your tyres aren’t fitted in 30min, could have been conveyed without bringing down Asian people.
“There are many Asian-looking people, both from overseas and born in Australia, who can speak perfectly clearly, and making fun of those who are learning to speak a second language certainly doesn’t encourage those who are not confident with English to use, practice, and improve their language abilities.
“I could not believe in this day and age I was subjected to such obviously racist stereotyping.”
The ASB said the majority of the board had agreed community standards had evolved over time and considered most members of the community would find that the ‘joke’ of mocking an accent had worn thin.
Tyreright responded to the complaint, defending the ad: “It is never our intention to offend anyone. We would never want to alienate any of our potential customers.”
They stated that the talent in the ad, a man named Charlie, was not an actor but a ‘real’ person.
“We would not want to offend our friend Charlie who is one of the talent. Charlie speaks in ‘broken’ English, he did not ‘put on’ an accent and he is not offended.”
Tyreright has accepted the board’s finding, “even though there were only a few complaints against this Tyreright TVC, which can be countered by many positive reactions to the ad from members of the public who do not agree that any offense was intended.”
Advertising expert Michelle Gamble from Marketing Angels said as the Australian population diversifies culturally, advertisers have to be more careful.
“Australians are becoming more and more aware of the racial undertones in our society and I think it’s great the Advertising Standards Board is being responsive to complaints around this kind of thing,” said Gamble
“What’s happening now is that people are speaking up about it and taking action rather than tolerating it right across society, and within advertising, it’s just a reflection of what going on around us.”
Gamble said Tyreright may have potentially caused harm to and alienated a major part of their target market.
“It’s not worth the risk for companies like that.
“They’ve tried to use a cheap pun to attract attention to their advertising and it’s come back to bite them.”
Tyreright spokesperson Gregor Stone spoke to SmartCompany and said they certainly had not intended to offend anyone or promote stereotypes.
“We definitely did not want to vilify anybody,” said Stone.
He said while many people loved the ad, it was now three years old and the company was looking to create a fresh campaign.