The advertising watchdog has upheld a complaint against a television commercial for Devondale milk, which it found vilified a man of Asian background and the Asian business community more generally.
The advertising campaign from Devondale attempted to show the chaos that results when “corporates” with no farming skills attempt to run an Australian dairy farm through a series of 60 second, 30 second and 15 second commercials.
The scenes were accompanied by a voiceover which said: “Some businesses have no business making your milk”.
But the Advertising Standards Bureau ruled one 15 second clip from the campaign featuring an Asian man attempting to herd cattle breached the advertising code by discriminating a section of the community based on race, after complainants told the board they were “disgusted” by the ad.
“I classify this as a racist ad,” said one complainant. “I’m disgusted. It needs to be taken off.”
“I believe this advertisement is very racist and demeaning to Asians,” said another.
“The advert dialogue and theatrics infer that Asian people can’t manage animals; therefore viewers should buy from Devondale as ‘they’ are ‘Aussies’. Pathetic.”
Devondale parent company Murray Goulburn rejected the suggestion the ads discriminate against or vilify a particular race, as the campaign as a whole featured actors with different ages, gender and appearance.
“The storyline light-heartedly portrays corporate executives as being less qualified to run a dairy farm and produce milk than dairy farmers,” Murray Goulburn told the ASB.
“We have consciously included both genders and diversity of appearance within the cast. We feel that the range of ages, genders and appearances is indicative of a typical Australian corporate environment.”
“All of the characters depicted in the campaign are equally incompetent at undertaking tasks around the dairy farm. Nowhere in the storyline, script or sentiment does the ad suggest that a particular race or gender is less capable of undertaking the tasks than other characters in the ad.”
But the ad standards board disagreed, saying the 15 second ad, which featured just one of the characters from the 60 second ad, fell short of community standards.
“The board considered that the longer version of the advertisement showed a diverse group of people in a humourous manner but in contrast the short version did not capture humour in the same way and was vilifying of the man and Asian business,” said the ASB.
“The advertisement delivers a negative suggestion that people of Asian background are not capable of, or should not be involved in farming and that the portrayal of the man in this way is demeaning.”
Dr Lauren Rosewarne, senior lecturer at Melbourne University and an advertising specialist, told SmartCompany the ad highlights the underrepresentation of people with Asian backgrounds on our TV screens, which “in no way reflects our population”.
“It’s all white-wash so any representation is probably helpful,” she says.
Rosewarne says it is highly likely there was no ill-intent on the part of Murray Goulburn.
“It’s complicated because, in context, the longer version probably wouldn’t have been perceived that way,” says Rosewarne.
“But on its own, and some people will see it in isolation, it does send a different message.”
Rosewarne says it is important for advertisers to consider how their ads will be perceived if they are shortened.
“We see this with a lot of ads that have a longer and shorter version, and the shorter versions don’t actually make sense.”
SmartCompany contacted Murray Goulburn but did not receive a response prior to publication. The dairy farms advertisements are no longer airing on Australian television.