A new Chinese TV commercial that's lighting up the internet has been met with accusations of racism and cultural insensitivity. But it's only the latest instance in a long line of global advertising laced with racial microaggressions that highlight negative ethnic — and in some cases, gender — stereotypes.
The promotional spot running in China for a detergent brand shows a black worker first flirting with, then trying to kiss, a Chinese woman. But before contact is made, the woman places a detergent pod into the man's mouth and throws him into a washing machine before he reappears as a handsome Chinese man, much to the woman's delight. The commercial closes with the brand's catchphrase flashing across the screen: “Change starts with Qiaobi.”
Asia, and China in particular, has a long history of prejudicial portrayals of black people in media campaigns, as the Washington Post pointed out. But so does the U.S. and other parts of the world. And the racist treatment isn't reserved for black people: Latinos, Asians and Arabs are also routinely the subject of racist depictions in commercials.
And lest you think these kinds of ads are fading from the scene, think again — many examples come from the modern era. Here are five recent commercials where ad agencies and clients clearly missed racial sensitivity in production.
An ad for this PepsiCo soda brand was called "arguably the most racist commercial in history," but it's not just racially biased; it also mocks women who are victims of domestic violence. The commercial involves a police lineup consisting of five black men, a goat named "Felicia" and a bandaged woman on crutches being urged by a detective to ID her assailant. The commercial was pulled soon after its debut.
Ashton Kutcher's PopChips Commercial in Brownface
Ashton Kutcher played the ill-advised role of "Raj," the smiling, potato chip-loving character who spoke in a faux Indian accent in a TV ad for the PopChips brand. The ad was eventually pulled after a massive outcry from the Indian community, Time reported.
Volkswagen's Arab Terror
The German automobile manufacturer — still dealing with a long-term international emissions scandal — came under fire for a 2005 commercial that featured an apparent Arabic terrorist whose car bomb was rendered ineffective from VW's then-new compact car, which was being billed for its purported strength and durability.
Coca-Cola's White Saviors
The leading soda company probably needed some of its product to wash down the humble pie it had to eat after advocacy groups lambasted a 2013 commercial showing a group of young, do-gooder white people descending upon a Mexican town toting Cokes while they perform humanitarian work. They're eagerly greeted by local residents who appear very grateful for a drink of the soda, reported Vice News.
"This type of publicity is an act of discrimination and racism," lawyer Elvira Pablo said at the time. "It is a comment on our type of life and an attempt to put a culture of consumerism in its place."
Taco Bell's Chihuahua
Latino leaders called for a boycott of Taco Bell after the fast-food chain featuring Mexican-inspired eats adopted a Spanish-speaking Chihuahua as its mascot, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1998. "To equate a dog with an entire ethnic population is outrageous, despicable, demeaning and degrading," said Mario Obledo, president of the California Coalition of Hispanic Organizations.
Racist commercials will probably not end anytime soon, but there is potentially a silver lining here: If history is any indication, the Chinese detergent commercial will likely soon join the aforementioned five ads in advertising heaven — or hell, depending on who you ask.