Where are the measures to prevent advertisers creating racist content in the first place?, Newsline

Dr. Raeesah Chohan (Senior Lecturer of Marketing, UCT)

In the current Clicks-TRESemmé scandal, involving advertising agency “The Niche Guys” and their client Unilever, both parties used racist content in an advert on the Clicks website. The question most have asked is: “Who would approve of this?”

There are not one, nor two, but four established parties involved, namely: Clicks, TRESemmé, Unilever and The Niche Guys. Surely one individual involved in the entire process would have raised their concern about the campaign’s content?

It is hard to believe that all four parties involved in the scandal turned a blind eye to the Clicks-TRESemmé advert. That, or reputable brands and advertising agencies simply have not learnt from past offensive campaigns. H&M’s ‘monkey’ sweatshirt, D&G’s ‘eating pizza with chopsticks’, Dove’s black woman turning into a white woman and Volkswagen’s VW Golf adverts are cases in point. Following backlash, these brands apologise profusely, claiming to have “missed the mark”.

Advertising campaigns generally involve processes, with approval needed at various stages. A pressing concern in the advertising industry today is the vulnerable relationship between advertising agencies and their clients. Beneath the glitz and glamour of advertising campaigns lie a desperate need for better two-way communication, transparency and accountability.

Advertising campaigns should not only be about the agency winning awards or their client improving their return-on-investment. Now, more than ever, it is necessary for both parties to create advertising campaigns embodying respect for society at large, a celebration of cultural differences and encouraging goodwill.

In Jeff Orlowski’s documentary “The Social Dilemma” Silicon Valley whistleblowers express their deep concern about how artificial intelligence is used to spread hate through targeted advertising online. Facebook in particular has encouraged hate and disunity by pushing political agendas through the content users are exposed to. The power these advertising forces have to discourage goodwill are frightening, to say the least.

The United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) list racism as a serious offence: “Rule 4.1 states that marketing communications must not… cause serious or widespread offence… [and] special care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age.

Marketers should be aware of the potential to cause serious or widespread offence when referring to different races, cultures, nationalities or ethnic groups… even mild humour revolving around racial stereotypes has the potential to seriously offend. Marketers should therefore consider carefully the likely acceptability of their intended approach”.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa lists racism as “unethical behaviour” that can be reported. It is 2020 – today, simply reporting content as racist is not enough. Where are the measures in place to prevent advertisers creating racist content in the first place? Any current measures to prevent this have clearly not been effective; Clicks, an established brand which most South Africans have grown up with, still associated themselves with racist content.

It is with sincere hope that the relevant advertising bodies in South Africa will prioritise mandating revised requirements and rigorous training programmes to put an end to this once and for all.

* Dr Raeesah Chohan holds a PhD in Marketing from Sweden’s Luleå University of Technology and is a Senior Lecturer of Marketing at the University of Cape Town.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.