Sometimes I think the best way to avoid perpetuating racial or cultural stereotypes in advertising is to purposely mix it up, which is why I liked the new “Let a Stranger Take You Home” ad for Heineken by Wieden + Kennedy, Portland. The spot opens with an Asian looking young man singing along to a hip hop song about friendship on the radio, and closes with a loud chorus led by the middle-aged Caucasian cab driver (not exactly sure of the ethnicity of the curly-haired fellow in the front seat, but not sure that it matters, either). The overall image conveyed in less than 5 seconds is one of urban camaraderie oblivious to culture and age, all joined together around responsible consumption of Heineken beer.
“Nice juxtaposition of the unexpected,” I thought, and that easily could have been the end of it, save for the fact that as a white woman I had a nagging feeling it was too two-dimensional or possibly racist to say the ad featured an ‘Asian Man listening to Black Music.’
Was it okay to say “Asian Man?” Would someone Asian also think he looked Asian, or would it look like I thought “all Asians looked alike” by using the generic term “Asian.” Thanks to Dyske Suematsu, a self-described “Asian man” and author of the blog alllooksame who said “In the US, publicly admitting that you cannot tell Asians apart, comes across sounding racist or prejudiced,” but this really may vary from person to person regardless of race and have more to do with familiarity than anything else.
And what about the music? (It’s “You Say He’s Just a Friend,” by Biz Markie.) Was it Rap, or Hip Hop?
Azeem at mcazeem.com has a great post about the difference between Hip Hop and Rap, but he made me laugh when he said “I learned that to Italians, Rap, Reggae, Hip Hop, Jazz, etc was innocently called Black Music,” I thought “Oops, did I think that?”
From an advertising point of view, the product is clear, the message is clear, the ad is well done, and after all of this obsessive, self-conscious analysis, I could use a Heineken right now.
But if one can get over the unease of acknowledging unconscious bias, it opens the door to amazing new worlds, simply by being willing to say “I didn’t know that. That’s a different way of seeing something. Tell me more.” Or even better, “where did I get that idea,” and “how can I look at things differently now?”
What have you learned by stopping to understand your personal biases. Did it change your behavior, or offer a chance for a deeper connection?