Photo Credit: Ogilvy

It’s been about 24 hours and some change since we discovered one of the most outlandish modern day ads we’ve come across. The South African charity Feed a Child launched an ad campaign created by the top global PR firm Ogilvy of a black child depicted in the likeness of a dog fetching his white owner’s paper, sitting at her feet as she gave him treats, let him lay her head on her lap and lick her finger while cooking.

Upon first seeing the ad, the only reaction I could think of was to laugh because it was so blatantly racist I was in shock it happened. And who creates something like this? Clearly it had to be some culturally incompetent designer that didn’t have it reviewed by anyone else. Then when I realized it came out of South Africa and more specifically Cape Town, the most segregated city in the world, it made sense.

So imagine my shock to find out it was by one of the largest public relations firms in the world. They’ve been around longer than any of us have been alive. They simply do not make projects without have 8th and 9th opinions. At the time of this article we’ve received literally thousands of responses to this on Twitter and decided to write about it.

The charity, Feed a Child released an apology at the time saying, “The management and associates of Feed a Child extends our unreserved apology to any person(s) or group(s) who have been offended or hurt in any manner by our recent commercial that was shown on national television and YouTube. Our intention was not to cause offence.

“We acknowledge the fact that the advert could be seen as insensitive or distasteful and we take heed to the fact that many perceived the advert as racist. This was most certainly not the intention, and again we apologise…

The decision has been made to withdraw the advert from all media. We realise that the advert has gone viral on social media however, with the effect that it is no longer in our power to pull the advert from all media altogether.”

Ogilvy, who created the ad in conjunction with Mather South Africa released an apology statement. Luca Gallarelli, Managing Director at Ogilvy & Mather Cape Town said it was “disappointing that the message has become completely overshadowed by the controversy” as the commercial was “developed with the aim of drawing attention to the important issue of malnutrition in South Africa.” The ad was even investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa.

“While clearly designed to have the viewer sit up and take notice, it was never anyone’s intention to cause offence, but rather raise awareness for what is a massive societal issue in SA,” says Gallarelli. “We do however as Ogilvy & Mather Cape Town apologize to those who found the execution distasteful.”

Notice they didn’t apologize for a distasteful ad but apologized to those who were offended which isn’t really an apology or acknowledgement of guilt.

So how do these things happen? It’s the same way H&M can create marketing material of a black child wearing a hoody describing him as the “coolest monkey in the jungle” or Gucci’s black face sweaters, Prada’s blackface merchandise, etc. This is what happens when you decide to put products into the public without a black person in the room.

I’ve personally watched endless segments on Fox News denouncing the need for diversity, speaking against multiculturalism but somehow when massive swaths of the public get offended by something or decide to protest and they as a growing white minority sit baffled as to what happened, perhaps if you had other people in the room, it wouldn’t happen in the first place.

Then there is the question as to how is it that a company like Ogilvy can create material like this and continue to be a leader in the media world. Mind you, this isn’t the first or last time they’ve done such a thing. They ran a mattress ad this same year where they took the likeness of then 16 year old Malala Yousafzai who had been shot in the head by the Taliban having her fall from the sky on the mattress they were hawking which is just beyond low. No one would take the Holocaust and use it as an opportunity to sell ice cubes, so why do this to a victim of terrorism? This is how racism gets perpetuated when these stereotypes get pushed out into the media with millions of dollars behind it.

It is amazing watching the responses come in to this that have been literally around the clock. And we’re in a place in America where the teaching of the history of racism is under seige in public schools in a manner that is going to go nowhere. That I can promise you. It’s all a media spin but that’s another story. Meanwhile history is being made before our eyes on how the tropes of white benevolence, white poverty and the subservient ways blacks are to act towards whites and be happy they’re receiving help in the first place get embedded into people’s brains. Companies that create garbage like this should not only be shunned but called out by their peers for doing it in the first place. Hopefully this article will serve as a reminder that we should be holding each other accountable and these things should be called out when they happen.