Wednesday, August 26, 2009

7041: Microsoft’s Polish Joke.

Microsoft is catching heat over some Photoshop® bungling involving Websites in the U.S. and Poland. As the images depict, the U.S. version shows a stereotypical diverse office grouping, while the version from Poland replaced the Black dude’s head with a White guy’s head.

Folks are calling it outrageous, racist and worse.

Um, not really.

The truth is, it’s a standard example of multicultural marketing. Granted, the execution is clumsy and amateurish. And it doesn’t help that they replaced the Black guy. But Microsoft is simply doing what nearly every major advertiser does: Presenting people that will be most relevant and appealing to the intended audience.

If we’re going to go after Microsoft, let’s be prepared to take our grievances to McDonald’s, Burger King, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, State Farm, Allstate, Kraft, Quaker Oats, General Motors, Ford, Toyota, etc.

Need a quick example to demonstrate the point? Check out Colgate here and here.

Sorry, but offense should be reserved for the blatantly offensive. Like Draftfcb, Omnicom, CP+B and more. There’s a difference between displaying cultural cluelessness, racism, misogyny, homophobia, ageism and other forms of gross insensitivity versus just being cheap.


on a lark said...

what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Eccl 1:9 NIV)

Anonymous said...

How can you give them a pass on this?!

This is different. I'm okay with Colgate swapping images to better identify with their targeted audience, or changing copy to demonstrate sensitivity to complaint—but this is neither.

It's a deliberate action, not an oversight. Or better targeting of their audience. They spent money to do it. Someone signed off on it. The agency, and by approval Microsoft; felt that a smiling, well-dressed black man in an office was offensive/inappropriate/unlikely even before there was a complaint. It's not right.

It says "As you can see, black people don't have a seat at our table." Equal opportunity? I guess some minorities are more equal than others.

HighJive said...


Well, Colgate is actually equally lazy. They have decided that one lame idea communicates best to all audiences — all over the globe. Technically, we don’t approve of Colgate’s laziness either. Just recognizing the way multicultural marketing works with most advertisers.

Regarding Microsoft, yes, the action was deliberate. Just like Colgate and most other major advertisers. We’ve literally seen advertisers shoot the same ad with different racial/ethnic characters for different audiences. Here’s an example from State Farm. Microsoft is essentially doing the same thing, albeit they are being really cheap with the stock photo image. The truth is, in Poland, Blacks are more of a minority than in the U.S. Seeing a Black man in the prominent center position is peculiar for that global market. Sure, you could also ask why they saw fit to keep the Asian dude. Our guess is they were too cheap to change everyone, and the Asian dude is the furthest in the background. This was not done for the U.S. market, otherwise it would have been an offensive slight. It does not seem like a decision to say, “As you can see, black people don’t have a seat at our table.” Rather, it was probably to say, “White Polish men are in most of the seats at our tables, so let’s show one.”

For what it’s worth, we have also literally witnessed Blacks and minorities being added to stock photo shots to create more multiculturalism. Is it a cool thing to do? Probably not. And it is definitely cheap. But folks are being deliberate about things like this all the time, for all races, ethnicities, etc. Stock photos and Photoshop® have changed a lot of things —literally and figuratively — in the business.

Thanks for the comment.

HighJive said...


Just saw the Polish site apparently changed the image back to the Black guy. But here’s another way to look at it, which anyone who has ever worked in a minority shop will relate to and understand:

Scene: Minority Ad Agency

Client: Guys, here’s the work our General Market agency produced. We want you to use it for your market.

Minorities (looking at GM work): Um, it’s not really relevant to our audience.

Client: Too bad. Our CEO loves it.

Minorities: Um, there aren’t even any [specific targeted minority] people in the photo.

Client: Hey, I hadn’t even thought of that. Good catch.

Minorities: Can we use a different photo?

Client: No budget. Plus, our CEO loves it. Hey, can you do anything with Photoshop?

Minorities: Um, well, we could replace the woman leading the meeting. It would be great to see a [specific targeted minority] person in charge.

Client: No way. Our CEO loves her. He even had the GM agency art buyer track down the model because he wants to have sex with her.

Minorities: Well, we could change the guy in the middle.

Client: Perfect. But we’ll have to take the cost from our media budget, so find a royalty-free shot. Plus, don’t go crazy with the retouching fees. Also, I need it tonight.

Minorities: No problem.

(Will bet this is exactly what happened to the Polish agency.)

Anonymous said...

Funny you should say that.
I witnessed that same conversation on a State Farm print ad a year ago. One where the client insisted we photoshop a man's eyes, hair and skin color to make him look Hispanic rather than actually hire one. Seems cultural sensitivity only goes skin deep.

Keep 'em honest, and keep up the good work!