Risque or Just Plain Offensive? ‘Target Market News’ Criticizes ‘Ad Age’ Magazine for Story About Racy Obama Ad

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November 8, 2012 ‐ By

The First Lady at the DNC Convention in September. Image: The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images

The president of Target Market News, which focuses on all things related to African Americans, the consumer market, and the marketing/advertising business, has sent an email to “colleagues” criticizing Ad Age‘s decision to run a story about a Durex condom ad in China. Madame Noire was among those on the list that received the email.

In the ad, which appeared on the Chinese social network Sina Weibo, both First Lady Michelle Obama and Ann Romney are seen during their respective convention speeches, captured in the midst of a hand gesture. The caption, written in Chinese characters, says, “The difference between Obama and Romney is…” The implication is meant to be racy and edgy, but comes off very tacky and, to some, highly offensive. Response to the story on Facebook is varied, with many people calling out the ad and the magazine for “poor taste” and others laughing or dismissing it. You can see it and the Ad Age story here.

In the mass email, signed by Target Market News’ president Ken Smikle, he takes Ad Age to task for not adding context to the story and digging for more information from Durex. (He also comments on the Facebook post.)

“I personally found the decision by Ad Age to write about a blog in China and to place this story on its Web site and Facebook page to smack of racism, and to be, at the very least, inappropriate,” Smikle wrote. “There is a long history of marketing trades ignoring the works and accomplishments of Black marketing professionals. This, however, is a new low for insensitivity by a respected business publication.”

In an email, Ad Age‘s editor Abbey Klaassen told us she hadn’t heard directly from Target Market News, but she did see the email.

“Was the ad controversial and risqué? Yes. But we’re a news organization — coverage doesn’t indicate an endorsement and we can’t ignore something because it’s risqué or controversial. In this case, the ad was controversial before we covered it,” she wrote to us.

Moreover, she defended the magazine’s coverage of issues concerning diversity:

“I think if you look at our track record, you’ll find that we’re committed to reporting on and advocating for diversity and cultural sensitivity in advertising. Take, for example, our Big Tent blog, where contributors regularly weigh in on just such matters. And recently we sent an editor to the ANA Multicultural Marketing Conference in Florida a few weeks ago to cover excellence in multicultural marketing. I assure you, that commitment will continue.

“If Ad Age wanted to write about it, it isn’t just humor,” Smikle told us during a phone call. “This is a global world. Anything online can be seen anywhere in the world.”

He also faults the magazine for not digging more deeply into the motivation for creating the ad.

“They needed to ask questions,” he said. “Was Durex concerned about causing offense?” Moreover, there needed to be an internal conversation about how to handle the story.

“That kind of insensitivity hurts everyone,” Smikle added. “That ad person who looks at this could be well on their way to creating something just as offensive.”

According to Smikle, the bigger issue is the decline of black media and the need to recognize the African-American market as the vital US demographic that they are. The National Newspaper Publishers Association and Nielsen reported in September that $2.1 billion in advertising was spent with black media. The general mass media spend was $120 billion. Black buying power is predicted to reach $1.1 trillion in 2015.

“[C]ompanies that don’t advertise using Black media risk having African-Americans perceive them as being dismissive of issues that matter to Black consumers,” NNPA chairman Cloves Campbell told Politic365 a couple of months ago.

Generally, there is a need for money to come back to black media in order for it to survive and thrive, Smikle says. But specifically in terms of advertising and marketing, he says African Americans get “short shrift.”

“There’s big coverage of what’s going on in the Hispanic market, but next to none on the African-American marketing arena,” he told us, expressing a belief that the perceived language barrier is the most important factor in diversity marketing and media coverage.

“But it’s culture,” he said, emphasizing the great impact that black culture has in this country. “Hispanic [marketing] doesn’t get the coverage it deserves. But black and African American [marketing] get none at all.”

The Ad Age article is only about 65 words, simply stating that the ad exists and that it’s “risque.” Obviously, the news hook was the presidential election and, perhaps, Durex believed that by placing the ad on a Chinese social network, it wouldn’t get too much attention overseas.

“The role of media has to become an honest broker on all the the information available,” Smikle said. “But in this fast-paced world, a lot of things are getting passed off that shouldn’t see the light of day.”

Do you find the ad — or the article — offensive?

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