Microsoft’s Polish snafu: not so uncommon in advertising

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Much hue and cry over an allegedly racist (hue, racist link- not intended) move to edit out an African-American and replace him with a white dude for their Polish website. Microsoft has since apologized for the incident. The net being what it is, much fun is being had at Microsoft’s expense.

MSFT polish.jpg

I am extremely offended. And I have some serious questions to ask. No, not about the racist angle but something more practical. Firstly, who on earth smiles like that in business meetings? That cliche is a good enough reason for the visual to be roasted. Second, whose idea was it to use a Mac as a prop for a Microsoft shoot? Not to mention the Photoshop-disaster. They managed to wipe out the Apple logo from the Macbook of the African-American guy but when they plonked a white guy’s face on top, they forgot to change the colour of his hands.

I think part of the ruckus about these images are because Microsoft is involved. But the practice of showing someone of a particular ethnicity is not uncommon in advertising. Specially among global advertisers. It is common for the likes of P&G to shoot an ad meant for South East Asia & South Asia and just flip the models. Sometimes someone who could simply pass off as a South Asian is used (like in the Axe ‘Call Me’ ad). Brands targeting at certain ethnic communities use talent which they think could have a greater empathy with the audience. See here and here.

Brands in India take it to another level of stereotyping since they have to cater to such a wide, diverse audience. Witness the vinyls outside the Big Bazaar showroom in Bangalore. It has images of what is perceived to be a ‘typical South Indian family’. The mandatory silk saree, white dhoti, tilak for men are all there. If only the creative team could come and see how people shop here. Take the Kingfisher Food Guide TVC for example – still stuck in the Mehmood-Padosan era.


Turning a blonde into a brunette, applying bindi to a firang model, enhancing assets through Photoshop – are all common in advertising. Poor Microsoft is getting the wrong end of the stick for attempting to create empathy with their Polish audience. Is it a case of over reaction or genuine anger?

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