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China’s “racist” detergent ad proves every video has a global audience

Published on June 8th, 2016

China has caused something of a global uproar with one of its latest advertisements. Domestic brand Qiaobi has been called out for the “racist” theme behind its detergent ad after it went viral across the web, and it’s painfully obvious why.

The company has since apologised for the advert but that hasn’t done much to curb the criticism – both from outside China and from within. It’s a worldwide backlash to an advert designed for Chinese viewers, which proves every video has a global audience in the modern age.

China’s most famous ad

Qiaobi is now the owner of what must be China’s most famous ad – certainly on the global stage. It’s not a title the firm would have wanted to win in this fashion but it certainly tests the theory that some publicity can indeed be bad publicity.

In case you haven’t seen the ad yet, you can take a look below. It’s absolutely worth a watch for all the wrong reasons:

There’s enough talk circulating the web about the racial themes, so we don’t need to add any more into the mix. Besides, as a translation agency we couldn’t help thinking about the wider PR picture. Our localisation team certainly had plenty to say about the importance of audience awareness!

Every video has a global audience

The days of videos being seen in restricted markets are over. It should go without saying by now that the Internet puts your marketing material on the global stage – whether you want it to or not. The sad truth for Qiaobi – and any other firm for that matter – is that it’s scarily easy to make a video go viral for the wrong reasons and equally difficult for the right reasons.

The argument our video team makes is that every piece of footage needs localising in the modern age. In an isolated environment, the Qiaobi example may have passed as a risqué/funny ad for Chinese viewers in a country with almost no black community. That doesn’t justify the content but it could prevent the consequences.

If that sounds like a stretch, then all you have to do is look at an Italian ad from ten years ago, which is exactly the same concept in racial reverse:

The Italian ad was basically an unknown entity on the international scene until now. It’s only become more famous after its Chinese equivalent has been called out for ripping it off. The fact is, ten years is a long time and the social media culture we have now didn’t exist back then.

People aren’t only exposed to controversial content these days, they’re on the lookout for it, which means that even domestic brands promoting products within their own country have to be aware of international reception. Otherwise, you risk the media storm that’s followed Qiaobi – one that’s gone as far as dragging up another advert from ten years ago.

Of course, this is a pretty extreme example and you have to wonder what the marketing team behind this video were thinking. We’d like to assume most firms are safe from overstepping the mark quite so dramatically, but the lines are getting harder to draw for all of us. Type “cultural appropriation” into Google News and you’ll see how the difficult subject is brought up within advertisements, music videos and film on a weekly basis.

Appropriation is a much tougher line to define than the one Qiaobi crossed, but it emphasises the point that every video needs to be produced with localisation and cultural reception in mind.

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Posted on: June 8th, 2016