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Microsoft was being a (Poor) Marketer and PR, but Racist?

August 26, 2009

Disclaimer: LAF is a huge Apple fan, and refuses to purchase (most) Microsoft software. I do have Office on my Macbook Pro.

A slew of blog posts, news articles and Twitter upheaval happened yesterday about Microsoft and their alleged ‘Web Racism.” A photo appeared on the US site that featured an Asian man, a white woman and a black man. A poorly done Photoshop picture of the same people was on the Polish site – however, the black man had a whlaunite face put over his. His hands stayed the same color.

Stop for a second though. Are we too quick to call racism on this one?

Poland became one of the most ethnically homogeneous in the world as a result of the radically altered borders after WW II. As marketers and PR people, target audience and demographics are huge. We get results by pitching correctly and reaching out to the right source. I know many who target ads and pitches to specific minority groups, depending on the region. For  example, Texas might use more Hispanic people in ads because they relates to the culture and population  of the state.

Ads and pitches are meant to relate to us – it makes us want to write about it, talk about it and experience it.  If the population of Poland is 99% white, it should be targeted in that manner. We target very specifically in our field. We’ve all done it.

Racism? I really don’t think so. I’ve experienced racism being half Hispanic and half white. This does not rub me that way at all. Am I completely off base? What do you think? From a PR standpoint, an apology definitely needs to be issued and the process explained. It’s not right what they did by any means. If you’re going to be lazy about an ad, edit it correctly.

*Image copyright of Microsoft.

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2009 9:21 am

    People are actually calling this racism? That’s a FAR stretch given the picture and what actually happened. I’ve seen numerous poorly photoshopped ads and pictures, which have at times mistakenly forgotten to change aspects of a person (race included).

    Just a poor mistake by Microsoft’s design team, if anything.

    • August 26, 2009 9:23 am

      They are, and I agree with you completely. They should be apologizing as well for a bad design job, not for being racist. Should they have been that lazy? No. Should an apology been issued? Yes. Crazy, isn’t it?

  2. Tracey Shepard permalink
    August 26, 2009 9:34 am

    I completely agree that this is not racism, however very poor editing by Microsoft. Its interesting how the man in this ad is using a Mac and was also pointed out to me that the woman’s monitor is not plugged in. Honest mistakes, but things that should not be overlooked by the creative team.

    • August 26, 2009 9:45 am

      Thanks, T. I didn’t even notice that stuff – that’s hilarious! Bad job all around by creative team.

  3. August 26, 2009 9:35 am

    Writing thoughtful blog posts with measured responses to highly polarized and inflammatory subject matter such as Racism in America is not going to get you a lot of hits on your blog post now, is it?

    • August 26, 2009 9:42 am

      Matthew,

      I don’t believe my responses were measured, but truly how I view the issue. I don’t believe this is about racism in America, because I have seen and experienced it. There are a lot worse cases out there dealing with it.

      I do have a large blog community that reads my posts – if they don’t want to comment, they won’t. That’s not why I blog. I blog about what I feel passionate about, not because I might get a lot of blog hits.

      Thank you for reading and providing feedback.

    • August 26, 2009 9:44 am

      In Lauren’s defense: she gets enough blog posts already, and I highly doubt she wrote this post just to ride the coattails of a “highly polarized and inflammatory subject matter such as Racism in America”…

      Anyway, great post, Lauren! I don’t think it’s racism either…just a bad Photoshop job!

      • August 26, 2009 9:47 am

        I meant to imply that the “other guys” were the ones who were writing inflammatory headlines in order to garner traffic and that Lauren was writing a thoughtful response to the issue, that really isn’t really as big an issue as many others have made it into.

        My bad, sarcasm doesn’t translate well into blog comments.

  4. @mikeschaffer permalink
    August 26, 2009 9:47 am

    This isn’t racist, at all. Lazy and somewhat irresponsible, maybe.

    If Apple was that sensitive about the racial component of their ads, they would have created new artwork.

    My neighborhood is roughly 1/3 Hispanic, 1/3 African-American and 1/3 Caucasian. Ads around the area target specific segments of the diverse population. An ad in Spanish probably won’t feature a white guy. And that’s OK, since that wouldn’t be impacting the target market.

    There is nothing wrong with targeting your audience…just don’t be lazy about it.

    • August 26, 2009 11:11 am

      Exactly, Mike. I really think this came down to laziness. They had a plan, they had their target market – but dropped the ball on execution. I don’t think it was trying to be racist. I think they missed the color of the hands, just like they missed the computer being plugged in like T mentioned above.

      My big grumble with the racism bit – how can we battle racism (and try to be ‘one color’) if we point everything to it? Change the mindset, then people won’t freak out at every little thing.

  5. Rich Pulvino permalink
    August 26, 2009 9:48 am

    This Microsoft incident just goes to show the repercussions a company can face because of laziness and poor planning/design. While Microsoft may not have meant to come off a racist, it doesn’t surprise me that people saw it in that light.

    While a different situation, people who demonstrate laziness and poor planning in the practice of media/blogger relations face similar ridicule when sending out mass email blasts and horribly targeted pitches to reporters/bloggers.

    Doing a job half-assed will usually result in a world of trouble. Microsoft is just the most recent example.

    • August 26, 2009 11:18 am

      Rich – Great points. This is just another example of laziness and how it can affect a brand. What type of things do you think Microsoft can do to improve their image – well, to those that might have taken offense?

      • Rich Pulvino permalink
        August 26, 2009 7:16 pm

        To improve their image, Microsoft should state their intentions behind the re-design of the ad (targeting specific audiences), and then apologize to those who see this as being a racial issue and for conducting such poor photoshop practices.

        Racism is such a delicate, personal, and emotional subject, that when a person sees a situation as being racially motovated, it is hard to convince them otherwise. I think that those who see this as being a racist practice are going to continue to do so, no matter what kind of apology and explanation is issued.

  6. August 26, 2009 9:48 am

    I haven’t followed this story closely, but I wonder if Microsoft would have received less criticism if they had also altered the race of the Asian man? It seems to me the homogenous Polish populace defense would have held more weight if that had been the case.

    • August 26, 2009 11:13 am

      Kellye – I think that’s the only link they have to it being even remotely racist. I also think that many countries aren’t as advanced when it comes to civil rights for all races as the US – which is something many Americans forget about. Great point, and I’m glad you brought it up.

  7. August 26, 2009 9:52 am

    I’m with you Lauren – as a marketing student there is nothing hammered into our brains more than the topic of targeting your audience. This is exactly what Microsoft (poorly) did here.

    I think it would be hypocritical for marketing and public relations professionals to claim racism in this particular case.

    Very interesting photoshop faux-pas by Microsoft, though. Thanks for bringing it up!

  8. August 26, 2009 10:00 am

    I hate the fact that any time something might possibly come close to maybe resembling a smidge of racism, everyone gets all up in arms about it.

    I agree with Sonny. Terrible photoshop? Yes. Eacism? no

    You need to identify with the demographics you are pitching to. It’s just that simple.

    • August 26, 2009 11:14 am

      Ryan – Exactly. How can we overcome the racism hurdle if we keep linking it to the stretches of this exact topic?

      Identifying with demographics is one of the top skills a PR pro and marketer can have.

  9. August 26, 2009 11:22 am

    See, I don’t know if I would consider it racist. Like the BBC post on the Pink Book earlier this week (http://bit.ly/182ZRZ) I think this is just a very poor judgement call.

    The people behind the scenes, who manage, produce and make the “decisions” apparently haven’t had their brains turn “on.”

    I only read the other article that I RTed this morning on Twitter, before you and I spoke, and I must say, that my first reaction was — that’s just poor public relations. I never thought MS was being racist.

    Perhaps calling them racist is a way to get attention to the cause. But then that would be some sort of propaganda.

    I think there is something in the water this month, or maybe this summer for that matter, because PR itself, is giving itself bad PR: BBC, Microsoft BBC, Reverb Communications, 5wPR… I mean the list is endless, but our departments in these companies is lacking, and in some cases where the issues don’t stem from PR, the PR departments again, as like the decision makes, and have their brains on “off.”

    On that note, I think that this is NOT racist, because of the fact that, like you pointed out, Poland has a specific type of audience. The same would hold true if the AD were to run in Norway, for example, or even India.

    The solution would be to re-shoot the AD or not use people in it at all.

    So obviously MS knew who their audience was — and obviously they knew how to reach them. However, the route they chose in which to do so, is not only highly questionable, but it’s pretty foolish.

    At least hire a decent graphic designer. It’s not like they aren’t a technology company or don’t have the money.

    My verdict: poor judgement.

    Excellent post Lauren, thanks for sending me the link! 🙂

    • August 26, 2009 11:27 am

      Thanks for asking me to send it to you, S.

      I think PR will come into play after we see how they handle the aftermath. Addressing the situation is needed, and I’m curious to see what angle they go from.

      I think with cost cuts, the easy way out for them (without using man power, photo shoots, etc) was to Photoshop. Someone who obviously was not skilled in it had a large part in this.

      Thanks for your great thoughts.

  10. August 26, 2009 4:04 pm

    In all honesty? It’s the idiocy of one person in Poland making a bad judgment call. Does it suck for Microsoft? Absolutely. Is it racist? Heck no. Just incredibly stupid.

    They did a pretty crappy job photo shopping that dude’s head in as well…never mind the hand.

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