Apparently the memo about racial purity in advertising imagery has not yet reached the inboxes of all marketing executives across the pond. Italian airline Alitalia was forced to apologize this week for using an actor in “blackface” to portray former President Barack Obama in commercials intended to promote its new nonstop route from Rome to Washington, D.C.
The idea was to use actors playing four Presidents: Donald Trump, Obama, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington. The ad campaign, consisting of four videos altogether, was promoted via the hashtag #WhereIsWashington.
However, an avalanche of criticism on social media resulted.
At first, Alitalia tried to explain that the actor playing Obama was not Caucasian and that “makeup was applied to highlight features.” That approach to combating the virulent backlash online made no difference, and of course the obligatory threats to boycott the airline became rampant.
This @Alitalia video showcasing a silent blackfaced “Obama” is reprehensive on so many levels: racism, extreme provincialism, wilful ignorance of facts, lack of historic knowledge. I hope company will apologize (but strongly doubt it).https://t.co/lsreWxUxey
— Mark Vanderbeeken (@vanderbeeken) July 3, 2019
Wow. Never flying your airline again. We took Alitalia just last week from Milan and it was horrible. The plane was dirty, food was nasty and the customer service agents on the phone were the worst. #cancelled
— Raising Nomads (@RaisingNomads) July 4, 2019
My husband and I travel to Italy 2 or 3 times a year, 1st or business class. Alitalia, I can assure you that we will never fly on your airline again. There are so many other, better choices. If you can’t see the offense this ad would cause, you are ignorant & shouldn’t be flying.
— Anita Grinis (@anitaluvscapri) July 4, 2019
There are no forgivable words for clear and unapologetic racism @alitalia. Do better, be better. In the meantime and for the far distant future, I will hold you economically accountable for your actions by refusing to spend $1 USD (or any other currency) on your airline #cancel
— INSERT FEET (@INSERTFEET) July 5, 2019
The complaints compelled the company to pull the advertisement from their social media channels and to issue an apology, including a promise that “we will learn from what has happened.”
Alitalia deeply apologizes for the offense caused by the promotional video on our Washington route. It has since been removed. For our Company, respect for everyone is mandatory, it was never our intention to hurt anyone and we will learn from what has happened.
— Alitalia (@Alitalia) July 3, 2019
Yet, the world is being overrun with people whose sensitivities are easily bruised and battered, and corporate apologies are a dime a dozen.
It’s 2019, Apology not accepted! How do you NOT know.
— Cynthia Samuel (@SamuelCynthia) July 5, 2019
There are P.R. consultants out there who have sent their kids to college with the fees they charge corporations for their expert “we’re so sorry” crisis-management advice, and most in-house marketing departments quickly have learned their lessons in political correctness.
Yet somehow, companies based in the Old World are last to be getting the word …
In February, Gucci (Italy) was forced to apologize for a sweater that some said looked like blackface.
In December, Prada (Italy) had to deal with volcanic anger over interpretations of claims that imaginary-creature charms were racist.
Earlier last year, in January, clothing retailer H&M (Sweden) begged for forgiveness for an image in its online store that showed a black child model wearing a sweatshirt that said “coolest monkey in the jungle.”
Let us cry out together … how many more snowflakes must melt before media is appropriately sterile and harmless?
The original Alitalia videos have largely disappeared but this video captures some snippets …
Video by ODN
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