Italy’s Alitalia airline apologizes for ads with actor in blackface playing Obama

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Screen capture … Four Alitalia ads featured actors portraying four U.S. presidents. Credit: ODN

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.

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.”

Yet, the world is being overrun with people whose sensitivities are easily bruised and battered, and corporate apologies are a dime a dozen.

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

Victor Rantala


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