Advertising Today-The Understanding, The Misunderstanding and The Meaning

If one was to turn their televisions on, drive along the highway and even just browse the vast realms of the internet, it is impossible to avoid advertising. The continuous loop and presence of news, billboards and pop-up webpages all contain numerous styles and messages of advertisers. In doing so, often the most talked about commercials are the most controversial, unless you’re a beer ad of course-then you’re usually downright hilarious.

However, what if your business is unluckily enough the victim of a controversial ad? Advertisers know that to retain the audiences attention then they must include humour, as it creates positive tweets, praised Facebook shares and the ever important view count on YouTube.

This however backfired recently for major Japanese airline ANA, who in an attempt to promote their international services, had one of the pilots transform from being Japanese to Western. The dark haired Japanese pilot, who is told by his counterpart “let’s change the view of Japanese people”, suddenly dons a large, long nose and a blond-haired wig, western characteristics that are seen as desirable by the Japanese people.

The connotation involved in the commercial is evident in the transformation of the pilot, as it has been branded as racist by some for its portrayal of white people. This being as the primary message of international routes invoked a feeling of hurt and racism to some, not all, some. Likewise, the connotation is evident the other way around, the primary message of international routes with the pilots transformation invoked humour to others, including the airline and advertising business.

The  denotation of the commercial is to promote ANA’s growing destinations while branching out with humour and to western audiences (read passengers), however it was read as being racist and in bad taste by many. Also the “that’s such a Japanese response” is meant to poke fun at the hardened nature of some Japanese peoples to show emotion.

Therefore, though personally I don’t find it racist or politically incorrect, we must remember that in a world of over 6 billion people, there is bound to be someone who will tweet in anger, email in frustration and upload to YouTube with the word “racist” in the title. Advertising and media must remember that every video, picture and word shown and spoken is a sign to all, a message, and not every understands the meaning.

Stay Classy UOW,

Todd Steele


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