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Why is everyone talking about a racist Sony ad that’s 10 years old?

Advertising is really bad lately

Trent Bigelow/Flickr

The image is striking: A pale woman with white hair is grabbing a black woman by the face. The white figure looks angry and determined. The black figure looks submissive; her body all but disappears into the background of the ad itself. “PlayStation Portable,” the text says. “White is coming.”

Wait, is this real?

Yes, it is. The ad ran in the Netherlands in 2006 to advertise a white model of the PlayStation Portable, and it quickly drew controversy.

“Whilst the images used in the campaign were intended solely to highlight the contrast between the different colors available for the PSP, we recognize that the subject matter of one specific image may have caused concern in some countries not directly affected by the advertising," Sony Computer Entertainment of Europe said in a statement at the time. "As a result, we have now withdrawn the campaign."

It was a ridiculously tone-deaf advertisement then, but that was a long time ago. Why is it back on the radar?

One tweet went viral

I wish I had a better reason for all the noise around this image, but it boils down to the fact one person tweeted the ad yesterday and it blew up.

With nearly 20,000 retweets and over 29,000 likes, that’s a tweet with a lot of reach. A lot of people, seeing the ad for the first time, assumed it was new or still running and tweeted their own version of it next to some version of “What the hell?”

The individual who tweeted that image has also been subjected to 48 hours of “well, actually” replies where people point out the age of the advertisement, which is a fact they already knew.

The viral tweet used a rhetorical construction that’s been around for a while, mocking the idea that ad companies have no idea what they’re doing, but at least their checks don’t bounce.

There are other bad ads out there?

I mean, there are millions of bad ads out there, but a few that have been released recently are really bad. There was an uproar over a Facebook ad for Nivea that stated “white is purity,” which was a message that resonated with white supremacists and basically no one else.

And Pepsi released an ad last night that made the stupefyingly bad argument that racism and police brutality can be solved if models gave police soda.

Pepsi has since announced that it is pulling the ad, because holy shit, that’s bad on many, many levels. The soda company also apologized to the real victim in all of this: Kendall Jenner. Really.

These ads transcend the daily awfulness of advertising and rocket straight to the “Maybe someone should take a second to ask if our advertising is directly supporting white supremacy” area of design. It was an area that Sony entered back in 2006, and very quickly ran from.

So what did we learn from all this?

Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King delivered what may be the best take on why the Pepsi was in such poor taste.

We also learned that some people still believe that Sony is advertising the PlayStation Portable in 2017 ... but above that, we have a few more examples of how advertising’s explicit goal is to sell products, while also having the implicit goal of making sure the current socially dominant group remains in power and the status quo is maintained.

Sony’s racist ad is still following it more than ten years later, proving just how large the shadow of these advertising practices remain.

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