Xoom tablet television ads racially biased?

By Michael Vass | February 27, 2011

There are so many things that are said in commercials, most without a single word ever being said. Teams of professionals tweak every aspect of how a commercial will look and what happens scene to scene, to ensure that a very specific target market latches onto their product. There is nothing that is left without an answer in a television commercial, nor without a target market. The system is not new, and generally no one cares… which is exactly why so many racially biased commercials exist right this second.

The most recent comes in 3 parts. The Motorola Xoom, the latest computer tablet device to fill a flooded market, has 3 seperate commercials on the airwaves right now. 1 has been pulled off air almost immediately, another is related to the pulled television ad, and 1 is completely seperate. 2 target African Americans and people of color, the 3rd is for everyone else. Any one commercial is not terribly obvious on what is happening. But if you have seen all three, then you will have gotten the message that is being stated very clearly.

There are also 2 more television commercials. 1 is in Spanish, the other is a whole new direction. Again, when you look at all 5 commercials, you get a theme about users of the Xoom tablet. If you haven’t paid attention to these commercials, if you just watch tv passively as most advertisers hope, then you missed the messages. Let’s start with the first.

This Xoom commercial has a tone that feels just slightly futuristic. The clothing of the possibly Black, maybe Hispanic or mixed, lead in the commercial hints at a sci-fi future setting. The background of the boardwalk shows distinctly a portion of a rollercoaster. The man of color walks up to the stand where the Xoom tablet is floating in the air, and upon touching it is surrounded. A virtual computerized pod with jets (looking like something more akin to the movie Tron Legacy) envelops the man, and inside he has a cockpit with the Xoom tablet as the main control.

At this point the difference from commercial 1 and 2 takes place. In the primary television ad, the man of color proceeds to blast music via the Xoom. He also scans through the device and its capablities in providing music and music videos (which happen to be nothing but Black artist almost exclusively in the hip hop genre). This ad has been pulled, and Verizon Wireless does not include it as part of this commercial series on Youtube.

In commercial 2 we have the same scene and setting. But when we look inside the pod the man of color is playing a video game.

commercial 2

In the Super Bowl ad for the Xooom, titled Empower the People, we see an ad that contains 0 people of color (an arguement can be made for 2 people in the elevator portion of the commercial, and there are those that might argue the light skinned Hispanics in the commercial). In this commercials we see a play on the book 1984 – which is referenced for those that have no idea about the book or movie – but there is more.

The world, like most worlds in television, contains no people of color (or as few as possible as far from focus as possible). Our hero is White, as is his love interest – so love is a factor. The hero is adept with the Xoom, which allows him to deviate from the crowd, and also manipulate the Xoom to create. This not only seperates him further, and elevates him, but the recognition of his ability drives the love interest to him (also elevating her from the monotony and base nature of the crowd). It’s quite a powerful ad beyond the surface.

The 2 commercials seem innocent enough on the surface. Other than targeting people of color most would not think anything odd about the commercial. But ask yourself what are these commercials saying about the target market?

The contrast says a lot about marketing, and what Xoom tablet believes are the motivations and interests of potential buyers. People of color in the target age range of 22 – 35 aren’t savy or interested in accomplishments, they just want to waste time and be entertained. Non – people of color need the Xoom to be a tool which can advance their lives (and possibly love life too).

It also says that people of color only use tablets and the internet to play games or listen to music. That there is no need to bother with other aspects of the device beyond its ability to entertain. That people of color either lack the ability or desire to use technology for more than entertainment value.

In essence the commercial is very subtly saying that people of color are too preoccupied or dumb to use the device for any substantive reason.

That message becomes far more prominent when we consider the way the very same device is being marketed to an audience that are NOT people of color. Of course to be fair, when you look at the Spanish version of the very same ad as the first noted above, you get a slightly different statement.

Now the Hispanic(?) man is capable of more than just listening to music and playing games. Though the focus and 1st thing he does IS play music. But he checks the capabilities of the the Xoom tablet, still focusing on its entertaining value, but at least expanding his abilities to include social networking.

Big difference? Not quite. But then again, it is saying more than just a little. In fact it’s making a clear statement about the users of the Xoom. In fact the statement of the original Xoom tablet add was so distinct that Verizon has pulled the first television ad (hip hop music) and do not include it on their Youtube channel.

3 days into a television campaign and they are pulling ads already. Someone noticed the bias besides me.

There is another Xoom television ad, with a White male folding a laptop computer (the “Unhinged” ads). This White male is dressed well, though business casual. He is above the city in the background, suggesting his prominence above the crowd. It also goes to the theme that non-people of color have expectations and demands that are more intense serious and rewarding than others when it comes to the Xoom – and by inference life.

Apples to apples, comparing television ads, Xoom has a very clear and subtle expectation of its users. People of color are very simply looking for a way to play more music. The Xoom is the modern version of a boom box from the 1980′s. People of color can’t be expected to use technology for anything except amusement. Non – people of color on the other hand have expectations beyond simple entertainment. They want functionality to improve their lives and quality of life. Non – people of color want to seperate from the crowd, while those of color are the crowd.

Is that enough of a reason not to buy the Xoom? Maybe, maybe not. But it should be enough of a reason to feel insulted if you are a person of color. It’s one thing to recognize that people of color spend roughly $1 trillion a year in consumer spending and advertise to them; it’s completely another to pander to that same market and target them as if they are incapable of having the same expectations from a product as any other group.

Think I’m off-base?

Well if GM had ads that showed HIspanics in nothing but low riders, and African Americans in the same version of the car in front of the projects with a pitbull and girls next to it dancing to rap, and then the same car with Asians street racing racing the car… would that be biased? If ads for the same car highlighted Whites as successful business men does that make it all wrong? You bet your ass that there would be groups like the NAACP lining up at courts to have the ads removed.

How do the Xoom tablet television commercials (including the ad they have already pulled) not hit that same nerve?

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Topics: Black and White, Television | 5 Comments »

5 Responses to “Xoom tablet television ads racially biased?”

  1. gerry

    As a hispanic american I can certainly take issue on stereotypes but even I have to recognize hispanics and blacks still lag whites and asians in terms of education and therefore the use of this product may have different applications to different races……I would recommend we focus our energy on educating our kids and stop making issue of trivial issues like this.

  2. t.

    Indeed, there is bias. But who is the bi-racial actor/model used for the ad? Employment and national exposure for him at this critical time is the one significant aspect to consider.

  3. Brett

    Are you serious??? If there weren’t any commercials with blacks in them you would scream racism. Now you cry this crap when there is one!?!

  4. Michael Vass

    Of course I am serious. Just as a lack of diversity presents one form of racism, depictions that are subliminal in nature and demeaning are another.

    Consider this, on televison alone there are maybe a handful of leading characters that are anything but white. At the same time, there is no lack in presenting people of color as villians. So are people of color supposed to be happy that the image being presented to the world is that anything but White is a criminal overall? Yes, it is better than the 1950′s, or even 2000, but that is not saying much. Racism is more than just denial. And this site is not afraid to say that clearly.

  5. Anon

    Wonderful website. A lot of useful info here. I am sending it to several pals ans also sharing in delicious. And certainly, thank you in your sweat!

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