POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 7 June 2012, Thursday
Dressed in Mixed Messages
An advertising campaign designed to sell clothes backfired when social media users lashed out at the offensive message they said was embodied in the ads.
Fashion retail store Bayo’s “What’s Your Mix?” campaign, launched a few days ago, featured “mixed-race” models. Each image carried taglines purporting to reveal the exact lineage mix of each model – “50 % Filipino, 50% Australian,” “80% Chinese, 20 % Filipino,” and so on. Other nationalities featured, said to be mixed with Filipino, were British, Indian, and African.
A “manifesto”, as the chunk of advertising copy beside Fil-Aussie model Jasmine Curtis-Smith’s photo was called, emphasized the point of the campaign : “This is just all about mixing and matching – nationalities, moods, personalities, and of course your fashion pieces. Call it biased, but the mixing and matching of different nationalities with Filipino blood is almost a sure formula for someone beautiful and world-class.”
Bayo ad with “manifesto” here.
I don’t get how mixing races equates with mixing a long-sleeved floral blouse with denim cut-offs. It’s doesn’t make any sense at all. An advertising campaign seeks to inform people about a product and persuade them to buy it. Bayo’s confused effort, instead, was a turn-off.
The Internet provides, among other things, something that mass media did not have before – instant feedback. Much of the commentary posted online was negative, citing issues of racism and colonial mentality.
On Twitter, user @radikalchick’s take was that “100% think the Bayo campaign is tanga. It has lost what it had going for it when Lea Salonga was its endorser. #stopbuyingBayo.” Aina Banaag said the campaign was “completely off and racist;” “Joshua”: “The message is…you have to be mixed race Filipino to be beautiful? WTF?”; Grace D. Calara: “To Bayo: I’m 100% Filipino. I am proud of my race and I consider myself beautiful. I don’t need to be of mixed lineage. #bayosucksbigtime.”
Others pointed out that the message was confusing because the text of the “manifesto” was badly-written and difficult to interpret.
Twitter user @butnotquite said, “Had they fine-tuned that copy, this could have actually worked. As it is, it’s just patronizing and divisive.”
@JimLibiran: “It should have been tested in FGDs (focus group discussions). It must have been conceptualized as a Pinoy pride thing targeting the moneyed mixed-race Pinoys.” “Lloyd” said:“…Wonder what message it will send to teenage girls. #worried.” Mark David Dehesa: “Intent vs. execution gap = miscommunication.”
The story was posted yesterday on online tech news portal Mashable. The advice given by international commenters was to steer clear of using race to sell products.
Said Brian Perkins: “That first paragraph is cringe-worthy, though. “We always have a fighting chance of making it in the world arena of almost all aspects.” Except creative writing, apparently. Before that it says you’re pretty much going to be beautiful and world-class if you’re mixed with Filipino. LMAO. You can mix and match all you want, but please don’t mix race with ad campaigns like this – it’s not a good match.”
Bayo ads with other mixed-race models here.
Another Mashable reader, Michelle West, said: “Don’t use race as an advertising tool. It just comes off as creepy and/or patronizing. These things happen when advertisers make the wrong, or overly sweeping, assumptions about how their target audience sees or wants to see themselves.”
Was it just misinterpretation? People’s reactions show that race, identity, and beauty are still sore issues in the national psyche, and advertising folks seem to be unsure how to handle them.
Writer Yvette Tan tweeted, “Because people seem to be having fun with percentages, I’m 75% Fujianese, 25% Bulakeña, 2.5% Spanish, 2.5% Mongolian, and 100% bagsak sa Math.
“That being said, let’s not be too harsh on Bayo. The campaign failed. It was a stupid move, but one borne out of ignorance, not hate.”
Bayo used to be all about simplicity. The brand name itself is the Visayan word for “dress”. Nothing could be more direct to the point. Their clothes are classy and no-frills. But with intense competition coming not only from fellow Filipino brands but also from trendy foreign ones such as the upscale Zara and Mango and the cut-price and uber-popular Forever 21, it seems Bayo felt the need to stand out with what they thought was an edgy, novel concept – but one that unfortunately had the opposite of the desired effect.
Remember the Bela Padilla-FHM cover flap last February? The fair-skinned Padilla was shot against a background of dark-skinned beauties. It took Internet flak for being racist and the issue with that cover was pulled from newsstand shelves.
It’s a big, sad, and sorry lesson for Bayo.
To advertisers, the message is crystal. Colonial mentality is out. Stop trying to make it trend. Stop using controversy rooted in insensitivity to promote products. Stop indulging “facism,” “ageism”, and the glorification of youth and Western standards of appearance. Be real. Be natural. You’ll be more appreciated. ***