Avoiding the Blindingly Obvious – A SPN Exclusive Article

oopsTake a look at this image.

This advertisement is something of an Internet legend at this point. Now, I’ll go out on a limb here and say that Intel isn’t actually racist. But just look at the image and try to imagine it in any other context. There is very little else that six black gentlemen bowing to a white person can evoke in most peoples’ minds. There is the obvious connection to speed, but even a single image of the sprinter – after all, the same guy has been Photoshopped in six times – would have been fine, especially by itself. Instead, the obvious athleticism of the “sprinters” works against the picture, because it’s six very strong and muscular looking men doing homage to a nerdy office type.

The thing is, this should have been painfully obvious. It certainly was to consumers. The moment this thing was shown, the backlash was incredible. It actually prompted Intel to pull the ad and apologize for the obvious blunder. The public figured it out, the Internet still laughs about it and, all in all, the whole thing raises the question of just what in the world happened. It’s pretty clear that either Intel didn’t do a focus group test, or that their focus group is just as insulated from the real world as the people who came up with the ad in general.

Advertising isn’t the only part of branding, of course, but this incident in particular brings up an issue that is important to all branding efforts. Specifically, it involves getting away from the idea of marketing, and getting to know your market.

Markets are made up of people, and their value to a branding campaign is the word-of-mouth they can provide. Be it genuine face-to-face discussions or a video going viral, getting people to talk about a product is the best way to make it a success. Conversely, it’s also the best way to kill a product.

Take a similar, more recent incident. Sony was attempting to market its PSP handheld gaming console. Given the recent success of low-budget, clever independent productions, the company decided to give this style a try. They started a guerilla marketing campaign, spray painting graffiti style images of kids holding and playing PSP handhelds. Then they began a campaign about their new, white-framed model of the device, and attempted to portray it with billboards of a black woman and a white woman fighting. Finally, they had an actor pose as a ‘random’ user of the PSP and promote it on video sites such as YouTube.

As the satirical humor site Cracked.com pointed out, these efforts all fell flat. The graffiti efforts were picked up as blatantly obvious corporate marketing from the get-go, the billboard catfight advertisements were ridiculed as bizarrely racist – incidentally, what is it with advertisements being accidentally racist? – and the video series was picked up on as corporate shilling quite quickly as well. Sony finally got the hint and went back to more traditional advertising efforts, moving out of guerilla marketing almost completely.

Again, these efforts scream of a disconnect from the target audience that should have been fairly obvious. Even a brief test marketing to the public would probably have revealed the flaws in each of Sony’s efforts.

Part of it lies in an inability for some branding efforts to take their audience seriously. The market is made of people, not robots. You can’t throw a switch and get a result. People have varied and subtle reactions to things, and if you make an idiot of yourself they will notice. You have to give your market credit if you want to succeed.

In particular, the graffiti and YouTube ads were the most patently condescending in this sense. They were outright lies; the company tried to make it look as though grassroots support for its product had spilled out into urban and online culture. Sony was caught out almost immediately, and suffered appropriately for it. To its credit, Sony did own up and apologize, saying it had gotten the message. But the lesson definitely should be clear for everyone: The Internet has made it much harder to lie to people. If you don’t respect your market, they are not going to respect you.

So the take home lessons are:

1) Don’t skip the all-important step of marketing your product to a smaller test audience before you go public with it. Ask people their honest advice about things, preferably people outside your immediate market as well as those you intend to market it to. A diversity of opinion can be a rewarding return.

2) Respect your market’s intelligence and don’t try to be more clever than they are. One company only has so many minds, and cannot in the end outwit the omni-mind of the world wide web.

Enzo F. Cesario is an expert on blogs and social media for business and co-founder of Brandsplat, a digital content agency. Brandsplat creates blogs, videos and social media in the “voice” of our client’s brand. For the free Brandsplat Report go to Brandsplat.com or visit our blog at http://www.ibrandcasting.com.

About the author


Enzo F. Cesario

Enzo F. Cesario is an online branding specialist and co-founder of Brandsplat. Brandsplat creates blogs, articles, videos and social media in the "voice" of our client's brand. For the free Brandcasting Report go to http://www.Brandsplat.com or visit our blog at http://ibrandcasting.com/.


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  • The problem with the people who see that as racist is that they see everything as racist.

    What I see is a manager, who happens to be white – (OMG wouldn’t that be a terrible thing) – and his staff, who happen to be black, who are the world’s best sprinters, working together as a team. And a team of seven, at that.

    Next think you know, I won’t be able to call any of my black friends “black” I will have to call them colored – and that would be garbage because they are black, and I really like them all.

    What the closet racists want to do is to make everyone indistinguishable from anyone else,, but there is a big problem, we are all different! And some people shine at one thing and some shine at others.

    Get a life!

  • Wow, I was so distracted by the bad PhotoShop job and the fact that the athletes looked like they were about to take off and crash into each other that I never even got as far as seeing the racist part of it. Never should have gotten off the drawing board for any reason.

  • Strangely enough, my first thought wasn’t any kind of racial implication (though admittedly I can see why people might pick on that) – it was more a straightforward visual gaffe. As soon as you apply your Intel power, the metaphor dictates that the guys launch out of their boxes and headbutt each other unconscious. It’s really just another level to the poor thinking – or outright lack of thinking – behind the ad.

  • What a great article. Well written and ironically points out the obvious. I am sure that if you told a corporate marketing dept: don’t skip the test audience or respect your market’s intelligence they would cry don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs! Yet these marketing blunders happen all the time. I am sure they will continue too. Is it something to do with arrogance and blind faith in the product, or the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing. Do you remember when coke introduced “new coke” then found that nobody liked it and had to introduce “classic coke” which was the old coke. (perhaps this was by design though). I like the point made that it is harder to lie on the internet. I am not so sure, maybe it is harder to hide?

  • Sorry but I just do not get the connection. Anyone who thinks this is a racist advert needs their head examined. People only see the ‘racist’ connection when the seed is planted.

    Some people obviously need to ‘get a life’!

    Sorry mate but I lost interest after 2 paragraphs!

  • Further to my previous comments:- You can find ‘issues’ everywhere if you are anal enough to look for them.

    Why not ban advertising altogether and any in particular that feature a furry creature in case there is a spurious link with the fur trade.

    Foxes Glacier Mints are a great example. Polar Bear stood on a melting clear mint sweet that sort of resembles an iceberg.

    Is the advert about sweets, the extinction of animals, the fact the polar bear has a big fur coat or is it about global warming and how the planet is being destroyed by the burning of fossil fuels etc etc?

    You’ll have to agree that these comparisons, like the ones you talk about are just too ridiculous to be taken seriously.

    However it seems that some numpty out to cause trouble could easily force this Company to never adevrtise another sweet again featuring the bear or the ‘melting iceberg’.

    Typical of the madness engulfing the world today!

  • I for one don’t see where Intel is racist, and the terrible job of Photoshopping only proves my point.

    Number one, the sprinters are “down on the blocks” getting ready for the starting gun. It has nothing to do with them bowing to the white dude.

    Only if you see life through the prism of racism would one even be foolish enough to ASSume this picture was racits.

    Get a life, Mr. Cesario.

  • Great article. As I suspected, there would be some sad comments. So I guess those who perceive something is racist are indeed themselves racists—or in the very least, idiots. The good thing is that you’ll never be successful marketing anything on a large scale by alienating minority groups. Those days are long gone. Someone will talk about you negatively and you’ll be made to look like a fool. In the worst case, you’ll be electronically sanctioned.

    You need to be sensitive to others if you want to be respected. Sales is about making friends. Not about making enemies.

  • After looking at the Intel ad and reading the article, I felt left out.  I couldn’t see what I was being told was so obvious.  I still don’t see ‘six black gentlemen bowing to a white person.’  I felt better after reading some of the comments, and realizing I wasn’t alone.  The Intel ad is bad and would not have been effective, in my opinion.  I agree with Jane that the ad should not have made it past the drawing board.  It really doesn’t make any sense at all – not the concept, not the design.  But I disagree with you, Mr. Cesario – ‘bowing’ would’ve been the last thing I would have seen in the ad.  Does that make me an accidental racist?

  • I certainly didn’t see anything racist in the Intel add, but then I have been living 38 years in a foriiegn country where I have not been treated as a foriegner. Really I think that the only people who would see that as a racist add must have a chip on their shoulder.
    Different again is that I don’t think it is a very good add.

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