In an offensive, misguided and frankly bizarre marketing move, the British supermarket chain Sainsbury's decided to advertise the DVD release of 12 Years a Slave with a life-sized mannequin dressed as the movie's protagonist, Solomon Northup.
The mannequin — which, notably, is white — is clothed in a dirty, ripped, beige shirt and baggy, black, calf-length trousers. It has a twig poking out of its pocket, and a price tag around its neck that screams "NEW."
It seems surprising that staff at the Oxford, U.K., store didn't realize that its marketing ploy — displaying a white-skinned model, dressed as a slave, with a price tag around its neck, to promote its capitalist endeavors — would be considered offensive. After the Independent picked up the story, Sainsbury's issued an apology.
@Independent We can only apologise. It’s been taken down from the Heyford Hill store & clearly should never have gone up in the first place— Sainsbury's PR (@SainsburysPR) May 19, 2014
Sadly, Sainsbury's isn't the first company to be guilty of disrespectful or downright idiotic PR stunts. Just look at this Intel ad, which features a white executvie surrounded by men literally bowing down to him.
Image Credit: Gizmodo
But if the response to these types of ads on social media is any indication, racist marketing ploys aren't just ignorant; they're very, very bad for business.
Sainsbury's put up a mannequin to promote "12 Years A Slave" ...now I'm no marketing expert...but..hmmm pic.twitter.com/tdqXCmwTcY— Sausages (@LukeHoosTawking) May 19, 2014
@Independent and the award for tactless decision of the week goes to...— Rory Lee (@RoryLee88) May 19, 2014
@ThatKiddSoHolli @Independent slavery is not funny and a supermarkets disregard of the sensitivity and severity of slavery isn't funny— (@Renee_Ed) May 19, 2014
@Renee_Ed they'd never do something where they say "recreate the holocaust" so why do it for slavery?— Bae Heckard. (@MsAkeke) May 19, 2014
In the case of this display, the ignorance is rather stunning. 12 Years a Slave provided a cinematic — and brutal — glimpse at the life of an American slave. And it's not exactly something you'd want to look like, let alone experience. Based on the true story of Soloman Northup, a free African-American man kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery, the Oscar-winning film pulls no punches in its depiction of the beatings, abuse and rape to which slaves were subjected.
Here's a pro-tip: When trying to sell a commercialized product, avoid recreating an image that harks back to decades of discrimination and persecution, especially when that imagery still resonates loudly with an entire community. Slavery — and the issue of oppression in general — casts a dark shadow that has not been completely eliminated from society. Attempting to capitalize on it to sell DVDs is neither clever nor creative. It is certainly unlikely to be effective.