In today's "maybe you should've thought that one through" news, we present the case of Carlton & United Breweries (CUB), an Australian beer company. Last month, CUB released a campaign for its new Rusty Yak Gingery Ale, taking some very misguided inspiration from the whole "ginger" part.
In the commercial (which you can watch for yourself below), the narrator describes the discovery of a "ginger" gene. "Floating around in our beer, just like it's been floating around in human DNA, surprising families for generations," he explains, pausing to show a couple holding a baby with visibly red hair.
The ad then goes one step further, actually calling on consumers to "stop the spread of the gene" by searching inside six packs of beer for hidden bottles marked with a special label. According to CUB, it was supposed to be a "fun" marketing campaign — and a way for Australians to win some cash — but it quickly backfired once consumers called out the racist undertones of the advertisement.
“It’s very offensive for the advertisement to be discriminating against those with red hair, suggesting that they need to ‘stop the gene spreading’ as if it were some sort of disease," read one complaint to the Advertising Standards board, as reported by the Australia media news site Mumbrella. "Children already get bullied at school for having red hair, and advertisements like this only further encourage that type of bullying."
According to Mumbrella, CUB released a statement defending the ad saying, “The advertisements do not promote discrimination or vilification as defined above in a literal or figurative way given the theme and overall impression of the advertisements is not negative towards reds heads (sic), but rather a humorous and comical announcement that we have discovered ‘the ginger gene’ in our beer."
Except... it's not. As determined by the Advertising Standards board and reported by Yahoo, “The phrase ‘stop the spread of the gene’ overstepped the line between being light-hearted humor and made a strong suggestion that an identifiable group of the population was to be considered unpopular." The panel also noted that DNA can be considered to be related to ancestry and descent, and therefore red hair falls within the definition of race. CUB, though it disagreed with the ruling, complied and pulled the ad from television.
There are plenty of ways to be clever and draw consumers in. Throwing a thin veil over discrimination isn't one of them.