In 2006 Sony released the white version of its portable gaming unit the PlayStation Portable (PSP) along with the new product came an enormous ad campaign. This campaign was only launched in the Netherlands and curiously advertised the device in English. Shortly after launch the campaign was pulled because of controversy it caused not only in the Netherlands but also in the US. As you can see the billboard featured two females one black the other white. The black female was dressed in all black and wore a short afro. The billboard text reads “PlayStation Portable White Is Coming”
“Sony Computer Entertainment of Europe released the following statement about their provocative billboard was criticized. “Whilst the images used in the campaign were intended solely to highlight the contrast between the different colors available for the PSP, we recognize that the subject matter of one specific image may have caused concern in some countries not directly affected by the advertising,” the company said in a statement. “As a result, we have now withdrawn the campaign.”
To me Sony’s press release seemed largely dismissive of their advertising faux pas. But after further research I found that the ad didn’t cause much of a stir with the Dutch. It may be due to the small percentage of blacks in the country or perhaps a different attitude of race.
But what makes this ad offensive or perhaps not so offensive? The image polarized bloggers in the comments section of the website. Some found it offensive even racist while others did not and felt that the U.S. was becoming “too politically correct.” Some wrote the billboard off as “just an ad or just an PR stunt”. But as we know from our lectures and readings, advertisements aren’t as innocuous as some may think.
I took offense to the ad. Maybe it’s the history of slavery and race relations in the U.S, but it’s hard for me to look in at this image and not immediately tie it to race and the subjugation of African-Americans. My reaction to the advertisement made me think about the Rebecca Ling article that we read for class and the concept of symbolic annihilation. Symbolic Annihilation argues that “media content is a symbolic rather than literal representation of society and that to be represented in the media is in itself a form of power.” While the right to representation isn’t the issue in this case, what is relevant is the symbolic representation that this billboard presents. Although Sony claims to not have intentionally inserted racial undertones in this ad that can be read blatantly, I couldn’t help but think how would this message be different if the roles were reversed?
Then I found this picture.