Tuesday, July 08, 2008

MADvertising: Old Stereotype Underlies Sports Authority Under Armor New Prototype

Generally, I am not a big fan of people or organizations that see, or cry, racism, or sexism, or something-ism or the other, in almost anything, even if none was implied.

However, I also strongly believe that, regardless of the (low) merits of political correctness, it is imperative for businesses, especially those in communications or consumer industries, to be cognizant of how their work(s) may be perceived. Sometimes, a racist, or bigoted, or sexist, person may deliberately create advertising, or TV characters, or movie situations that play up stereotypes. Other times it is sheer cluelessness that leads to the same results.

The latest example of such, most likely clueless, MADvertising came into my Inbox just now. It is a Sports Authority electronic promotion for Under Armor brand sportswear.


What amazes me about this image is the deliberate or inadvertent combination of racism, sexism, stereotyping as a big, strong, and apparently determined Black male is seen running after (or behind) an obviously weaker (single?) white female. Even worse, look at the expression on her face. She is not out running in a determined manner of an athlete. There is almost an expression as if she is concerned and stressed, and looking for shadows on the ground to see if someone is coming after her.

Yes, I can be accused to seeing imagery that is not there and imagining these issues where none were implied. But, that is the whole reason I call it MADvertising. Smart communicators and marketers avoid such potential pitfalls to the best of their abilities. This particular ad surely could have been done a lot better.

What do you think?


PS. This comment generated a lot of comments, as you can see below. I am quite amazed, and amused, by some of them, but displaying them regardless of the personal attacks. As can be seen, everyone's comments have been posted.... even the ones from the same 'anonymous' using the same computer a few minutes apart. :-)

It is also interesting to see many people completely miss my referring to this as most likely an example of clueless advertising (the world is full of more examples than just this) or MADvertising.

I think people also miss that I am personally sick of political correctness (or of pandering to particular races that a lot advertising is now doing). I am also sick of having to squint my eyes to read English instructions on product packaging because half of the space has been given up to Spanish. I detest having to choose between English and Spanish when I call banks or other companies' phone numbers. This is America. We speak English. I feel if an organization has so many customers of a particular language or ethnic group then they should set up a separate 800 number for them instead of making their (most likely) 90%+ of English speaking customers to have to select what language to speak in their own country.

But, that does not mean I can claim there is no racism here. (I will be accused of being racist for the above comment, while being accused below of seeing racism where it does not exist!)

I do raise eyebrows when I see particular ads where, for example, the likelihood of seeing Black models tends to be higher if the ad depicts some sort of stupid behavior. Again, it is not only Blacks shown doing stupid things. There are plenty of ads showing stupidity (in the name of humor) with models who are white males, females or even groups of people. (I will post something about those separately later).

But, everyone's comments are appreciated and posted here. Thanks!



Anonymous said...

I agree that this ad can be seen as something it was not intended to be. The marketeer/ad guy/gal is guilty of allowing any other interpretation to that of the intended one to be seen.

School boy (or girl) error.

Most advertising and marketing in NA is so awful - it's a joy to see something good once in a while. This doesn't make that list.

Unknown said...


When I first read your post, I disagreed that this was a racist or sexist ad. Then I stepped back and looked again. Focusing on the man in the back, it's clear that he is running in a different direction, so I don't think there is any reference to a chase. However, running in a different direction seems to be a theme here. I can't understand the intention behind this woman's expression. Could you get a more pathetic excuse for an athlete? The only thing committed about her is her arm movement. I disagree that it's a "looking for shadows" countenance, but it certainly isn't determined. It's a complete 180 from the experience I get looking at the guy running in the background. Perhaps this is where i have the problem. I don't see it as racist...but I definitely see it as sexist. Could you even imagine the roles reversed? Picture the determined face on the woman (in the background) and imagine that expression on the guy in the foreground. It would be laughable. Unfortunately, this version is not.

IMRAN™ said...

Great comments, Chris and Keith.

Yes, Keith, I agree that the guy is running in a somewhat different direction... maybe he is chasing shadows. LOL.

Yes, choice of expression and female model's overall impression and even body (e.g. you can't see her legs as you see on the male runner) and that is... err... lame. No pun intended. :)


Anonymous said...

You have got to be kidding me. The simple explanation for the woman's expression and position is that she's doing some sort of training that isn't running straight ahead.

Maybe she's shuffling sideways through a ladder drill. Maybe she's warming up by crossing one leg ofter the other.

Both are extremely common exercises for both genders in athletic training. That you've chosen to find something sexist or racist in this advertisement is beyond pathetic.

Get a life.

Anonymous said...

Or if you've ever done anything athletic in your life, you could tell upon immediately looking at this that he is running a sprint while she is running a side-to-side. But if you're not one of the millions of athletes this is marketed to - people who would know what is going on here without being stupid enough to ever assume this is racist - then you'd at least feel comfortable knowing the girl is roughly three times his size. So maybe she can handle herself.

Anonymous said...

Yea, I can hear the photographers words "okay, I need the expression on
your face that says "a big black man is chasing you, look for shadows to see if he's still there" yea, good." And "you're a black man, determined to catch and rape a white woman, let me see that determination". Get a grip people (people! omg!) crying wolf like this takes away from when actual, not imagined racism occurs.

Michael said...

And the African-American is behind the Caucasian because he is subservient to her. The stadium is dark because African-Americans dominate sports. The African-American has the more athletic expression on his face because he is a better athlete than the Caucasian female. Get real, anyone can see anything they want to in anything. The real question is why do people look for something in everything. Sometimes I think you want to see it.

Anonymous said...

You are all a bunch of ignorant asses. You say you are not a big fan of people crying racism but then you go and dig this crap up? I'm sure if their roles were reversed with the black guy in front with a more relaxed look on his face you would be complaining that whitey thinks the black man is lazy or some crap. Oh look, the white lady is in front of the black man...they are obviously mocking Rosa Parks. The white lady has a nicer watch on....do they think all black people are poor? Get a life and try contributing something worthwhile to the world.

Anonymous said...

way to censor your comments, d-bag

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

This is idiotic. She may be doing Tai Chi or some other activity requiring those arm motions (like side-stepping drills for basketball). Plus, maybe she's just in better shape, doing her sport without heavy breathing.

He's in the back of the frame because a black athlete in a black shirt would block out the groovy colors in the sky and on her shirt.

Stop looking for racism where there's none and you'll be a lot happier.

Anonymous said...

Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha! Seriously? Seriously? Really? Tell me this blog is some sort of a joke. That's awesome. Wow. Just wow. You guys are great. That's better than the "Cowbell" sketch on SNL. You guys need to write comedy. Wow. If you want to find me, I'll be chasing black shadows with an attractive white woman. Wow. And, I'm guessing that, since you're so open minded, and what not, you know, 'cause you're a liberal, you won't allow a conservative post. So, you know, feel free to block my mockery of your retardation. Wow.

ASMR Review said...

I think it is completely innocent and its sad that people will use any innocent image that can possibly be construed as racist to cry wolf.

What possible motive can Sports Authority, a company that markets heavily to African-Americans, have in intentionally using subtle racist imagery? That doesn't even come close to passing the smell test.

Witchhunts like this detracts from and demeans the real racism that exists and permeates society daily.

ASMR Review said...

It is sad that some will take innocent images and twist them in an effort grasp straws so they can cry "victim." Sports Authority is a company that markets heavily towards African-Americans. Tell me why, exactly, would they intentionally use subtle racist imagery to sell their products? Does that even begin to pass the smell test?

These witchhunts detract from and demean the real racism that permeats society every day. Find better ways to use your time that looking at Rorshack tests you think show black men being oppressed.

Anonymous said...

You have got to be the stupidest person with the ability to use a computer.

Only the incredibly racist have the ability to see racism in everything.

IMRAN™ said...

ha, haha, hahaha. No, let me tell you, your comment was such a joke I had to approve it for all to see. So many dumb factors to your comment, I can't even address them all. I am no liberal (your typical knee-jerk Rush Limbaugh level IQ driven reaction). "We" could not write comedy better than comments like yours. The posting is to discuss madvertising, which obviously you did not 'get'. Lastly, why so afraid to post under your name? George Bush and NeoCon Co. already know who you are, who you called and what web sites you surfed...;-)


Unknown said...

You are all seriously retarded. I hope you are all joking, as this seems you are really stretching to say this is in any way racist.

Travis said...

It's just a poorly done ad. Your opinion about the lack of PC-ness seems to be pretty far off. Poor execution, mostly due to the shot that they used for the female runner.

Also, I'm chiming in with the "black dude is running in different direction" comment. He's clearly not chasing her.

Anonymous said...

Imran - Relax buddy. I really don't see the problem here, and if there is a problem I surely don't see a solution you would prefer. One race in each advertisement? No cross gender in ads? It seems ad people can't get any thing right these days. The guy is running in a different direction, the woman's relaxed look makes me think she is not sprinting forward, but shuffling her feet side to side (like a bball drill). I really think your post is a little too extreme. Of course, you are entitled to your opinion, but I find myself laughing at your take. EC

Anonymous said...

Would you opinion of the ad be different if both people were of the same race?

Anonymous said...

Um... they're both looking at the ground. They're running in separate directions. There is absolutely nothing in this advertisement that a rational person would construe as offensive.

Anonymous said...

While obviously not intentional racism, this is absolutely the work of a first-year-after-undergrad-degree Ad/Design student.

Anonymous said...

I believe that this is a symbol generations of racism passed down throughout the ages. It is clear that the "African-American" runner is speeding off in another direction BEHIND the white woman in front of him with an intense look in his face. I would argue that he is the symbol of the struggle "African-American's" must go through to be seen simply as citizens of this country, rather than hyphenated afterthoughts. It is my contention that, much like Barrack O’Bama played second fiddle to Hillary Clinton in the eyes of white-middle-class voters in the Democratic Primaries, so too does this symbol of race lag behind the White symbol in the foreground. But instead of [playing follow the leader, This athletic, strong man is traveling in a different direction; one to bring end the dreaded hyphen “African” and adjective “black” to their description. it is through this symbolism that Underarmour is suggesting that we as Americans use our foresight and pave a new path of tolerance into the future, not to follow the ancient path of white-entitlement and racism.

I personally commend these visionaries of Underarmour, they have paved the way for a true melting pot in this country, one where we spread tolerance and justice instead of ignorance and hate.

why is the planet filled with idiots?

Michael said...

well gee imran, the only way this could have been a MORE blatant sign of racism was if there was a white male chasing a black male with a whip and a shotgun. your better argument, though also retarded, would have been the "buy now" pointing to the black man or the fact that the black man looks about 3/5 the size of the white woman. but again, those are retarded arguments. but much better than your blog. just be happy you made withleather.com. i'm sure you will soon be raking in the dough to subsidize more innocuous observations.

Anonymous said...

I think you are very wrong and in need of some lightening up. There are many observations I could point out that would argue quite the opposite of your argument but the issue is moot. This is just another case of someone making something out of nothing. Leave the reverse-racism at the door sir.

Anonymous said...

sensitive people like you who over analyze everything make this world a crappy place to live, you're probably a person who walks around telling people how offended you are by this or that. Grow some balls, contribute to society or shut the f up.

Robinson said...

Mr. Anwar, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent post were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone on this blog is now dumber for having read it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Anonymous said...

fall in a well and die.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Imran -- I don't see what you see in this particular ad, but I've gotten that perception from others ads I've seen around and know what you're talking about.

And like you, I generally dislike the whole PC thing.

I can't stand it when people jump to the conclusion that someone subscribes to some party line or "ism" simply because he/she makes an observation or has a belief.

It's even sadder when behind the protection of a computer, many think it's OK not only to assume such, but to verbally abuse the person.

The people who personally attacked you on here may have felt a little surge of power when they made their posts, but in the process they also killed any credibility they might have with those of us who think.

Thanks for sharing this post with Facebook! I'll try to come around your blog more often.


Spared said...

Imran I think you are completely off base on this. The black male is running in one direction, the white female in the opposite direction. This is a sports ad, nothing more, nothing less.

Unknown said...

Re: Robinson's comment:
Way to quote from "Billy Madison." LOL

Anonymous said...

Great post, thanks. I am beginning to suspect there must be some inherent quality in the op-ed genre that makes it impossible to make any kind of point without gratuitously sniping at somebody or something.

Personally I find this article even less palatable than Dux’s.

Anonymous said...

give me a break, seriously, way to take something and run with it which can be done to possibly 90% of what is out there.

you need to get a life.

game sportswear said...

I agree with spared. its just a simple add.