The Colour Card


So a picture says a thousand words, right?

As true as that timeless statement is, I feel as though the advertisers for Sony should’ve been a little more vigilant with what words this striking advertisement was conveying.

Here we have a commercial for the new PlayStation Portable, with its latest color scheme of white being introduced. I will agree, the white looks classy and could’ve been a great hit, but our friends over at Netherlands Sony advertising had to go play the colour card, didn’t they!

Although the image is simple, and makes a point over the contrasting colours, it unleashed much debate in the public sphere. Rick Callender, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP was outraged by the image saying:

“Their attempt to contrast colors clearly created controversy and sparked painful feelings in the global community. Hopefully in the future, Sony will employ a better litmus test to their ad campaigns to determine if they will be sour to the taste of worldwide consumers.”

So what do we have here?

At a single glance of the image we see:

  • A blonde, Caucasian woman violently holding the jaw of a black woman
  • Both women’s eyes are interlocked
  • The clothing of both complements their skin colour
  • The subject’s are laid upon a black background
  • The text of the ad is white

What do we really have here?

Although the elements noted above are what we see immediately, a much deeper message can be drawn from the image when we evaluate those key signs and symbols.

The bright, almost, fluorescent white of the second subject’s hair, clothes and skin juxtaposed against the black background, and the black woman, wearing all black clothing, enforces the idea of a great contrast between the two. The tight, and intimidating grip the white woman has over the black woman complements this contrast, and alludes to a certain power she holds. This inadvertently makes a very bold statement that ‘white trumps black’ – an age-old issue that has sparked controversy since the beginning of time!

The aggressive facial expressions upon the white subject remind me of an animal, with the placement of the hand upon the jaw line suggesting absolute power over the black woman. To be honest, when I first glanced at the image, I almost didn’t see the first woman as she blended very naturally into the background. This is not an unintentional effect. This enforces the notion of the luminance of white, and the secrecy of black, and while the advertisement IS actually trying to convey the competition between black and white, the use of race was an insensitive card to play. I am in fact reminded strongly of the matter of slavery.

Thankfully, Sony got its act together and pulled the plug on the advertisement, with a statement from one of its representatives, which if you are really bothered to read, you can see right here. They, inevitably, underwent a bit of fire for the ad, with people screaming “RACIST!” from left, right and center. I chuckled at Ryan Block’s view on the ordeal:

Because mistake or not, this biz doesn’t fly, Sony, and you’re not helping the perception that you’re an incredibly callous megacorp with little real direction.”

Now, I know that if I were to read one of those Advertising For Dummies guides that it would tell me to target your demographics emotions and the ‘shock tactic’ produces results, but Sony, my dear friend, you’ve gone a little too far on this one – oh and just quietly, being racist won’t bump up your profits.

For further reference please see below:

  • Sony Pulls Controversial PSP ads – Gamespot
  • Sony Under Fire for “racist” Advertising – Engadget
  • Sony Pulls “Racist” ad Video

2 responses to “The Colour Card”

  1. ellenahoban says :

    Not the colour card! There has always been so much debate in the public sphere about this issue; it was a bad decision by Sony to base their advertisement on this. I was very interested in the comments from the public community you gave, especially the comment, “Their attempt to contrast colors clearly created controversy and sparked painful feelings in the global community” as my emotions were evoked. I agree that this add is not only racist but also suggestive that the white woman has power over the black through positioning the white woman to violently hold the jaw of the black woman.

  2. dannatoli says :

    Excellent example of a controversial media. The idea of race has been a problem for centuries. It was quite a ridiculous concept although i do understand the intended reasoning behind the advertisement. The suggestive nature as well as the contrast did not exactly help Sony win over any fans. I’m glad they had enough common sense to at least remove the offending advertisement. Great work!

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