Identity Guard: Sandals

I smell race baiting. This is a perfect example of how racism is subtly and not so subtly propagated. A company can play on your fears in the worst way to promote their product. We see this behavior with companies as varied as insurance to home monitoring systems and political campaigns. How is this much different that the Willy Horton commercials of George Bush President #42 campaign?

This spot shows an unsuspecting woman sitting on her lovely couch in her plush home thinking, “I'll buy shoes from sweat shops in some lesser developed nation where the prices are low and the children don't mind the hard labor. Because at the end of the week that chattel slavery will amount to about 35 cents and keep shoe prices manageable the world over. Besides, those shoes are cute!” I'm just joking here. But it’s not far from the truth of almost all of American shoe buying experiences. Yet the woman in this commercial brings nothing but pleasant and calming thoughts to mind. Alas the sweet woman buying these shoes feels complicit in no crime to us. She couldn't be, nor would you ever consider her to be. She's the picture perfection of stereotyped purity, cleanliness, wholesomeness and safety. The visual short-hand of commercialism is a well established language all Americans speak fluently. This preprograming is leveraged here to make the advertisement work.

Now, note the contrast of those shifty black Nigerians (as they are initially portrayed in this commercial) they are worthy of your distrust or so this advertiser portends. Notice the slight and evil menacing grins and scowls the Lagosians display. 

This spot completely relies on a belief system that dark skinned people are evil and most likely up to no good. Not only is it based in an reliance on a global error of race, you are actually led through camera work, make-up, lighting and set design to feel that these people, combined with any other prejudices and misconceptions you may have, just are not to be trusted. By the time the commercial gets you to the elder gentleman's grimace you are certain that the con is in. The “dark” men have done just what you would imagine them to do. Now the producers of this mockery may feel that they turned the tides by the end of the spot and by showing you that it was all your imagination, "see, they are good legitimate business people." The damage is done. Through the language of movie making, stereotyping, deceptive imagery, added to the fuel of a few Nigerian postmarked emails you may have received, they have succeeded in propagating the racist tenets and further cementing in your heart and mind that there is something wrong with these people. 

Even if you go along with the spot and accept the premise that this was just an ad that shows, “I'm protected even when there is no real danger.” You have been given and accepted an impression and more importantly an indelible emotion that will stick with you. That reinforced feeling of the creepiness you got when you saw that the woman's credit card transaction went to a black man. Worse still it goes to a black African... in Nigeria. 

That is a horrible feeling, that even if only the faintest traces remain, it does damage. The scales of an already unbalanced set of beliefs and systems of justice are tip further away from truth and forward facing progress.

Advertising Agency: SmithGifford, Washington DC, USA
Creative Director: Bruce Gifford
Art Director: Kevin Richards
Copywriter: Bruce Gifford
Agency Producer: Dana Cole
Production Company: The Sweetshop
Director: Paul Goldman
Post Production: Crew Cuts
Editor: David Cornman
Music: Beacon Street
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