Is the New Pine Sol Ad Racist?

Last Updated Jan 25, 2010 5:15 PM EST

Pine Sol's advertising is racist, according to Pepper Miller of the Hunter-Miller Group, an African American market research consultancy. Miller believes the spot (video below), which shows Pine Sol Lady Diane Amos driving to her fantastically extravagant mansion in a vintage Mercedes to find -- lucky her! -- a shirtless dude mopping her floor and showing off his abs, swaps one stereotype for another:
Black viewers now see that "mammy" has been swapped for "Mandingo," a stereotype that represents the negative sexual and subservient image of Black men.
Miller's column doesn't disclose her conflict of interest, so here it is: If companies ever get the racial aspects of their marketing "right," then Miller is out of business. Putting that aside, is she correct? No. The ad is what it is: a joke about housework that is funny because it mocks traditional advertising for floor cleaners, which usually show middle-class, shiny-kitchen drudgery.

Miller believes that The Clorox Co. (CLX) has a duty to avoid negative images of black people in its advertising (see an old Pine Sol ad below):
... the two most powerful advertising persuaders for African-Americans are 1.) ads that show the benefit of a product and 2.) ads that send a positive message to the Black community.
After years and years of hearing the Black community beg for more positive portrayals of Blacks in the media, this ad is a big, big disappointment.
This is Miller's mistake. It is not the job of a detergent company to raise black America's self-esteem. It is simply to sell products that leave clean floors smelling like a Norwegian forest. Clorox uses black people in its Pine Sol ads because a lot of black people buy Pine Sol, and Clorox wants its ads to look like its customers. The Pine Sol Lady may look like a "mammy" to some, but to the rest of us she looks like the target market: middle-aged women who buy their household's groceries.

If Clorox was to follow Miller's advice, how might it adjust its advertising? Clearly, no older women would be allowed (the mammy thing) and no attractive younger men (the mandingo thing). It would be difficult to show an older black man (the janitor thing) or a younger black woman (the maid thing). How about a white man? No one objects to the idea that Caucasian males should clean the floor, right? You get the point.

The proof of why it is virtually impossible to create a non-racist ad in a country that has a thriving industry based on finding racism in everything can be found on Miller's own website. If you want to be pedantic about it, her showcase ad for the Buick Enclave is arguably filled with racial stereotypes: In the ad, a black man is shown getting ready in the morning. He shaves, puts on a nice suit, chooses a watch (from three!) on his dresser, and then gets into his "luxury" crossover SUV. A female singer croons in the background. Potential message: Black men are bling-wearing dandies whose status is defined by their wheels. And they all listen to soul music.

That, surely, wasn't what Miller was aiming for, was it?

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