All Nippon Airways uses crude racial humor in TV commercial

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    Update (2/21): ANA has stopped airing the commercial and will make a new version with less possibility of offending potential customers.

    not funny

    All Nippon Airways has a new commercial airing on Japanese TV. It highlights ANA’s new international routes through Haneda Airport, and it’s supposed to be funny:

    Two Japanese men in ANA uniforms are discussing the new possibilities of international travel that ANA is offering. One of them says, “Let’s change the image of Japanese people.” And then we get the supposedly humorous ending. One of the Japanese guys is suddenly wearing a blonde wig and a big rubber nose.

    The makers of this commercial obviously intended it for a Japanese audience. The thought probably never crossed their mind that some people, especially foreigners, are highly un-amused by this kind of racial humor. But the end result is crude racial humor: har har har, he’s got a huge nose like a gaijin!

    The reaction made some longtime residents of Japan cringe:

    Come on, I’d expect better than this bignose stuff from an international company like ANA! Most Japan-resident foreigners I know find such behaviour either tiresome or downright offensively racist.”

    A few years ago, I wrote a post calling attention to a commercial advertising Choya umeshu. In a pretty classy move, Choya actually issued an apology about the ad and stopped showing it on TV. Their intent was not to mock the physical features of a different racial group, but they came to realize that non-Japanese were seeing it as such. It seemed like a step in the right direction.

    But alas, the rubber noses continue to pass as acceptable humor in advertising. And, ironically, ANA is doing it in a commercial about changing the image of Japanese people. Unfortunately, the commercial only seems to reinforce the image of Japan as a country with a “tactless tendency to stereotype other ethnicities on local media.”

    If you would like to contact ANA and complain about this advertisement, feel free to use the contact form on their website. They also have customer relations phone numbers that you can call:

    0120-029-787 (toll free)

    03-5756-7109 (PHS, from overseas)
    (Open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.)

    Update: Just one day later, and this issue is already getting media coverage. Apparently ANA is only apologizing to individual people who call up:

    An ANA spokeswoman said the carrier “has received calls from customers, mostly foreigners, complaining about the ad.”
    “We apologised to each of the customers for having caused uncomfortable feelings and also thanked them for bringing up the issue,” she told AFP.
    “We have passed on the issue to the section in charge of the advertisement, but as of now we have yet to decide how to deal with the commercial,” she said.

    It’s a strange response. If your company has decided to issue apologies for an advertisement, why keep showing the ad?

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