x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Chinese restaurant ad causes controversy

A concept to promote Chinese restaurants in Dubai was never actually used, but is now creating a storm of outrage on the internet.

The advertisement created for the China Times restaurant features photographs of three men whose eyes have been digitally altered to look Chinese.
The advertisement created for the China Times restaurant features photographs of three men whose eyes have been digitally altered to look Chinese.

DUBAI // An advertising agency has come under fire for a Chinese restaurant advertisement that its critics say is racist.

The advert for China Times, which has branches in Deira City Centre and Jumeirah Plaza, features photographs of three men - a Sikh, an Arab and a black man - whose eyes have been digitally altered to look Chinese, with the slogan "Brings out the Chinese in everyone".

Created in 2009 by an agency in Dubai, the advertisement was approved by the restaurant but never used. It was also entered in an advertising industry competition in Dubai.

Now the ad has found its way on to the internet and has attracted criticism, particularly among users of social media websites.

"I feel it is really shameful to see a ridiculous stereotype like that used to promote a restaurant," said Katrina Hall, an Australian expatriate who lived in China for six years and is fluent in Mandarin.

"Surely people have more intelligence than that? Surely there is a better way to attract customers?"

She added: "I personally find the advertisement to be highly offensive and racist and I am sure I am not alone. In a country as diverse and culturally rich as UAE, which has such a huge number of people from all around the world, I would hope that there would be a bit more respect than just making a mockery of 'slanted eyes'."

TD&A DDB, the agency that created the ad, entered it in the Dubai-based Lynx awards for the advertising industry, but it did not win.

Melanie Vignon, the director of communications for DDB Middle East and Africa, said: "I can understand the insight as to the thinking behind the campaign, which was to say that everybody loves Chinese food and that the whole world is represented in Dubai.

"However, the problem is with the execution of that idea, which is obviously not what we would condone."

She said TD&A DDB, which is now know as DDB Dubai, was only an associate member of DDB Worldwide when the advert was created and as such did not have the oversight of the international group.

It has since become a full member and currently list companies such as Emirates SkyCargo and Volkswagen among its clients.

Ms Vignon said most of the people involved with the design of the campaign had since left DDB Dubai. "The one remaining person will also be leaving in the next few weeks. This campaign was agreed with the client but never went into use.

"It was then entered in an industry-wide awards competition and obviously didn't win. The first we heard about it was like everybody else a few days ago," she said.

The advert has gone viral on sites such as Twitter.

Aliahash said: "China Times restaurant #Dubai racist advert that made it on Gawker [a media blog site] lol!"

There was also much criticism directed at DDB for coming up with the idea.

"DDB, why you so stupid agency?" tweeted HishamWyne.

Thebrandbuilder said: "Oops. Yeah. OK, Ad Agency DDB Dubai ... Which one of you geniuses approved THIS ad?? Sheesh ..."

The complaints continued with RainbowCheung, who tweeted "DDB work for a Chinese restaurant in Dubai, Racist Chinese restaurant advert."

HouseofGlib added: "My co-workers insist this ad isn't a horrifically bad idea. I think they are insane."

The advert has also been picked up by websites across the world. The Globe and Mail in Canada asked whether the campaign was an "example of Asian stereotyping" or "lame" advertising.

When contacted by The National yesterday, a member of staff at China Times referred calls to its parent company, BinHendi, but there was no reply to repeated calls.

An official at the Consumer Protection Department in Dubai said they had not received any complaints about the advert but would not be the relevant authority to deal with such cases.

nhanif@thenational.ae