Qiaobi’s latest detergent advertisement can be seen widely on television and cinemas in China. The advertisement featuring an amazing racial transformation is both getting eyeballs and turning eyebrows. Expat website Shanghaiist.com accuses the ad maker flat out as “racist.”
I’m not sure if I’m in agreement with the writer’s simple-minded argument, “Thanks to traditional beauty standards valuing white skin, many Chinese people have a well-established phobia of dark skin which unfortunately also breeds racist attitudes towards people of African descent, who are viewed by some as “dirty” simply because of their skin tone.”
What I’m fascinated by is the tongue-in-cheek racial transformation in the ad that anyone knows is silly and impossible. Both the young men, of African and Chines descent, are photogenic and handsome. The young woman, on the other hand, is depicted as seductive and devious using her attractiveness to trick the young black man into swallowing a detergent tablet and then tossing him into the washing machine.
If you think deeper about this controversial hyperbole, the young man being washed remains the same except he’s transformed from black skin to pale Asian skin. The message can be that we’re all the same underneath our skin. And the joke is more about transforming skin color superficially that plays on American pop cultural tropes from the traditional black face to Michael Jackson bleaching his skin.
And of course, it was Michael Jackson himself who pioneered racial transformation in popular culture in his 1991 music video “Black or White” where people of different ethnicity morph into each other.
The message Michael Jackson saying was that we were all the same underneath our skin across gender and race.
I do find this Qiaobi ad clever as the ad maker knew that the ad would be controversial and become a discussion point. What do you think?