Neo Sports – Tasteless ads

I’ve been in India watching the cricket live on TV, which is much better than on my computer! But one of the downsides is having to watch the advertisements.

The India vs. West Indies series is being shown on Neo Sports which brands itself as “The home of Indian cricket”. A lot of the ads on Neo are house ads for the channel itself. Since it is a new channel, that makes sense.

Now, here’s where things get tricky. For the India-West Indies series, they have come up with a couple of ads to promote the series.

Ad #1 – A West Indian visitor is at an Indian outdoor dhaba. He takes a mouthful of the curry and his mouth is on fire. As he runs around for water, the waiter walks away, the other guests put their hands in the glasses, drop their dentures in their glasses of water and other things that prevent him from drinking water. Finally, in desperation, he turns to a tap and even that has no water. Tag line – “It is tough to be a West Indian in India “. And then there are images of the West Indian and Indian teams playing cricket.

Ad #2 – A West Indian couple are snuggling on a boat in the middle of a large and serene lake. The boatman looks at them and then he stands. He throws the oar away and then starts disrobing. The couple look at each other, frightened (I thought he was going to rape the poor woman). Then, when he’s down to his chuddies (boxers), he jumps off the boat, leaving the poor couple in the middle of the lake with no oar and the West Indian guy calling out “Hello? Hello maan??”. Tag line – “It is tough to be a West Indian in India”. And then there are images of the West Indian and Indian teams playing cricket.

At worst, these ads are racist. At best, they shout out a message that Indians are not hospitable and treat our guests terribly.

Let’s address hospitality.

“Atithi Devo Bhava” – The Guest is God

Every Indian has heard that phrase – hospitality has been ingrained in Indian culture. In fact, India’s Tourism Ministry has adopted this slogan as part of their Incredible India campaign. Clearly, this is *not* how we treat our guests. When someone’s mouth is on fire, would you deny them succor? Would you abandon someone in the middle of a lake? Clearly, no.

I understand what they were trying to say – they are trying to talk about how the Indian team will do well against the West Indian team. They thought the ads would be funny – any maybe they are for the first few seconds after you’ve seen them the very first time. But as soon as you think about it for a few seconds, that’s gone.

Here’s a better way do it –

New Ad #1 – The West Indian eats at a dhaba. He has a great time and makes friends with the locals. They go to watch the cricket together. India smacks the West Indies and the Indian hosts are happy. Tag line – “It is great to be a West Indian in India – except if you are on the cricket field”

New Ad #2 – A West Indian couple are snuggling on a boat in the middle of a large and serene lake.. Their guide is very chatty and friendly. The next day, they are in the stands next to each other. India smacks the West Indies and the Indian boatman is happy. Tag line – “It is great to be a West Indian in India – except if you are on the cricket field”

Wouldn’t that accomplish the purpose in a graceful, yet impactful way? I certainly think so.

Now, onto the charge of racism. I don’t believe that the ads were meant to be racist. I think that if the Australians were visiting, Neo might have made the same advertisement and said “It is tough to be an Aussie in India” (except the Aussies always win!). But the reality is that the Aussies aren’t visiting. The reality is that the West Indians are black and the ad could be perceived as racist. From a brand value perspective, as you are trying to establish your brand, why would you even take the risk?

I think Neo Sports and its parent company Nimbus Communications have missed the mark here. Time to pull these ads and issue a clarification.

Many Indians will head to the West Indies in March for the Cricket World Cup. How many will want to go if West Indian television had an ad where an Indian visitor was being treated rudely with the tag line “It is tough to be an Indian in the West Indies”?

As the saying goes, “Its just not cricket!”

UPDATE (January 27th): Another match today – they’ve now started putting out ads with the Sri Lankans. Here’s what they’ve done:

Ad #1: They have a Sri Lankan man being served food at the dhaba (the same hot curry) and the waiters gleefully waiting for him to start eating. The running around looking for water is not there since they’ve established what’s about to happen to him. Tag line ‘Now, even Sri Lankans will have a tough time in India”

Ad #2: A Sri Lankan couple in the boat. Shots of the boatman grinning expectantly at what’s about to happen to them. Shorter ad than the WI one. Same tag line as above.

So Nimbus seems to be sticking to their guns and by doing so, their message seems to be that there is no racist intent – they are treating the Sri Lankans (who are brown like Indians) the same as the West Indians. All very interesting.

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  • Political Correctness taken too far. We can choose to see racism in everything, if we desire to do so. Sadly, many of us do. Especially here in the bay area. Sometimes we need to learn to just take things for what they are, instead of trying our darndest to read between the lines when no concealed meaning was intended.

    Someday the world will learn that two entities can be equal without being identical. Until then, we move inexorably along a path towards a planet populated by thirty-something, gender-neutral grey-coloured beings, as I opined back when Pluto was chucked out of the interplanetary alliance – http://4thumpire.blogspot.com/2006/08/equality-and-identity-poor-pluto.html

    Or maybe the ads are intended to reflect reality. Sad to say, but if there’s one country in which I’ve seen and heard expressions of hostility towards those of darker complexion, it’s India. It was a well-travelled gentleman in Chennai who once matter-of-factly explained to me that Melbourne was the greatest city in the world, “because there are no black people there.”

  • pratyush

    i dont think the ads were racist .. come on they were just funny !! i liked them infact. all this racism thing is sweeping people and all are looking at minute details and trying to use the term.

    i think the ads were plain funny.. thats it.

  • Shripriya

    My personal stance is quite clear – I don’t believe they were intended to be racist. If this was an ad the WI channel had before the world cup, I would find it funny only the first time and then I’d think it was not very welcoming of Indians. We get very touchy when we feel impugned, so why not apply that standard to ourselves?

    As I was watching the first match a friend smsed me that she though it was racist. Others I met opined that they felt there were going a touch far.

    I tackled the issue of racism because surely there are people who think it is. As a marketer why would you even have an ad that has a hint of that?

    @Forth Ump – I do think that PC-ness has gone through the roof and that makes it hard for anyone to say anything even slightly irreverent (as the Princetonian article demonstrated). To me, this was not so much about being PC, but rather about market reaction to an ad. And, my personal reaction to it.

    @Pratyush – hopefully my stance is clear. I think advertising like all creative endeavors elicits different responses from different people. I did find the ads funny the first time I saw them and they are clearly well-executed. But when I thought about it just a tad, then I realized that it just made us look like bad hosts. But everyone is entitled to his/her opinion.

    From the perspective of a company trying to build a brand, I don’t think you want to have this kind of controversy.

  • Yogesh

    There may not be any racist intent here but nonetheless the ads are in very poor taste and not all that funny. Surprising, nobody in Neo Sports sees it that way…

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  • Shripriya

    @Yogesh – clearly, we are 100% in agreement!

  • Nathan

    Thanks for the forum. how i wish Nimbus can read this. I am an African in india and after watching these ads, i feel like what we go through each day in not with a few but with many. How can a TV channel air such ads? First they make blacks look stupid and not liked. The ads are so racist that now i feel like everyone is watching me as i walk and think i am like those actors. The ads just tell us what kind of hatred indians have for blacks. And where is the Indian hospitality if just a cheap thing like water cant be given easily? A few of us wants to organize a demostration to ask Neo sports to pull out those ads or we will need a lawyer who will help us heal our broken hearts. Its racism. I am black, i know what it smells like.

  • Shripriya

    @ Nathan – Thanks for posting here.

    I sincerely apologize for the racism that you deal with on a daily basis in India – I think that is very sad and disgusting. Please know that all Indians are not racist and there are lots of us who evaluate people by who they are and not by their skin color.

    Even if the intention of the ad was not racism (giving them the benefit of doubt for a moment), it is the impact on viewers that matters.

    I do hope you make your voices heard so that companies and advertising agencies are sensitized to the issue and put forth more thoughtful and truly humorous ads.

  • Rajender sharma

    I have not seen the ads because we are not getting the Neo Sports channel here in our city. But from your description it does look to in bad taste. Apart from that it smacks of down right cruelty towards fellow human beings . Indians are not known for such disrespectful and in human behaviour even towards their enemies. SORRY, Neo sports it is just not done! Please don’t make us look like the un civilised people from dark ages. Thanks Shripriya for highlighting the issue.

  • I prefer your alternatives by far.

  • Nathan

    Thanks for all who share with us this kind of feeling. You never know how a shoe hurts unless you wear it. But a burden is lighter when shared. Its time the world knows the real terrorist of the hour. The other day i watched a news story on NDTV and one Mumbai boy boldly said that he dont feel african are that human and they look scary. It should start with someone like Shripriya and others to tell their kids that white, black or indian, we are one. I have a chance to teach english in one college and my students have vowed to be on the fore front the tell the world that WE ARE ONE. Thank once again.

  • Shankar Manickam

    Well said Shripriya.

    Feeling proud of you, when you are concerning our own mistakes.

    When we are growing up, we can globalise the india but we shud not indianize the globe.

    We shud be very careful in these time! Its not our traditional way. We shud not hurt other’s feeling at any cost.

    -Shankar

    shankar.manickam@gmail.com

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  • The first couple of ads were definitely not funny… however, the Sri Lankan ones were better in that at least they had an element of humour (the tiger safari one, for instance).

    Maybe if they’d shown a comedy of errors instead of deliberate malice then maybe it would have been better and funnier…

    E.g. the guy serves him water, but accidentally drops the glass. Then he goes for the tap and there’s no water running from it and somebody has to switch on the pumpset and then the power goes off. Finally he runs to a Thanni lorry and has to stand in a queue behind a hundred others.

  • Shripriya

    Hi Hari – thanks for the update. I’m not in India any more so have not seen the tiger safari one. Yes, I like your idea better – people trying to help, but circumstances conspiring against the guy.

  • I think Nimbus (the company behind Neo Sports) is lying in claiming that the ads were not racist. I have no doubts in my mind that they would thought a hundred times if the visiting team would have been Australia or England instead of West Indies and Sri Lanka.

    There is not just a racist undertone to the ads but an outright dangling of threat of rape on black women (as seen in the boat ad).

    The guys at Neo Sports seem more like Neo Nazis to me.

    – Rajesh (www.natant.blogspot.com)

  • Jack hammer

    its pretty retarted and racist to think that those ads are racist.

    grow up people!! come out of ur lunch box brains!!

  • krishnan

    i agree with your point of view

  • Srini

    I agree with your article and so does the Indian government albeit it woke up a little late. The Information & Broadcast ministry now has issued Neo Sports & Nimbus show cause notice for the racist ads

    http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/5922_1929481,0015002100000000.htm

    Cheers

    Srini:)

  • Shripriya

    @ Rajesh and Krishnan – seems like there is a lot of agreement on this. My question to Nimbus is this – when so many people think there are (or may be) racist overtones, why use this for brand building??

    @ Jack hammer – er… well, alrighty then…

    @ Srini – thanks for the link. Will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  • Cacophonix1984

    Its amazing how a trail of 21 emails can convince all of you that there is agreement that the ads are racist. It is not a statistically significant sample and drawing conclusions based on one or two opinions is stretching the point.

    Here is an opinion – mine – I do not suggest it is the final word or a conclusive one.

    The ads are extremely funny beacuse they create a comic situation. They are funny because they portray an exaggerated response. The watered down version suggested by offended reader number one, “Shripriya”, would not not make it even to the desk of a halfway decent creative director. It is not an ad for Indian tourism or Indian hospitality – if people have doubts about either they will not visit India in droves.

    Cricket is about competition – te ads demonstrate what the spillover of competitive spirit on the playing field could look like. I thinbk they are bang on for a channel that would like to harness the energy of the cricket-mad nation we are.

    I can vividly remember watching Australian, English, West Indian, Pakistani and just any country’s players on TV while they where clobbering India in the game and remember the fierce resentment I would feel against an innocent(!) English century maker as he clubbed Kapil or Srinath for a four or six. Hostility is a natural outome of the competitive spirit – watch Srisanth on the field!

    The ad hits a nerve perhaps because we have baggage as Indians of being both prosecutors and victims of racism.

    Enough baggage, all jokes about Chinamen are not racist, some are actually funny. We cannot celebrate our diversity and difference within our nation and without if we cannot accept and celebrate our differences.

    An heaven help us, the very fact that the Indian government chose to make an issue of it is enough to convince this reader/TV viewer that this whole topic is a storm in a tea cup, and typical grist for the mill political fodder. Would you trust our politicians to make a genuine case against racism?

  • Shripriya

    @ Cacophonix1984 – What makes you think that any of us thinks 21 comments is a conclusive agreement on anything? These are 21 points of view. Not all of them agree.

    Just like you are entitled to your opinion, so is everyone else. And that’s what they’ve done – expressed an opinion, just like you have.

    And on the topic of the Indian government, I agree with you. Just because I didn’t enjoy the ads, I don’t believe that the GOI should get involved. I think the market and the fact that they are upsetting a part of their customer base is what should drive Neo’s decision making. My post on that topic is here: http://shripriya.com/blog/2007/02/19/censorship/

  • Manav

    I was most offended by a clip which shows how Indians take away every source of drinking wanter from a west indian when he wanted to have it desperately. Giving drinking water to person who wants is the one of the biggest respect to Almighty as preached in Hinduism and Islam in almost equally strong manner. On top of it, this country always has a tradition of Atithi Devo Bhav!! Funny we see this punch line in Torusim Ministries advertisement and here Neo tells outsider that its difficult to be a West-Indian and Srilankar in India. Even though it maybe light-hearted but if it showed in context of a cricket match. But in terms of Indian population at large like boat-person, people at Dhaba etc it is completely against our culture.

  • Manav

    I find Shripriya a bit confused. I apologize for a personal comment but you donot seem to be having any ideology. On one had you didn’t like what Neo sports did. On other hand when a Regulatory Body (Ministry of I&B) took cognizance of public feelings and did something. You still have a problem. And I am almost convinced, if Govt wouldn’t have responded then somebody, perhaps you only, would have come back and said what the heck is Govt doing. After all it is by the people, of the people and for the people. So being a regulatory body it should be sensitive to public opinion.

    I somehow feel, none of us understand what democracy is. Expecially all of us who most of the time sit in AC rooms, seem to have developed a tendency to comment on almost anything and everything; and believe democary is all about different opinions, counter opinions and more counter opinions. We somehow donot like any check or regulation. Pls note it is Democracy and not a synonym of In-discipline of any sorts.

    I would have perhaps agreed with you if some religious fanatic organization would have done something in reaction to this. It would have been worth deploring because nobody can become self-styled ruler/regulator. But Govt ?? in this case. Arey its their job..otherwise who will do the moderation ??

  • Shripriya

    @ Manav – thanks for reading the blog and for the comments. I addressed your comment in the other post (http://shripriya.com/blog/2007/02/19/censorship/#comments), but will address them here as well.

    Yes, I personally found the ads distasteful. But I will also stand by their right to make the ads. That is not confused, that is ordering of principals. And I order free speech first.

    Voltaire’s quote is the best summary: “I disapprove of what you say but I shall defend with my life your right to say it”.

    I hope we can continue to engage in conversation on future posts 🙂

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  • I somehow feel, none of us understand what democracy is. Expecially all of us who most of the time sit in AC rooms

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  • flashgame

    I agree with you!

  • flashgame

    I agree with you!

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  • wtmercer

    Great article and very well written. Thank you.

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