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Complaint of 'racism' against Wexford shop whose owner painted his face black for advert upheld

Smyths Homevalue shared the video on Facebook to promote Black Friday last year.

Smyths Homevalue in Enniscorthy
Smyths Homevalue in Enniscorthy
Image: Google Streetview

A COMPLAINT AGAINST a Wexford DIY store whose owner painted his face black for a Black Friday promotional video has been upheld by the advertising watchdog.

The Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) received a complaint about the video, posted by Enniscorthy-based Smyths Homevalue on Facebook last year, after a member of the public deemed it was “racist” and attempted to sell goods using racism.

The video featured the shop’s owner discussing the discounts on a number of items for sale in the shop, while dressed completely in black clothing and with his face and his hands painted black.

It began with the shop owner flicking his tongue at the camera, before he explained the products offered on sale and flicked his tongue again at the end of the video.

The video was subsequently removed from the store’s Facebook page after a number of commenters complained that it was racist, due to its connotations to 19th-century minstrel shows.

The shows featured white actors dressing up as black characters and often saw discriminatory depictions of African-Americans.

In a subsequent social media post, Smyths apologised for any offence or upset caused by the video, adding that its creation was naive on the part of the store and that it did not intend to offend anyone based on their race.

Historic rugby win

Responding to the complaint made to the ASAI, Smyths said the premise of the video was to celebrate Ireland’s recent historic win over the New Zealand rugby team, known as the All Blacks, while linking it to Black Friday.

They said this was portrayed by the store owner dressing entirely in a New Zealand All Blacks kit and painting his body with black body paint.

The store also said the idea was brought to life by the store owner attempting an element of New Zealand’s ceremonial dance, the Haka, specifically the ‘whetero’ routine, which is where the participant exposes their tongue.

Smyths told the ASAI that the video was positively received by an “overwhelming majority of people”, but that they removed it almost immediately after receiving complaints on social media.

They added that their subsequent apology was very well received, which was proven by the positive and supportive responses they received afterwards.

The DIY store also said that while they appreciated that the video’s execution was ill-advised, they regretted that it had been misinterpreted, and said they did not intend to impersonate or insult anyone based on race.

Smyths rejected the assertion that the video was intended as a racial slur, but acknowledged the misunderstanding it had caused.

They also told the ASAI that they committed to ensuring that those in the store were more aware of societal sensitivities in the future.

‘Concerns of racism’

In its conclusions, the ASAI’s committee upheld the complaint against Smyths Homevalue.

The authority’s committee said that it had considered the detail of the complaint, Smyths’ response and the fact that the advertisement had been withdrawn.

The commttee also noted that the store had not intended to impersonate nor insult anyone.

However, it considered that the application of face paint to change the owner’s complexion without context “could give rise to concerns of racism”.

The committee added that the advertisement had breached several sections of the advertising code, including the use of humour, offensiveness, and respecting the diversity of Irish society.

However, as the video in question had been withdrawn, the ASAI ruled that no further action on the part of Smyths was required.

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