Bil Browning

Racist KFC ad from Australia

Filed By Bil Browning | February 06, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: Chris Worden, KFC, racism, racist tv ads

Don't you wonder how some ads ever get the green light by the companies? Half the time it's not just stuff like the sexist A1 steak sauce bottle, but full-fledged marketing campaigns like the Indiana laundromat's racist signs.

So what's your opinions on this KFC ad from Australia? Chris Worden calls it "one of the most racist television ads I've ever seen."

It's after the jump. What do you think? Does it deserve the title? If not, link us to your nominee.

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This is actually a situation where I don't think I'm in a position to judge.

If this was a US ad, I would find it racist (and it did immediately strike me that way).

But I don't know if the stereotype "Blacks really love fried chicken" is one that is extant in Australia. For that matter, I don't know what the Australian perception of *fried chicken* is -- whether it's considered indigenous or foreign for instance.

So, you know, I'm skeptical about the appropriateness of the ad, but I could be convinced that it isn't particularly racist *in the market it airs in*.

I read the ad as "white man feeling uncomfortable about being surrounded by hordes of non-white cricket fans, until having some KFC makes him feel better." The ad is racist as hell.

I don't necessarily disagree ... But what exactly formulates the element of racism? Is it racist because the white guy feels unsafe surrounded by black people, or is it racist because the "peace offering" happens to be fried chicken? Or both?

Margaretpoa Margaretpoa | February 6, 2010 2:47 PM

I've been to Australia and while there is certainly racism, this cannot be construed as racist there. The culture is different. Fried Chicken is "soul food" in American culture, not Australian culture. I think you're applying your very American ideals to something that isn't offensive at all there.

Racist yeah...funny yeah..because it's true.
When you got a group celebrating their cultural differences...Ragee and jive dancing at a cricket match being a general nuisence, then feeding them an equally cultuarl food to calm them down...Funny. Sterotypes are funny because they're all based on something thats true and then exagerated.... The nelly gay man, the butch dyke the horribly dressed butch tranny... even Wanda Sykes jokes about how black poeple can buy watermelons now because Obama's president...

Have fun with it... :-)

i saw it as a guy surrounded by crap music he didn't like. and by sharing chicken with musicians, it got them to stop playing.
thats it.

I'm afraid I dont see the racism here, guys. Awkward guy in the middle of a happy crowd, blends in by offering up food. Would it be racist if it were Burger King or McDonalds? Probably not. Ben and Jerry's? No way. But because we load *our* cutural baggage onto an ad from Australia, it *must* be racist.


I guess.

This thread obviously traverses dangerous ground, cultural terrain where fools rush in while angels fear to tread.

So far, the responses range from "It's racist as hell" to "It wouldn't be racist in Australia" to "I'm not sure" and finally "I'm afraid I don't see the racism here." Is this type of racism so subjective that we must conclude that there are no clear rules about what is acceptable and what is intolerable, what we should laugh at and what we should protest against? Is racism in the eye of the beholder?

In 2009 Patricia Nell Warren posted that [we need a better definition of bigotry], and I must conclude that we also need a better, clearer grasp on what makes a particular message racist.

One thing I've said ad nauseam is that "Context is everything." Many might be tempted to proclaim that the n-word is always racist, or maybe, in the face of gangsta hip-hop, it is always racist if it is spoken by a non-black person ...

... but then we have no wiggle room to explain the genius of [this classic SNL skit] written by African-American comedian Paul Mooney. Apparently we can all at least agree that genuine racism is offensive, but a parody of racism can be comedy at its best.

>> "Is racism in the eye of the beholder?"

In this case, I'd say yes, it is.

Folks have pointed out in this thread that, in Australia, this is not racist.

I think we should take their word for it, dont you?

Fried Chicken is not a "cultural food" to West Indians.

Now had they offered a bucket of goat fritters, you may have a point. Of course everyone knows about Conch, it's stereotypical.

But fried chicken? Or sushi? Or cheese and vegemite sandwiches? Why not?

And in Australia, this is not racist:

"COON is Australia’s best known cheese brand. For more than 75 years COON has been as Aussie as the Hills Hoist."


Of course, everyone knows about the Hills Hoist. You'd have to be ignorant and racist not to know this is an Australian cultural icon.

*SIGH* The world is not American, and not all people with more melanin than you have your cultural baggage.

I've never heard of COON brand Australian cheese ... interesting ... but in the 1980's a friend of mine visited Australia and brought back a tube of "Darkie Toothpaste" --- "Darkie" was the brand name, and the front of the tube had a caricature of a black man in minstrel make-up, as if the illustration had come right out of the 19th Century American South! (At least that's the impression I and my comrades got.) My partner at the time borrowed it and took it to where he worked and showed it to some of his African-American co-workers. For the most part, they were so befuddled they were speechless.

I have heard that, finally, the more international elements of the Australian populace started a PR campaign against Darkie Toothpaste, and they eventually changed the name to something else.

But obviously, the Australians have a very different sense of racism than we Americans do.

So, is it racist? It could be very racist, but I can not place my US views against an Austrialian commercial. Its best to listen to someone who’s Austrialian and has lived there they’re whole life.
I’ve been outside the US and gone to a KFC (in Spain) and its marketed as American food only. The various American franchise/chains use local actors and locations for ads to bring the product as ‘home’ to the local person.

I see no one noticed that the white guy was cheering for a different team...literally.

He has on a yellow and green uniform and everyone else has on red, THAT'S why it's awkward. What I don't entirely understand though is that no one is paying attention to him so why it's awkward is a mystery to me. It'd be one thing if he were threatened in some way but being completely overlooked I guess is so offensive to him, he must offer chicken. Strange and awkward and at first blush, racist but ultimately I'm not sure it translates the same as if it were an American market.

Hell if I know.

But being stuck in 2 1/2 feet of snow right now- it sure made me crave a bucket of extra crispy.

Yum. Fried Chicken. Yum.

Uh...we DO all realize that, even without the fried chicken baggage, the ad is a white guy being uncomfortable/upset/etc because he's surrounded by (overly animated) black folk...don't we?
Is this intentionally racist? Unknown, probably not.
Is it incredibly easy to see all sorts of different racist aspects in it? Dear gods yes.
Ignore the food and look at the ad. It's still pretty messed up.

It's not White vs Black. It's far more important than that. It's Australia vs the West Indies. In CRICKET.

It's not about race, it's about RELIGION.

Ok, the skin colour's different. And? Is that supposed to be significant?

Hi everyone,

Look, Zoe, Jessi and Margaret are right.
The only cultural reference in the ad is about cricket, and the 'white guy' being in the wrong part of the stand, surrounded by the opposite team's supporters. Could have been any team. Happened to be the Windies, but could have been India, the English or Kiwis.

The point of the ad is to distract the noisy team with sponsor's product. The only ones who are being racist here, are you people looking for it. With your very *own* assumptions you are inappropriately applying a veneer over what you see.
We don't have America's history or stereotypes of black people here and don't need them - we have our very own stereotypes and sometimes negative attitudes toward Aboriginal people which are completely different. There are indeed racist elements in Australia, as anywhere else. But this isn't one of them, and you're barking up the wrong tree. The only 'cultural significance' fried chicken has here is that it's crap, greasy fast food mostly eaten by bogans.

Look that one up and take umbrage at it instead, lol. Humour like Kath and Kim takes the piss out of Aussie bogans, but it is mostly gentle fun at our own expense. Cringe-making pot-shots at our own suburban 'culture', and the resulting malaprops, gaucheness and themes like racism, horrendous pronunciation and silly aspirations of the uneducated middle class.

I'm not Australian, I'm British (and white).

I'd never heard of the "Black people love fried chicken" stereotype before I went to live in the US. It just isn't a stereotype we have in the UK.

Something we *DO* share with Australia, though, is cricket. And that's what this ad revolves around. The guy isn't (I hope) feeling awkward because he's surrounded by Black people. He's an Australian surrounded by West Indian fans *DURING A CRICKET MATCH*. For USAians, imagine being a Yankees fan surrounded by Red Socks fans. Uncomfortable, non?

Now, whether Black people in Australia are offended by this ad, I have no idea. What I do know, though, is that there is a strong and friendly rivalry between the English, Australians, and West Indians when it comes to cricket, and that many English cricket fans will be torn as to who to support when the Aussies and Windies play each other.

My response, as a white Briton who lived in the US for over a decade, is that I can perfectly see how Americans would leap to the conclusion that this is about race. However, I see it as "Cricket Fan Finds Himself Sitting On Wrong Side Of Crowd, Eases Tensions By Providing Food Everyone Loves, Soon Everyone Is Happy With Each Other".

How it plays in Aus, I cannot pretend to know.

By the by, just to add that the Aussie is wearing an Australian cricket team top, thereby screaming out to everyone around him that he's not supporting the Windies. Take the Yankees fan surrounded by Red Socks fans analogy further and imagine the poor sod sitting there in a Yankees shirt. No way to hide.

K and Grace are right. I'm an Aussie, who from day one was amused by the criticism of this add and where that criticism was coming from.
This add has only been seen as 'racist' by Americans - and that's solely because you are putting it through your filter of history.
But we dont have the same history as you.
The 'link' between fried chicken and black people doesn't wash here - we dont get it (not to mention that the add clearly indicates the people surrounding the 'white' guy are not African Americans but West Indians - with whom we have a long standing, friendly rivalry in cricket).
As Grace says, we do have racism in this country - as does EVERY country - no matter what they say, and it is a very real problem in some areas in our society.
But for us Aussies, when we heard the screams of 'racism' coming from the US over this particular add - it only served to remind us of the racism that the accusers were themselves exemplifying in the accusation itself, because the automatic assumption was that all the world has the same cultural experience, filters and viewpoints as the USA.
The world is wider than just America folks :-).
I mean no offense by the above, but the point has to be made that the complaint itself has slightly racist overtones, by the assumptions that were made by those yelling the loudest.

Aren't we just looking a little toooo hard for offense? I don't see anything racist about it. And I am an American. I mean, is it only black people who can offer chicken to black people???

The intentions of the Australian ad agency were probably West Indies/Australian rivalry, not really white/black racism in the context of post-slavery US.

But who cares. They should have thought what Americans would have thought about the ad when they produced it. I'm serious - they wanted a global culture as a result of a global economy, and they've got it. They enter other countries and impose their business practices, food, and lifestyles on other peoples, and they've got to be ready to be judged by everyone's history.

They got the globalism they wanted, so it's their own fucking fault if Americans think they're racist.

But they're not being judged by "everyone else's" standards - they're being jumped on for something that makes sense ONLY in the US.

Now, I do understand that they're an American company and a global franchise, and that we live in an era when information can be shot round the world within seconds. What I do find fascinating about this discussion, though, is the insistence that American experience trumps all others. Somehow, it seems from several thousand miles away, like what's being said is that if Americans can see it and understand the language, it must conform to American attitudes, or else it's wrong. I understand the impulse, having had some weird reactions to some chunks of American culture(s) when I lived over there.

It's sometimes true that Other People have Got It Wrong; sometimes it's demonstrably not; very often, it's a murky area because it involves very subjective and very emotive judgments.

KFC is an American company, and it is expected to bring with it an American vibe; it's not expected to treat every country it operates in as if it's an American colony, subject to American judgment. Because when you say "everyone else", who do you mean? I suspect you mean America.

I hope I'm not coming over as snotty or aggressive here. I know it's really uncomfortable to be told that your ingrained cultural assumptions bear closer scrutiny by some random stranger - I had quite a bit of that in my first couple of years in the US, and while it wasn't always pleasant, it was valuable.

Don't worry about being snotty or aggressive. Not at all.

I literally mean "everyone else," and in everyone else. These were the same folks who said they wanted to construct a global culture in which they could operate the same in every country and sell their terrible product to everyone in the same way. Their goal was to make every country a colony to private corporations.

So they went ahead and did it, and the fact that KFC is American isn't necessarily part of the question here, although it does man that Americans are going to recognize the brand. It's not that it has to conform to American standards, but that it's going to be judged by every culture that sees the ad based on the viewing culture's own standards. If an ad produced by KFC in the US contains some offensive cultural markers that only Australians would recognize, then Australians completely have the right to call it out and post the YouTube video everywhere.

Obviously, I have little sympathy for KFC, and it has to do with the fact that they're trying to plant their flag on every country on earth in every square inch of free space if they think it'll make them a buck. If they want to develop global cache for their brand, then they also have to be responsible for the global implications of their local actions.

>> "They should have thought what Americans would have thought about the ad when they produced it."

Why? The ad wasnt meant for an American market. It was meant for an Australian one, a country that clearly has different visual cues when it comes to what is and is not considered racism.

Honestly, I think we're all looking for something that's not there. But for some inexplicable reason, we NEED to find racism in this ad at this point. Allowing it to stand on its own cultural merits isnt good enough: it has to be put through "American" values before all else.

Well, sorry, no. It's that kind of isolationist thinking that led me to Canada. There is more to the world than the US, and there are more values in the world than those espoused by the US.

Bottom line: this is a racist ad only if you find it to be so. And that can be applied to anything.

I completely sympathise with loathing KFC (I'm vegan because I support the rights of humans and non-humans). I completely sympathise with not wanting to force homogenisation of cultures, because - selfishly - I find dealing with other perspectives stretches me and forces me to examine my own assumptions and grow up (the growing up thing is definitely ongoing...!).

My assessment, though, is that in order to sell KFC all over the world, they have to be savvy enough to produce advertising that works in the cultures they're selling in. If they only produced ads that would keep their US audiences happy, they wouldn't be able to further their marketing abroad. We get your films and tv shows and music, but we don't get a full and nuanced understanding of your culture; even with a shared language, our cultures are sufficiently different that any multinational corporation would be committing suicide if they didn't understand that you target the group you aim to affect by using their frame of reference and not the one you brought from home.

"If an ad produced by KFC in the US contains some offensive cultural markers that only Australians would recognize, then Australians completely have the right to call it out and post the YouTube video everywhere."

They'd have the right to do it, but they wouldn't *be* right to impose their context on an ad made in and for the US. They'd look like intellectual lightweights with a blind spot when it came to recognising that their frame of reference might be quite different than someone else's.

KFC are obliged, I feel, to ensure that their marketing doesn't violate the beliefs of their home. In this case, they're obliged to refuse to make racist ads. So they haven't (at least not in this case - I only speak English, so have no idea what they're doing elsewhere). This ad is not about race or colour, it's about cricket, it's in the context of a series of cricket-related ads... and it isn't racist. While it pains me to defend a huge corporation that sells fast food across the world against a decent person of integrity, in this case it seems to me that they have the right of it. Just this once :)

This ad was part of a series called "Cricket Survival Guide" in which the guy gives chicken to numerous other people—including white people (KFC is a sponsor of Aussie cricket), so this ad didn't exist in a vacuum.

Also, there's a long history of this sort of advertising in Australia: They've had similar commercials against their other cricket foes, too.

Many Americans seem to think that Australians SHOULD know it's offensive to some Americans. But how would they know that? American pop culture doesn't present that particular stereotype (unless there's some film or TV show I don't know about…), so unless they study American history or travel to the US, the average Australian has no way of knowing about the intricacies of racism or culture in America—any more than the average American knows about the culture of Australia or any other country.

I'm pleased that so many people commenting on this thread realise that context matters, and that Australia is not the United States.