The best way to convince consumers to buy an all-white PlayStation Portable instead of the original black model might not be a billboard that features a stern white woman clutching a black woman by the chin.
Sony Computer Entertainment of Europe announced yesterday they were scuttling an ad campaign launched in the Netherlands that has drawn ire in America for a little more than a week. The version that appeared on billboards last week included the tagline "White Is Coming."
"Whilst the images used in the campaign were intended solely to highlight the contrast between the different colors available for the PSP, we recognize that the subject matter of one specific image may have caused concern in some countries not directly affected by the advertising," the company said in a statement. "As a result, we have now withdrawn the campaign."
A company spokesman said the campaign was never slated to run in the United States, but that didn't keep the ad from drawing a reaction from Americans.
After the ad started making the rounds on gaming message boards, it was picked up by game blogs and, in turn, came to the attention of California assemblyman Leland Yee, whose office promptly issued a statement saying Sony had stooped to a "new low." Yee is the author of a law that criminalized the sale of explicitly violent video games in the state of California — a law that has yet to take effect because of a court challenge from the video game industry.
Lee's protest was joined by Rick Callendar, president of the San Jose and Silicon Valley chapter of the NAACP, who likened the ad to a minstrel show.
Gamers were split in their response. On the gaming blog Joystiq, which included other images from the campaign, including one with the white woman knocked over by the black woman, a reader who went by the name "epobirs" wrote: "To people whose minds seek out racism where it doesn't exist, this is about two thematic hot chicks vying for domination. It isn't any such idiocy as 'white saving us from black'; it's just mild eroticism used to sell a game system. Benetton was doing this stuff 20 years ago. Has the world forgotten so quickly?"
On the other hand, reader "Killer_Twinkie" wrote: "I can't believe Sony would print such an ad. ... This ad looks as though it's saying white is superior to black (even as people). It wouldn't have been so bad if they hadn't had her in such a threatening stance and looking like she's about ready to bitch-slap the black chick."
Sony has provoked a rash of advertising controversies with a recent PSP ad campaign that involved paid-for graffiti in major American cities. A London PSP ad that stated, "Your girlfriend's white bits here," drew fire when it started appearing last month, though many who complained confessed they didn't know what the message meant, let alone if it were sexist or racist.
As for the Dutch ad, Sony is promising to think twice about selling products with the imagery of interracial fighting from here on out. "In the future, we will apply greater sensitivity in our selection of campaign imagery and will take due account of the increasingly global reach of such local adverts and their potential impact in other countries."