Sony Ad Causes White Riot

Keith Stuart, Guardian, July 5, 2006

A new billboard advert for Sony’s white PSP has caused consternation across the US videogaming community. The ad shows a white model dressed entirely in white threateningly grasping the face of a black model. Next to them are the words, “PlayStation Portable. White is coming”. The ad can also be seen on the Dutch official PSP site.

Sites such as Kotaku, Joystiq and Digital Battle have questioned whether the ads are racist. So far the debate has split comments sections with some condeming Sony and equal numbers defending the ads as a harmless personfication of the handheld console’s two available colours.

Clearly, whatever the justifications, the intention is to be provocative. According to Joystiq, the adverts have been created by TBWA an agency that speciliases in ‘disruptive’ marketing. From the company’s website:

Disruption is the art of asking better questions, challenging conventional wisdom and overturning assumptions and prejudices that get in the way of imagining new possibilities and visionary ideas.

It’s questionable, however, whether the world is ready to explore themes of race and domination in the context of a videogame console ad. Although not as wilfully controversial as Benetton’s infamous ‘United Colours’ campaign, many viewers will be unwilling or unable to decode the imagery until it becomes about two different colours of plastic.

Importantly perhaps, the ads are for the European release of the white PSP and are appearing on billboards in Amsterdam rather than in the US where racial tension remains a fraught issue.

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