Players: Naomi Campbell; Cadbury Chocolate.
Opening Serve: Model Naomi Campbell was not flattered by the use of her name in Cadbury's recent ad for a new chocolate bar reading, "Move over Naomi, there's a new diva in town." An offended Campbell said she was "shocked. It's upsetting to be described as chocolate, not just for me, but for all black women and black people. I do not find any humor in this. It is insulting and hurtful," according to The Daily Mail. After the Kraft-owned British confectioner refused to remove the ad from papers, The Independent reported that Campbell was considering "every option available." The model's outrage grabbed the attention of a black British advocacy group called Operation Black Vote which urged black consumers to boycott Cadbury's products until an apology was issued. They even reached out to Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to join the cause. "Racism in the playground starts with black children being called 'chocolate bar.' At best, this is insensitive, and at worst it demonstrates Cadbury's utter disregard for causing offense. Its lack of apology just adds insult to injury. The Eurocentric joke is not funny to black people," Simon Woolley, the group's director, told The Independent.
British black equality activist Lee Jasper also weighed in on the debate. "This issue is not just about the insult to Naomi Campbell. It's about how these companies treat black people in general. part of the problem is that they don't see it as offensive."
Return Volley: Last week, Cadbury finally pulled the ad and issued an apology, promising never to use the ad again. "Cadbury takes its responsibility to consumers very seriously indeed and we would never deliberately produce any marketing material we felt might cause offence to any section of society. It was not our intention that this campaign should offend Naomi, her family or anybody else and we are sincerely sorry that it has done so," reads the statement on the company's website.
But, despite Cadbury's insistence that "we've been in discussions with Naomi's solicitors and can confirm that they have accepted our apology on her behalf as a conclusion to this issue," Campbell's own reaction seems less than enthusiastic. "I'm pleased that Cadbury have made a 'sincere apology' in regards to their Bliss ad campaign," she told The Guardian. "The advertisement was in poor taste on a number of levels, not least in the way they likened me to their chocolate bar. It is also a shame that it took so long for Cadbury to offer this apology." She suggested, "Better still they should avoid causing offense in the first place which is best achieved by having greater diversity at board and senior management level."
What They Say the Fight's About: Campbell is angry not only at being compared to a chocolate bar but that Cadbury initially refused to remove the ad and then took so long to issue an apology. Cadbury insists the ad was in no way intended to offend anyone.
What the Fight's Really About: This is not the first time Cadbury has been accused of racist advertising. An advertisement meant to promote the company's use of Fairtrade cocoa which, in The Independent's words, "features a giant, negroid rotating head that unleashes mass dancing among what appear to be highly excitable people in an African village," came under fire in 2009, criticized for portraying Africans as "baffooning simpletons." Just two years earlier, England's Advertising Standards Authority banned another Cadbury ad, this one for Trident gum. The agency received over 500 complaints about the ad being racists--it's critics arguing that the ad "showed offensive stereotypes and ridiculed black or Caribbean people and their culture" and also that "the ad was offensive and insensitive because Trident was the name of the Metropolitan Police's 'black-on-black' gun crime initiative," according to The Guardian.
You'd think a company with at least two prior accusations of racist advertising would be a little more sensitive. It's clear that the point of the ad was to call attention to the fact that both Naomi Campbell and this new chocolate draw attention, but not anticipating the inevitable backlash of such a comparison was simply tone deaf on Cadbury's part. With three strikes against it, we can only hope the company will choose its advertisements more carefully in the future.
Who's Winning Now: Naomi and her supporters. They got what they wanted, and Cadbury doesn't look good for waiting so long to remove the ad, especially in light of its history.