A television commercial that prompted complaints for its portrayal of a white woman feeding a young black boy like a dog will not be formally investigated, South Africa’s advertising watchdog has ruled.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) says it is satisfied the actions of the organization behind the advert, Feed a Child — which has withdrawn the commercial and published a formal apology — address complainants’ concerns.
The first scene from the advertisement shows the woman watching television with the boy lying across her lap. She strokes him like a pet and feeds him popcorn with her fingers.
It then portrays the boy bringing her a newspaper as she eats breakfast in bed. She rewards him with a morsel of food.
Icing a cake, she lets him lick her fingers and later passes him crumbs as she eats the cake.
Finally the advertisement switches to a dining room where the woman is eating dinner, the young boy crouched on the floor below her, looking up. She passes him small portions of food in her fingers — feeding him like a dog.
The commercial then switches to a text message reading: “The average domestic dog eats better than millions of children,” before asking for donations to Feed a Child. On its website, Feed a Child says one in 10 children in South Africa suffers from malnutrition and dies within the first 12 months of life.
The advert sparked a range of reaction on social media, some complained, including @AlexanderHampel who tweeted:
“Definitely the wrong way to get a message across. Who approves these ads? Hugely racist. What do you think? feed a child #feedachild,” While @CurateZar wrote: “That advert was in such poor taste. Don’t think there’s a way to go around it. What were trying to achieve? Just wow. #FeedAChild
Meanwhile @MsLeloB wrote: “People Outraged about the #FeedAChild ad as expected but is it not reality? Use that energy to feed a child not lodge complaints,”
ASA said it had received 12 complaints about the advertisement since Monday.
“The complainants submitted that the commercial is offensive, racist and tasteless. It suggests that white people treat and feed black kids like dogs, which is exceptionally degrading and dehumanizing,” it said.
“The second complainant argued that the comparison between dog owners and starving children is unfounded and irrelevant. Every dog owner carries the responsibility to feed and care for their dog, just like the state and / or a parent carries the responsibility to care for their children. It is not the responsibility of dog owners to feed other people’s children. Suggesting that white people are happy to feed their dogs expensive food, but not to help starving black children is offensive.”
ASA said it was “significant to note” that Feed a Child had published a formal apology on its website and that its YouTube channel now featured a video of its CEO apologizing and contextualizing the advertisement and its intended commercial message.
The video apology opens with text reading: “Is this racist? Is this controversial? Is this offensive? Or is it about time … we all stand together and feed the children of our beautiful country?”
Feed a Child founder and CEO Alza Rautenbach then addresses the camera.
“Like a child, I don’t see race or politics — the only thing that is important to me is to make a difference in a child’s life and to make sure that that child is fed on a daily basis,” she says in her statement.
Feed a Child’s online statement offers an “unreserved apology” to anyone offended or hurt by the commercial.
“We acknowledge the fact that the advert could be seen as insensitive or distasteful and we take heed to the fact that many perceived the advert as racist. This was most certainly not the intention, and again we apologize,” Feed a Child said.
In a statement released earlier, Feed a Child had said: “The commercial is intentionally emotive to trigger the necessary awareness on this issue to generate engagement and contributions.”
Advertising company Ogilvy and Mather, who created the advertisement, also issued an apology, saying it was aware of the “negative reaction” it sparked and that it had not intended to cause offense.