By Ben Zhou
September 12, 2023
On the 2nd of February 2022, Ad Standards determined that an advertisement broadcast by Newsomes Tyre & Mechanical had been in breach of their code of conduct and forced the company to modify or remove the advertisement. The advertisement in question featured a Caucasian actor dressed in karate Gi speaking in a stereotypical accent as a part of his 'Tyre Master' portrayal. Despite the 'Tyre Master' being predicated on the stereotype of a karate master, he performed various tasks that had zero relation to karate like playing golf and football. The fact that the depiction served zero relevance to the advertisement on top of being extremely degrading towards those of Asian descent resulted in the advertiser being forced to remove any reference to Asian culture.
Ad Standards the regulatory body under the Australian Association of National Advertisers (ANNA) that oversaw this complaint, states that 'Advertising shall not portray people or depict material in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, disability, mental illness or political belief.' However, this assertion is not always applied in practice. In the case of Newsomes Tyre & Company, a complaint had been lodged previously for an advertisement they ran less than a year before. This complaint was dismissed on the ground that 'the advertisement did not portray material in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of race' despite featuring the same 'Tyre Master' character, with the same Asian accent. Perpetuating offensive Asian stereotypes under the guise of humour is not an action isolated to Newsomes Tyre & Company but a trend that can be seen in Holden Capitva's 2017 advertisement where a Caucasian man dons clothing that has symbolic meaning to Chinese people whilst putting on a fake Chinese accent. This advertisement was similarly dismissed by Ad Standards who instead of viewing it as an obvious mockery, thought the ad was 'clearly presenting a man dressing up and being silly'.
Of the three complaints upheld by Ad Standards based on 'Depictions and imagery which are likely to give a negative impression of a particular race, ethnicity or nationality are seen to be discriminatory and vilifying.', all feature harmful associations towards Asian individuals such as the implication that goods made in China are of less quality, the use of broken English as representing how Asian people speak and most recently Newsome’s 'Tyre Master' character. Whilst the caricaturing of Asian people in advertising can be traced back to the hatefully discriminatory caricatures of Asian migrants in the 1800s; it must be noted that these three advertisements were broadcast within the last 5 years, highlighting the recency and consistency of offensive portrayals that pervade the contemporary advertising landscape.
Unfortunately, this is indicative of a wider culture that perpetuates harmful stereotypes, endemic to the Australian advertising industry itself. In a report published on the 14th of July, the experience of discrimination and negative behaviour is three times higher for people who identify as Asian (31% compared to 12%) with microaggressions and casual discrimination being the highest incidence of negative behaviour in the Australian advertising industry. Ad Standards themselves have few community panel members and registered lawyers of Asian background, perhaps illustrating an underlying cause to their inaction in regard to certain advertisements. It is clear that the exclusion and even discrimination of Asian individuals within the Australian advertising industry may act as a tandem force with tone-deaf advertisers to continue the creation of anti-Asian advertising.