'Racism' of Salesgenie Ads Examined


At the risk of igniting a shit storm, were those Salesgenie ads really that racist? Let's examine. The ad where the Indian guy is berated by his boss is an illustration of an employee being berated because his sales are down.

We have to imagine that happens quite a lot no matter where in the world people live. We also have to imagine there are quite a few instances in real life where the boss is white and the employee is Indian.

If the tables were turned and an Indian boss was shown berating a white employee for his lack of sales, would the ad still be racist? Or is it racist because the Indian employee has an Indian accent? Maybe it's racist because the boss is a bloated fat asshole.

Or maybe our culture is hyper-sensitive to depicting any race or culture in any way other than in a bland, soft, Americanized manner. Some Indians have Indian accents. Some bosses are white, fat and imbecilic. Should the representations of these realities be ignored in advertising? Does every ad have to include a white, black, Asian and Hispanic person that's so "Americanized" you could dump a can of orange paint on them and they'd all be innocuous -- devoid of any differences their respective cultures bring to the table?

Let's examine the Panda ad. We hear Panda bears live in China. We hear there's a lot of them. We hear the name Ling is quite common. We hear people from China speak English with an accent.

If this ad is racist, aren't all those American Smokey Bear ads racist? You know, because the bear represents an overweight American with a bellicose, booming voice reminiscent of loud, sports-loving truck driver-types?

Is giving voice to an animal that is common to a country always to be labeled racist? Is depicting Asians as a certain segment of the population who run laundry cleaning companies bamboo furniture stores racist? When was the last time you went to a cleaner (OK, that argument is shot) operated by a non-Asian?

Don't get us wrong. We're all for cultural sensitivity and holding high the value of the American melting pot, including its own culture, which attempts to instill acceptance to people of all types no matter what color they are, where they come from or in which God(s) they believe. And that is as it should be.

But what does concern us is the over-sensitive nature that has, over the last 30 years, been bred into us. The political correctness. The self-esteem craze that awards every kid, no matter how many times they lose. (This does nothing to prepare them for the harsh realities of a less-than-kind real world, by the way.) The repression of anything remotely sexual while we gleefully celebrate violence.

We are not advocating the celebration of stereotypes. Not at all. It's just that there seems to be no humor left. Stereotypes become stereotypes because, like it or not, they are often based on fact. We don't just make them up. We're not saying let's perpetuate them in a bad way. We're just saying sometimes it's perfectly fine to call out the resonant differences that have become familiar to us.

After all, the rest of the world is having a heyday labeling all Americans a bunch of war mongering infidels who believe it's our right to foist our way of life on every country in the world.

OK, I'm ready. Murder me in the comments section now.

by Steve Hall    Feb- 6-08   Click to Comment   
Topic: Opinion, Super Bowl 2008, Trends and Culture   

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Please check for spelling/grammar and re-post.

Posted by: Chris on February 6, 2008 1:08 PM

Hrm. My dry cleaner in Walnut Creek was white.

But then again, my (Asian) aunt ran a somewhat-scary laundromat racket in SF.

I can't get past this laundromat thing. Sorry. I blame Jawbone -- those racist assholes!

Posted by: Angela on February 6, 2008 1:21 PM


I put all that thought out there and all you can comment on is spelling and grammar? WTF?

Posted by: Steve Hall on February 6, 2008 1:27 PM

Fair enough. The problem is that the ads (and many people in general) treat people of various races as if they are characters. As a result, people from India, China, really anywhere in the world, is held in lower esteem with the average American because of portrayal in media such as these ads.

I still think you should do another read through though.

Posted by: Chris on February 6, 2008 1:37 PM

Hypersensitive? I think you need to think about this whole issue a little before going on your soapbox and expecting everyone to agree that we're all being little sensitive prissies.

It's hard to reason with folks who can only see things in black and white and expect them to understand that there's a whole gray zone out there. The point is that stereotyping is all about power and ignoring the fact that people in the US don't sound like a call center in Bangalore or work at a dry cleaner.

Of course it's rather ironic that the ads were written by a person of Indian descent.

Posted by: Dave H on February 6, 2008 1:53 PM


I don't expect anyone at all to agree with me. I just thought it was worth examining the other side of the story. I fully expect to be crucified for doing so.

Posted by: Steve Hall on February 6, 2008 2:01 PM

From article:
"...would the ad still be racist..."

Remember, when the politically correct use the term racist, they simply mean white Gentiles who discriminate.

It is a racial slur given selectively to white Gentiles. Racist = honky.

So, the translation of the quote would be: "would the ad still be honky-ist"

Posted by: JoeMorgan on February 6, 2008 2:09 PM

I can not believe this even a question. They're uncleaver at the best, intolerant and insensitive at a minimum, and racist at worst.

Posted by: Greg Rutter on February 6, 2008 2:10 PM

I think the issue with "Ramesh" is his cliched thick accent and his seven children.

I was watching the superbowl with several people of Indian descent and they commented on his ridiculous accent (which none of them have) and the fact that Indians are always portrayed as having tons of kids (and none of them had more 2 siblings).

I can't even process the panda ad...it's just too weird.

Posted by: katie on February 6, 2008 2:30 PM

I think its white privilege to be able to have that point of view (it seems as though you are playing devils advocate to open dialog) I didn't have a problem with the abused worker being of south asian background...the problem is the whole oh i've got 7 kids yadda yadda...unnecessary and with a viewing audience as large as the super bowl...people begin to believe that notion that all indian people have 7 kids and what not.

To your question about if the roll was flipped...it will be insensitive but not racist...people of color do not have enough power to truly be "racist". It was bothersome that both spots depicted people of color in that light (of voices of color in the panda spot) I think in the US as long as its not about black people its okay, And i'm black. The spots were tastless and really not even funny if it were two white people talking.

Posted by: Brandon on February 6, 2008 2:30 PM

I do think it's a valid question. I might stop short of calling them racist -- but I would agree with culturally insensitive. To a lesser extent, the one with the Indian man (and his seven kids) -- but the pandas with silly mock-Chinese accents in the other one had my jaw on the ground. I found it shocking that a company would think that's a good idea in 2008.

They were terrible commercials for a number of reasons. This is just one of the reasons.

Posted by: Cheryl Rice on February 6, 2008 2:31 PM

"Uncleaver"? OK, then.

Posted by: 37 on February 6, 2008 2:31 PM

"It's just that there seems to be no humor left." -- Exactly what I was thinking as I watched these ads.

I don't know if they're racist, but they include just enough stereotypes, no-tickee-no-shirtee language, and Stepin Fetchit behavior that I felt queasy watching them.

To me, their real crimes are odd, thoughtless strategic and creative choices and unfunny scripts.

Posted by: Chapin on February 6, 2008 2:34 PM

I'm looking at this in tandem with the adrants post on the 2008 Superbowl creative brief.

"Racism" as comedic relief (this tends to be the only time it is acceptable to any extent) is based upon the assumption the audience knows what they're getting into. We all saw what happened to Michael Richards when the audience wasn't ready for what he was dishing.

Even though the creative brief is all tongue-in-cheek, it's still pretty accurate about having to please everyone. Anything that could be considered remotely racist is bound to piss off some portion of that diverse viewership and BAM!, you're up shit creek without a paddle.

Time and place, man...time and place.

Posted by: Jake B on February 6, 2008 2:37 PM

"...They're uncleaver at the best..."
Maybe it would be better if they were cleaver: then Eldridge could get up in boss's face; or, Ward could pour oil on the troubled waters; or, you could move the whole thing into a butcher shop and...no that's too violent.

Posted by: Page Schorer on February 6, 2008 2:37 PM

I vote racist. But then, I'm not an Asian panda, so what do I know.

When they first came on I was like, oh boy, here we go again. Bad accents. Asian dry cleaner. All of it. I kept waiting for clever.

Clever never came.

Big difference though between an American political view which gets made fun of by the French vs. someone's accent/the way they speak, something which is really out of their control. The latter akin to making fun of how a deaf person tries to speak.

(And most of the world would likely say that they're doing pretty well trying to speak English for us, while we could give a SHIT about learning their language, whatever that language may be.)

But then where do you draw the line?

The cell phone spot from last year with the guy getting a tattoo calling up to have it removed: "Sorry Roger—you tiger now!" That one was bordering the same Panda territory, no?

And if I recall, there was another spot Sunday using the stereotypical accent with perfect English. Two guys cooking in an Asian restaurant. (Forget which spot.)

Posted by: bg on February 6, 2008 2:37 PM

I gave the benefit of the doubt at the beginning of the first ad with the Indian employee, but by the end of that ad I was skeptical. Still, I'm thinking maybe I misunderstood something because how on earth could they show that on the super bowl? But by the time they showed the second ad with the Chinese pandas, that was just out and out bigotry. People come to the US and face this kind of stereotypical disrespect their entire lives.

I was waiting for the subway the other day and this teenager was standing next to this older chinese man in chinatown repeatedly and aggressively doing a bad chinese accent expecting this man to understand him, and of course he didnt. It was humiliating to the man, for me to watch and to the boy who degraded himself by his behavior.

And now you tell us it's really no big deal, but respect for others should be a given. How can we lose sight of that?

The owner of that company was selling his people out to make some money and to garner some media attention. Shame on him.

And really, I think you posted this commentary for the same reason. Who cares about the ethics behind the message you put forth if it gets some hits and a good conversation started.

Posted by: Heather on February 6, 2008 2:38 PM

I agree with Cheryl...the ads are clearly culturally insensitive, not necessarily racist. There are clearly other ways to portray Indian men other than with a thick cartoonish accent, a hard to pronounce name, 7 children and a sari wearing wife. And no need to even touch on the Panda commercial. These ads shocked me.

Posted by: Ryan on February 6, 2008 2:39 PM

the Indian guy with 7 kids was a bit stereotypical, but the Indian accent was much milder than the way over the top chinese accents.

it was obviously a ploy to get people like us talking about it. Salesgenie.com is using the fact that they have an Indian CEO who "came up with the idea himself" as cover for the fact that they wanted there to be a controversy.

Posted by: Gordon on February 6, 2008 2:44 PM

This country is going to have to lighten up or we're going to choke on the stick up our @ss. You know what... I'm blonde, I guess I should get ticked at all the blonde jokes. Maybe I should be offended by the Philly Cream Cheese commercials because one of the angels (of course the blonde one) is a moron. When is this sensitivity crap going to end? When everyone is afraid to say anything to anyone for fear of offending them? WTF.

Posted by: Dana on February 6, 2008 2:49 PM

Yes that have successfully got us talking about them...and are certainly front-of-mind but not in a good way. Not a chance I would touch their sales leads.

Posted by: Ryan on February 6, 2008 2:56 PM

As I watched them, I was more shocked than anything else. I may not have been paying as much attention to the first ad but the panda one stood out much more in my mind. I don't know if it's racist or not but, to me, it just seemed unnecessary - the race of the employee or panda bears was totally irrelevant. That said, given Sales Genies past commercials, I am in no way surprised at the apparent lack of taste. Some people just don't have the chip. And nice logo - they should cut some cost by doing away with animated commercial and spend some money on branding.

Posted by: Chris G on February 6, 2008 2:58 PM

Don’t you think the ad agency involved is trying to be edgy? I think they are probably reveling in the debate over these insensitive ads, don’t you? It seems like the only creativity we can come up with these days is degrading to someone or using someone as the bitch in the ad. Kudos to Madison Avenue, racist and boring at the same time.

Posted by: Sal on February 6, 2008 3:01 PM

The problems are
1. The ads reinforce stereotypes. Yes there are Asian drycleaners, but showing them as nothing but that is insensitive. Readers here may feel that they are educated and embrace diversity, but there are still many people who do not. These ads give those people license to say, 'see I'm right! They're all a bunch of funny-talking, uneducated people.'
2. The accents. They are exaggerated and unrealistic. Portrayals like this validates the prejudice of these people who laugh at immigrants' accents.
3. The CEO who wrote them (an Indian or Indian-American) may feel he is exempt from the racism tag because he is one of the minorities he portrayed. He wrote the ads intentionally awful for the attention. Last year's ad was boring, and everyone wrote about them because they were boring. Hits to their site grew as a result. So he went further this year, vying for the 'worst ad' prize by being a jerk.

That last point is the main issue. These weren't innocent ad poking fun, written by people trying to be funny. They were written by a man who purposely offended in order to get the publicity.

I almost didn't comment for fear of giving him what he wants. I was happy that most outlets just acknowledged the stupidity and moved on. Perhaps so should we.

Posted by: me on February 6, 2008 3:08 PM

....bloated fat asshole wearing a "plaid jacket!"

Posted by: Jill Demby Guest on February 6, 2008 3:14 PM

I would just like to point out that the pandas were NOT running a laundry service. They ran a bamboo furniture store.

It's interesting to me that everyone has assumed that the pandas with thick chinese accents must be running a laundromat...

Posted by: katie on February 6, 2008 3:18 PM

No... No... None of you got the message behind the Panda ad... Everything in the joint is made of bamboo. Then one of the Pandas eats the computer, 'cos it's made of bamboo... It's a subliminal message that before you let technology take over your life, you should eat it... This is so fucking deep, I understand why I'm the only one that gets it. If you are reading this on a computer... Well, shit, of course you are! Eat the fucking thing before it eats you... Thank you Sales Genie, you have saved my life... Oh, and don't bother replying to this comment, I am about to eat my computer. Goodbye... Forever.

Posted by: george parker on February 6, 2008 3:39 PM

Oh give me a break. They just weren't funny. If they'd been smart about it and made people laugh with a bit of human truth, no one would've batted an eye if the characters were Indian or Chinese or Antartican.

Posted by: monkeys for brains on February 6, 2008 3:42 PM

I blame Prince.

Posted by: bg on February 6, 2008 3:44 PM

Here we go again, Steve. I'm still too tired from posting comments from your last post on the VA Tech episode. But I do agree with you about the over-sensitive nature that has been thrust upon us.
I’m sorry when it’s Christmas time,I’ll say “Merry Christmas” not “Happy Holidays” or I’ll say “Happy Hanukka” to my Jewish friends during that time. But “Happy Holidays”? Bah humbug.

Posted by: Tom Egly on February 6, 2008 3:48 PM

I agree they're racist and would err on the side of intentionally racist.

Yes, some people have accents. It'd be weird, but not impossible, for someone of Asian descent to have a southern accent. Not common, but not impossible.

I think the goal was met though. People are probably buzzing all over about Salesgenie, much like they do with the GoDaddy ads.

If the goal was to get people talking now and next year around this time, they succeeded, regardless of if the ads were crass.

Posted by: bill byrne on February 6, 2008 3:50 PM

People need to lighten the f*&% up. That said, the ads were kinda boring.

Posted by: JJ Bugs on February 6, 2008 3:59 PM

I think I found the ads to be offensive more because of their stupidity than because of any (admittedly ham-fisted) depiction of different cultures.

And as far as the accent thing goes, I'm from NJ originally, so I can't help but notice every SINGLE time an ad wants to portray a sleazy, hustler type of salesperson, they give him (I'd say him/her but it's almost universally a him, for some reason) a "New Yawk" accent. Think The Sopranos, but without the whacking or irony.

Is it prejudiced/culturally insensitive? Not really, IMO. Just stupid.

Posted by: Martha on February 6, 2008 4:13 PM

Are you saying that it isn't it our (sic) American right to foist our way of life on every country in the world?

Posted by: Jeffrey on February 6, 2008 4:25 PM

I can't get that song "Everyone's a little bit racist" from Avenue Q out of my head!

Posted by: LaLaLand on February 6, 2008 5:27 PM

Full disclosure: I know the guy who is the CEO of the company - he's also the guy who wrote the ads. He has horrible taste in advertising, but a big appetite for money. I would call him insensitive on an interpersonal level. I don't know that he's racist, I do know that he can be belligerent and egocentric. He's also generous and philanthropic. Go figure.

The ad ran on Sunday and my 17 year old (who knows nothing of the company or my relationship with the CEO) turned to his 14 year old brother right after the Panda spot and said "wow, that's a bit racist". If a teenager said it without prompting, I think it must be racist.

Posted by: COF on February 6, 2008 5:51 PM

Full disclosure: I know the guy who is the CEO of the company - he's also the guy who wrote the ads. He has horrible taste in advertising, but a big appetite for money. I would call him insensitive on an interpersonal level. I don't know that he's racist, I do know that he can be belligerent and egocentric. He's also generous and philanthropic. Go figure.

The ad ran on Sunday and my 17 year old (who knows nothing of the company or my relationship with the CEO) turned to his 14 year old brother right after the Panda spot and said "wow, that's a bit racist". If a teenager said it without prompting, I think it must be racist.

Posted by: COF on February 6, 2008 5:51 PM

Apparently you need to go meet some Indian and Asian Americans. We do not all have accents.

Posted by: kat on February 6, 2008 6:07 PM


It's possible every teen may, in fact dub this racist. That may have a great deal to do with a bit of over-amplifies political correctness that has work it's way into the educational system.


I have, in fact, met some. I've lived with two Asian Americans for 9 and 11 years. They are respectively my adopted, Korean-born daughter and son. So I'm well aware everyone who looks Asian does not have an Asian accent.

Additionally, one of my son's best friends is Indian-American, also sans accent.

Just thought I'd clear things up for you.

Posted by: Steve Hall on February 6, 2008 7:48 PM

On the other hand, a lot of first-generation immigrants DO have thick accents. Shame on you all for not wanting to see or hear them on television--why do you prefer they remain invisible? Xenophobia? Latent racism?

Posted by: A Different Heather on February 6, 2008 10:14 PM

As a Mexican who looks white, I looked at the white wife I chose, who's thinning my DNA and legacy, and actually said outloud "What the fuck?". And I'm an "Ad-fag", thanks anonymous CD at The Richard's Group. So I know now there is no God, and I have to pee in my backyard now, Thank You.

Posted by: III on February 6, 2008 10:33 PM

Mr. Gupta is bagging Ling Ling for next year. More details here.

And all Pandas look alike to us xenophobes.

Posted by: bg on February 6, 2008 11:10 PM

Being an Icelandic, living in Sweden, working across all countries in the Nordics (no we're not the ones with the watches and cheese, it's elk and midnight sun...) I have to say I'm balking at the political correctness on display. Put aside that the creative in the ads was crap. Can someone please explain to me "culturally insensitive" please? I'm not going to throw myself into your domestic racial debate as I respect you have a different culture than we do but I'd like to know what you guys call an idiot today? "Likeabillity challenged"?

Posted by: Petur on February 7, 2008 4:32 AM

Hyper-sensitive? How many more blatant stereotypes can you cram in one commercial?

Where is the humor in the commercial? Was it suppose to be funny to have panda bears, the accents, the style of writing, and the sound effects to be stereotypically asian? Maybe they should've added some martial arts and had the bears do some calculus problems.

To the author was this piece, what would constitute an ad being racist? In particular what would an ad have in it for you to consider it racist against asians? Have you ever seen an ad in recent years that you would deem as racist? Everyone has a line and your line must be much farther out there.

Posted by: Dave Park on February 7, 2008 9:53 AM

The panda ad in itself may be insensitive and offensive, but this is only exacerbated when one thinks of the fact that this is not the only example of such racism towards Asians in the American media. William Hung, movies like Balls of Fury, and other portrayals of Asians in the media, coupled with this ad, make it seem like Asians are viewed as perpetual foreigners and perpetual jokes in American society. Were there more positive portrayals of Asians in the advertising medium, this ad would not seem as blatantly racist.

Posted by: EB110 on February 7, 2008 10:18 AM

There are in fact Chinese- and Indian-Americans with accents that live and work in America. If an advertiser exploits this fact in an (admittedly poor, in these cases) attempt at humor, ignore the ad and the product or service offered, as you, the individual, sees fit. An advertiser has every right to portray stereotypes (even boring, hackneyed ones) in creative efforts, just like filmmakers, artists, and writers have the right to create shoddy, stereotypical characters. As long as someone isn't advocating unequal rights or practicing discrimination toward a specific ethnicity/race, it isn't racism.

Political correction officers and those who wish to castigate anyone who points out the inherent differences intrinsic within the human populace - the distinctions that make us unique - deserve to be parodied themselves.

Posted by: ben on February 7, 2008 12:20 PM

“An advertiser has every right to portray stereotypes (even boring, hackneyed ones) in creative efforts, just like filmmakers, artists, and writers have the right to create shoddy, stereotypical characters.”

Difference though is that the primary goal of artists/filmmakers is usually to highlight an issue they feel strongly about—advertisers’ primary goal is to make a buck.

Posted by: bg on February 7, 2008 1:53 PM


I'm not sure the primary goal or motive is relevant here. If something is created solely for marketing/commercial purposes, must it adhere to a higher ethical standard? If a company is intentionally seeking to capitalize on edgy, anti-P.C. brand messaging/imaging?

Posted by: ben on February 7, 2008 2:20 PM

Bottom line, I had been considering using sales genie for sales leads. Great idea. But now I wouldn't touch them with a 10-foot pole.

Posted by: Heather on February 7, 2008 2:47 PM

Crucified? You expect to be crucified? Now, on behalf of saviors of mankind and petty thieves everywhere, I'm offended...!

No, seriously, though, you have to write something a lot more meaningful, and suffer a whole lot more than some angry blog comments to get to paint yourself as a martyr. Boohoo for you.

Posted by: Skoochie on February 7, 2008 8:18 PM

As a giant panda, I am excited to see my speicies finally getting the media 'face time' we deserve. Over the years I have seen so few panda roles in movies and often these roles are inexplicably given to non pandas. The ads are totally 100% accurate in their depiction of giant pandas.

First, you have to understand that there are two specific types of pandas that exists in the world, both of which are illustrated splendidly in this ad. The couple in the commercial with the bamboo business represent the first type of panda, 'ching-chong panda'. These pandas can be easily identified by their Charlie Chan-like english. The ching-chong males are usually characterized as stupid, effeminate, and eager to please. However, there are some ching-chong pandas(usually older pandas) that possess a strange mystical quality. These pandas can be found imparting infinate wisdom and speak with proverbial riddles. The females of this giant panda variety are submissive, exotic, hyper sexualized, and willing to please. Ching-chong females are often coveted by males of the second variety of giant pandas. The second type of giant panda is the 'round-eye panda.' In the commercial, the round-eye panda was the panda dressed like a genie who saved the ching-chong panda's business. Round-eye pandas can be idenified by their perfect english as we can see in the salesgenie.com commercial. Many great movies have been made about round-eye pandas helping lesser animals from less priviledged places. It is a little known fact that round-eye pandas are color blind. In any event, the round-eye panda is a magnificent creature.

I am also an actor and my agent represents many other animals who I feel would be perfect for salesgenie.com. One of her clients is a jive talking baboon who currently works in billboard ads extolling the virtues of malt liquor but needs something more purposeful.

I look forward to seeing more pandas in media.


Or as we pandas say, " Ahh, so very good to get opportunity like this, I vary honored."

Posted by: fingerlinglinggood on February 11, 2008 5:24 AM

Steamed bamboo shoots make an excellent side dish to a honey-roasted panda steak.

Posted by: Kurre on February 13, 2008 1:12 PM

Why are some of you guys being racist by saying the panda ad is racist? Do you like to pretend that every oriental speaks like a white boy. Why are you trying to ignore the fact that some of us have accents?

For any of you saying "I've known orientals and they don't sound like that at all," well big damn deal. A lot of those friends of yours are likely to be 2nd and 3rd generation. My relatives are all first generations from Vietnam and a lot of them don't speak English... So this is a compliment! And the ones that do speak English often do sound somewhat like this ad, except the pronunciation isn't as good, and the accent is fairly different.

So what's the lesson from the racist that are bitching? Don't generalize how a race should speak(AKA: Like with a white boy "American" accent, for example.)

Posted by: TuxedoBond on April 8, 2008 2:33 PM