I smell race baiting. This ad for an identity protection service is a perfect example of how racism today is subtly and not so subtly propagated.
Advertisements can play on your fears in the worst way to promote products. We see this behavior with products as varied as insurance to home monitoring systems and political campaigns. How are such ads all that different from the fear-mongering and racist Willy Horton commercials of George Bush/President #42's campaign?
This spot opens with an unsuspecting woman sitting on her lovely couch in her plush home thinking, no doubt: “I think I'll buy some sweat-shop shoes that were made in some lesser developed nation, where the prices are low and the children don't mind the hard labor. Because at the end of the week, that chattel slavery will amount to about 35 cents and that will keep shoe prices manageable the world over. Besides, those shoes are cute!”
I'm just joking here. But it’s not far from the truth of almost all American shoe-buying experiences. The visual short-hand of corporatized commercialism is a well-established language that all Americans both understand and speak fluently. This pre-programming is leveraged here to make the advertisement work.
The shoe-buying woman here is meant to evoke nothing but pleasant and calming thoughts. Alas, the sweet woman buying these shoes feels complicit in no crime. She couldn't be, nor would you ever consider her to be. As a conventionally pretty, white, upper-middle-class American woman snuggled up in her cozy home, she's a perfect, stereotyped picture: purity, cleanliness, wholesomeness, and safety.
Now, note the contrast of those shifty black Nigerians (as they are initially portrayed in this commercial). As vaguely African drums and wailing voices begin building gathering toward an inevitable crescendo, the slight but menacing grins and scowls of the black Lagosians suggest that they are unworthy of our trust -- or so this advertiser portends.
This spot relies completely on a belief system that dark-skinned Africans are evil, or at least, most likely up to no good. Not only is the ad grounded in a reliance on a global error of race, you are actually led, through camera work, make-up, lighting and set design, to feel that these people, combined with any other prejudices and misconceptions you may have, are just not to be trusted. By the time the commercial gets you to the elder gentleman's seemingly malevolent grimace, you've probably become convinced that the con is in. The “dark” men, and even one of their boys, have done just what you would imagine them to do.
Now, the producers of this mockery may feel that they turn the tables by the end of the spot, by showing you that it was all your imagination. "See," the ad finally implies, "they are good, legitimate business people. It was YOU who was imagining otherwise."
Nevertheless, by that point the damage has been done. Through the language of movie-making, stereotyping, and deceptive imagery, with the additional fuel of a few Nigerian-postmarked emails that you've probably received, the makers of this ad have succeeded in propagating racist tenets, and further cementing in your heart and mind that there is something wrong with these people.
Even if you go along with the spot and accept the premise that this was just an ad that shows, “I'm protected even when there is no real danger,” you have been given an impression, and more importantly an indelible emotion, that will stick with you. The ad reinforces, rather than counteracts, that initial creepiness you felt when you saw that the woman's credit card transaction went to a black man. Worse still, that it went to a black African... in Nigeria.
That is a horrible feeling -- a racist feeling.
In terms of racism, and of colonialist perceptions of a hopeless, ever-threatening "Africa," this ad really does the opposite of what it claims to do. It further tips the scales of an already unbalanced set of beliefs and systems of justice, away from truth and forward-facing progress.