Marketplace Report: Sony Pulls Controversial Ad

Officials for Sony announced Tuesday that the company pulled a Dutch billboard advertising campaign for the new white version of its PlayStation Portable video game player. The company apologized to anyone offended by the ad, which critics dubbed racist. Janet Babin of Marketplace talks to Madeleine Brand about the decision.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY. Talk about globalism. The Japanese Sony Corporation is in trouble with American consumers for an ad it ran in The Netherlands. It was a Dutch billboard campaign for Sony's new PlayStation Portable video game player. You can see what the fuss is about at our Web site, online, npr.org. There's a link to the ad there, but right now, here's MARKETPLACE's Janet Babin. Janet, what is it about this ad? What does it look like? Explain.

JANET BABIN reporting:

Well, I think, Alex, if people have a look at the ad, they'll know immediately. This billboard has like an ‘80s rocker chick on it with very pale skin, white bouffant hair, and a nasty sort of scowl on her face. And it appears that she's clutching the face of a shorter, dark-skinned woman, and the ad reads - in English - PlayStation Portable White is coming.

Now, the ad caught the attention of a California lawmaker, the NAACP, and a youth civil rights group, and they all condemned the photo as racially charged. And there's also been a lot of negative reaction, as you might imagine, on gamer blogs. So in response, Sony pulled the billboard.

CHADWICK: So how does a local ad in Europe that ran, really, just in The Netherlands, how has it created such a big stir here?

BABIN: Yes, I spoke to Tor Thorsen about that. He's news editor at ZNet's gamespot.net - rather, gamespot.com. And Thorsen says gaming is a world-wide phenomenon, and gamers are so Internet savvy that this type of controversy can spread like wildfire.

Mr. TOR THORSEN (News Editor, gamespot.com): There are no borders in, like forum posts. There are no borders in chat rooms. I mean, the Internet has opened up this sort of thing, you know, worldwide. And I think when you see an image as provocative as this, it doesn't really matter if it be here or China or whatever. I mean, it's going to be great furor in the U.S., and I think, you know, that Sony just was wise to yank the ad and try to minimize the damage.

CHADWICK: So Sony is embarrassed, they've pulled the billboard in The Netherlands. What do they have to say?

BABIN: Well, the company says that individual campaigns were created for different countries, and that in The Netherlands, the campaign was supposed to focus on the contrasting colors between the PlayStation Portable Black model and the new ceramic white one. You know, in it's statement, though, it never admits that the ad was racist. They say instead that they realize that two women fighting has caused concern in some countries not affected by the advertising. And they said that's why they decided to withdraw the campaign.

Coming up later today on MARKETPLACE, we're looking at an unlikely speaking engagement for Al Gore. It's at Wal-Mart headquarters.

CHADWICK: Janet Babin of Public Radio's daily business show MARKETPLACE, produced by American Public Media.

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