Beyoncé - "Schoolin' Life"

J.R. Taylor Choreography

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

If you think that’s impossible, even in these thin-skinned, offence-taking times, you clearly didn’t reckon on the papery dermatitis of super-sensitive model Naomi Campbell. The object of her ire has to be described to be believed: a poster advert for a new Cadbury’s ‘dreamy chocolate truffle’.

‘Move over Naomi, there’s a new Diva in town’, runs the strapline. Underneath there is an image of the new, desperately deluxe chocolate bar luxuriating on top of a pile of diamonds. The background is Cadbury’s purple, the context spoilt and indulgent. At the bottom it reads: ‘I’m the world’s most pampered bar. Now in three NEW flavours.’ Provocative stuff indeed.

Now, I’m no expert on the semiotics of advertising, but I reckon that whoever came up with this little mesh of ironic signage wanted to do two things. They wanted to suggest that this chocolate bar was a cut above your bog-standard Dairy Milk, that it was valuable, perhaps even precious, and that you, Mr Customer, might like to spend some money on it. At the same time, in a market dominated by a surfeit of posh ‘137% Mayan Blood’ chocolate, they didn’t want the product to take itself too seriously so the preciousness of the chocolate bar was exaggerated to the point of ostentation. Now, given that ostentation is the mark of someone who thinks a little bit too much of themselves and isn’t afraid to show it, it’s not difficult to see how the idea of chocolate-as-diva entered the ad agency’s collective cerebellum. Cue the reference to Naomi Campbell.

Campbell, however, is not happy. ‘I am shocked. It’s upsetting to be described as chocolate, not just for me but for all black women and black people… It is insulting and hurtful.’ What Campbell seems intent on ignoring is that the element of Naomi Campbell that is important for the advert is not her skin pigment, but her notorious strops-and-diamonds diva-ness. Unperturbed by such petty distinctions, Valerie Morris, Campbell’s mother, preferred to concentrate on the skin pigment: ‘I am deeply upset by this racist advert.’

So there you have it: the advert is racist. Campbell says so. Even her mother says so. And it seems that is enough for the ad to be treated as actually racist: Cadbury’s has now withdrawn the advert.

All of which is not only a violation of free expression, it is completely absurd. Whatever you think about the concept behind the advert, it was – and I’m pretty sure about this – an attempt to sell as much chocolate to as many people as possible. Quite how ‘foment a race war’ fits into Cadbury’s commercial strategy is unclear. Is the white-supremacist pound really so valuable that a chocolate company would be willing to forgo the custom of non-racists?