The Australian sportswear company, Skins Sportwear has a history of bold and controversial advertising which has led to litigation in the past. However nothing would beat their 2008 controversial 45-second “Beyond Reason” commercial, which scored numerous headlines deeming it as racist, inflammatory and needlessly provocative.
The “Beyond Reason” commercial for Skins denotes African-American athletes training and competing in athletics, sports and fitness. The visuals are accompanied by a voiceover which reflects the views of African-American athletes who claim that Black men and women are better athletes because they are genetically stronger and tougher and thus have natural prowess. What does this connote? The company controversially uses this as a supposedly compelling reason to buy and wear their Skins -Why? Because if you want to compete with the superior Black athletes, then you must wear the Skins product.
“We’re faster, we got more skill, got the stamina. Superior athletes. You know when it comes to the physicality of a sport, the African Americans have the advantage. It just comes naturally to us. You got to look at our ancestry. We were born warriors. Natural instinct. It’s like a killer mentality. If you look at the way a black male is built, more muscle, stronger, If you want to be like us….”
As you can imagine, this commercial was received with great backlash and generated outrage across the internet. Beneath the surface of the commercial, it clearly challenges the idea of egalitarianism -are we not all equal? Is it not possible for us to fulfil all our dreams regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, class etc? Surely it is. I also think that this commercial could potentially send the wrong message to young non-African American children who are aspiring athletes. These concerns reflect Mitchell Hobbs’ assertion that ‘rather than seeing the truth behind a sign, we only see the myth connoted by the image’ (Hobbs, 91). Here, there are two myths: firstly, African-American athletes have an athletic advantage due to their genetics; and secondly, you must wear Skins to overcome your disadvantage. Furthermore, it is important to note that the social and political context in which we live today, has influenced the response that this advertisement is racist. Jacques Derrida argues that ‘signs, as units of meaning within a language, are defined by the ontological values of a particular community of language users…’ (Hobbs 2012, p.92). Thus this text should be understood through the subjective values and beliefs embedded in our language (Hobbs 2012, p.92).
While the commercial was not aired in America and England, it definitely got the people talking. Managing director Anthony Gregorio admitted that such a provocative text was part of the marketing strategy as it gained so much public relations coverage. Thus while it may not have been deemed in a positive light, the “Beyond Reason” commercial succeeded with being under the spotlight.
What do you guys think about this commercial?
Hobbs, M, 2012, ‘Semiotics: making meaning from signs’, in T Chalkley, A Brown, T Cinque, B Warren, M Hobbs & M Finn, (eds.), Communication, New Media and Everyday Life, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, Victoria, pp83-96.
Australian Identity Forums 2008, ‘Racist Sportswear Brand Says Black People Superior’, viewed 15 March 2014, < http://australianidentity.net/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=239>
Lee, J 2008, ‘Racist Charge on Sportswear Campaign’, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 March, viewed 15 March 2014, < http://www.smh.com.au/business/racist-charge-on-sportswear-campaign-20080312-1z0u.html>
John Davidson 2008, Skins Sportswear Ad, video, YouTube, 12 March, viewed 15 March, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeUCEzMXov4>.