Italy Is not Amused
German Retail Chain Slammed for 'Racist' Ad
German electronics giant Media Markt may have thought its TV ad featuring a stereotype of an Italian was funny. But after Italian newspapers decried that ad as racist, it was pulled. It's not the first time the company has got into hot water for its depiction of its European neighbors.
Companies that want to stay on the radar in Germany these days are piggy backing on the popularity of the upcoming European Championship. Soccer is seen to be good for sales. And where there is soccer, there must be Italians.
That's at least what the German electronics chain Media Markt was thinking when it created a new TV ad featuring "Toni the Italian," played by German comedian Olli Dittrich.
In the ad Toni scurries through the aisles of a Media Markt store plugging a variety of flatscreen TVs with a thick Italian accent and cheesy sales tactics, just days before the beginning of the football tournament on June 7.
Toni wears oversized sunglasses pushed back into his wavy hair, a gold chain around his neck, three-day-old scruff and a moustache. He is macho, greasy and sexist -- the Italian stereotype. That doesn't play so well in bella Italia. The Italian newspapers Corriere della Sera and La Republica called the ads, four of them in total, racist and riddled with clichés.
Italians living in Germany have also complained about the campaign. Particular anger was directed against the spot where Toni explains the difference between people on either side of the Alps: "The Germans buy laptops; the Italians buy referees," a too-close-for-comfort jab at the bribery scandal that rocked Italian football in 2006. Although Toni's next line is "just a little joke," Italy has failed to find much humor in the ad.
Media Markt dealt with the harsh reaction by pulling the spot about bribed referees. Such a move was meant as a compromise, quelling the need to pull the entire campaign, a spokeswoman for Media Markt told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Toni is a fictional character and does not stand for a real person or group of persons," she said. "We did not intend to offend or publicly humiliate any single person or group of persons with this character."
The figure of Toni has long existed alongside other caricatured figures in Media Markt's advertising repetoire played by Olli Dittrich, including those of the French and British (over-sexed and stiff-lipped, respectively). And it's not the first time the company has got into hot water for this kind of cheap stereotyping. In March 2006 the company ran an ad spot that featured Media Markt staff having their pants stolen by Poles, playing on a widespread prejudice in Germany that Poles steal anything not nailed down. The resulting
outcry, including a sternly worded letter from Andrzej Byrt, the then Polish Ambassador to Germany, persuaded the company to yank the ad.
As for the offending Italian ad, Media Markt's spokeswoman said that the character of Toni was the best fit for the company's European Championship marketing concept, created by the Hamburg-based Kempertrautmann agency.