"White men created the blues": the outrageous video including the whipping of a black man in a commercial for radio nova

A few days ago, my friend Nkamany told me a story about a controversial ad campaign that got no coverage at all in the French mainstream media. It is about the content of a video commercial produced for a promotional campaign of a radio station in France called Radio Nova.
Before we get to the content of the video, let me give you a little background on radio nova and the video.
Radio Nova used to be one of my favorite radio station when I lived in France. Their selections of songs were very diverse, ranging from gentle bossa nova to contemporary alternative rock.
Its customers expect to hear songs that originate from singers whose music sensitivities are different from most of the French radio stations.
Their marketing department likely figured that a substantial portion of their listeners is from the French black community and they probably would like to attract more of them.
As a result, they asked an advertising group to produce a video clip that would promote their philosophy.
The campaign resulted in several video clips, some of them were very creative and received quite well. However things went terribly wrong with one of the video. The following clip is quite graphic so if you are sensitive to violent acts, I would advise you to not watch.

(h/t to afrostyly)
(Feel free to tell Y&R that the spot was not well-received by the majority to Bernard.Barnett@yr.com)
If you cannot watch the video, here is a short description:
The video opens with some intermittent cries of pain. The camera then zooms out as if coming out of the open mouth of a young black man who is visibly in excruciating pain while a white bearded man is whipping his naked back.
The whipping goes on for about 20 seconds and ends with the words:
“ Une chose est sûre, ce sont bel et bien les hommes blancs qui sont à l’origine du blues” (Literally it translates as: “one thing is for certain, it is definitely white men who ignited the blues”).

Now that sentence can be read in a lot of ways and I believe it is the producers’ intent to leave it with multiple possible interpretations and by the same token create a buzz with the controversy that would likely follow.
I will let you be the judge of what they meant exactly. You should know that Nkamany’s friend was so upset after watching the video that she called him in tears and asked what he was going to do about it.

Evidently, I cannot be certain of the intent of the producers. I can imagine that they wanted to emphasis the point that the blues genre was born out of the suffering of the black community during times of hardships in the United States and that the pain of black people were induced by action of slave owners.

The point is that this video should have never been made or authorized.
It is already extremely offensive to exploit the plight of a community during times of suffering for commercial purposes. On top of that, they purposely linger on the cries of the young black man to make a lasting impression on the viewers and potentially trigger an emotional response, a reaction of anger and sadness.
In addition, when the clip makes the vague statement that white men were “definitely to be credited for the creation of blues”, it suggests 1) the crass generalization of white men as torturers of black people and 2) torturing for the benefit of musical creativity.

Nkamany was certainly not amused by the video clip and the ambiguous play on words so he wrote a letter to the producing company, Young & Rubicam, and demanded that action be taken to resolve this unacceptable production.

This is where it gets even stranger.
Y&R first reply was to say that your objection is dully noted and will be referered to the power-to-be. Another email came a few days later explaining that there did not seem to be much of an outrage because of the video and that the intent was not to offend anyone, especially the black community (Nkamany pointed out in this letter that as a black person, he found the airing of video clip unacceptable). Yet, the company added that since there were still a few people who have objected to the video, they decided to NOT use the video anymore.

This withdrawal begs the question: if they really thought that the video’s intent was not to offend and if there were so few people voicing their displeasure, why was the video pulled from the website so quickly?
Is there any doubt that if were this commercial subtitled in English and aired in the US of A, or anywhere in Africa, the outcry from the public would have been so strong that the mainstream media would have picked up on it ?

Would the company have gotten away without issuing a public apology?

As Nkamany said, this also begs another question: what are the associations in charge of the defense of minority rights doing in France? Why are they not demanding an apology? Isn’t the fact that this story has not received any attention whatsoever symptomatic of the current state of the conversation about race in France?

France is proud, and rightfully so, of the fact that race is never mentioned in public affairs, there is no such as affirmative action for job employment or housing. It is, in theory, completely color blind. Yet, as the United States is as close as ever to having a black president, France is still years away from electing a minority candidate at the highest position in public affairs.
Maybe it is time for minority association to quit sleeping at the wheel and get to work (does SOS racism still even exist ?).
If they don’t stand up for themselves, they are the only to blame that this kind of video is can be aired for a while in France and would not even be considered for publication anywhere else.

UPDATE: the following is the email that was sent to Nkamany by Y&R:
Dear Nkamany,
I promised to write to you again in response to your complaint about the Radio Nova campaign when I heard from my colleagues in France.
I have now received the information below. You will see, I hope, that your interpretation of the spot is directly contrary to the one that was intended and that, indeed, it was commissioned to create.
Also that very few viewers misunderstood, while the majority reaction was overwhelmingly favourable.
The spot was withdrawn in deference to those very few objectors. It seems to me, given the explanation below, that both the client and the agency have operated throughout from the highest of motives and with the utmost respect. I share their sadness that their good intentions have been misinterpreted in a few instances.
Best regards. Here is the information from my French colleagues (please excuse the imperfect English and the untranslated French, but I wanted to give you the response exactly as it came to me). Best regards. Bernard Barnett


  1. Ouhlala, comme elle pue cette pub. Beurk, beurk, beurk. Je voue une haine profonde à tous ces pubards dont le seul but est de faire un buzz autour d'un clip, sans aucune prise de précautions.

    Il y a encore un long chemin à faire en France pour que cette prise de conscience se fasse, hélas :-(

  2. Salut Vola,

    Bien d'accord avec toi avec l'aspect degeu de la chose.
    le pire c'est qu'ils osent affirmer que la video a ete bien acceptee par la grande majorite des clients.
    Si quelqu'un veut infirmer cette affirmation:
    voici l'email des auteurs des emails a Nkamany:

  3. je vous ecris d un lapotp inconnu car je suis au bord de la depression.....le WIRELESS ne marche plus a la maison
    ceci etant dit on est des costauds on va survivre.....
    c quoi la pub, je trouve meme pas le point d interrogation ni les accents, la vie est dure...
    bon je reviens, histoire de voir ce qu est la vie sans internet
    bises les copains, ct super genial hier

  4. In spite of the cold and my consequent lack of a tan, I had a wonderful time in Miami. One highlight was the downtime with a wonderful group of GVOers (a picture is, clearly, worth a thousand words). Another highlight was finally

  5. (I nearly started writing in French... I think I'm losing my mind) Shocking, I agree! Particularly because it is for Radio Nova (I too listened to it pretty much exclusively while in Paris).

    Twisted thing is I think they actually thought that this was going to hit a positive chord with the black community(ies). The problem is that they try to mention a subject which is so complicated and so sensitive that... There is no way of approaching it lightly.

    I'm surprised that they didn't run it through a broad-ish test-groups to check how people react.

    Like they say: "hell is paved with good intentions". I think it's the case here.

    (thanks Lova for this by the way!)

  6. Uh. Yes, that was supposed to be singular. (test-group). Yikes.

  7. IM,

    I agree that they should have run that ad by a test-group and that the intention was to draw the black community in.
    But using the scars of slavery for commercial purpose was at least, inconsiderate.

  8. Lova,
    C'est pour des pubs comme ca, et pour le manque de reactions suite a des pubs pareilles qu'il faut mentionner la race !

    Je suis souvent d'accord avec toi, mais pas sur ce coup ci.
    "France is proud, and rightfully so, of the fact that race is never mentioned in public affairs, there is no such as affirmative action for job employment or housing. It is, in theory, completely color blind."
    They should start statistics on race and employment and housing to see if they are as color blind as they claim... That would be A step in the right direction in my (very) humble opinion.

  9. >sipakv,

    I think I agree with you disagreeing with me :). A colorblind society in theory is pointless if in reality, it is anything but colorblind.
    I am afraid those stats are too frightening to keep track of but I would love to see them ( anyone knows ?)

  10. >I am afraid those stats are too frightening to keep track of but I would love to see them ( anyone knows ?)

    Faut aller les quémander à l'observatoire des discriminations http://www.egalites.net/ ou alors graisser la patte des Renseignements Généraux me semble plus accessible :)

    A propos de la discrimination positive, un discours intéressant d'une femme géniale Memona Hintermann http://www.lemague.net/dyn/spip.php?article3077

  11. Vola,

    Merci pour ces 2 liens, c'est une mine d'info ! Par exemple:

    Sur l'audit de l'Oreal:
    # En 2006, notre analyse n'a révélé aucune perte de chances pour les candidats porteurs d'un prénom susceptible d'être discriminé.
    Cette mobilisation semble être le fruit du programme de sensibilisation mené par L'Oréal auprès de ses équipes.
    Un processus de recrutement qui accorde un poids important aux avis des recruteurs dans les décisions finales (relativement à celui des managers opérationnels), facilitant ainsi la diffusion de nouvelles méthodes de travail."
    Bravo L'Oreal. Parce que le monde entier (ss exception) le vaut bien.

  12. Une interview tres interessante et qui change des discours francais politiquement correct sur les statistiques etc...
    Il serait en effet interessant de trouver des etudes non politiques et objectives du comment et pourquoi la discrimination positive marcherait ou pas en France.