Act Up Against German Racist Company HORNBACH AG
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KEEP YOUR DIRTY LAUNDRIES FOR YOURSELVES
Call for action against the humiliating representation of an Asian woman by Hornbach
my name is Sung Un Gang and I'm from South Korea. I live in Cologne since 2010. I'm married, have a dog, and am writing my doctoral thesis in media culture studies.
Yesterday I watched the new advertising campaign from the German DIY chain Hornbach. The advertisement shows an Asian woman and I find the way she is represented extremely problematic. That's why I want to create a voice so that the company sees the problem and removes the ad from all channels.
What is there to see?
The ad shows five white German men working hard in their gardens, handing their sweaty underwear to two guys in white coats. The dirty clothes are packed vacuum and offered for sale through a vending machine in a Japanese city. The 46-second commercial movie shows how an Asian woman buys a bag of dirty underwear, opens it up, and smells it. She feels extasy by the odor. The scene is accompanied by a moaning female voice. The advertising slogan "So smells the spring" appears, and the woman gets a closeup at the end. Her eyes are almost completely twisted, typical imagery of sexual ecstasy in European art tradition.
Why is that a problem?
1. The Asian woman is represented as a mere tool to make the white male customers feel better about themselves.
It is important for every brand to find and target the right audience, because only then is advertising successful. For this aim, every advertisement has identification figures that the target audience can easily connect with.
In the Hornbach advertising, the five men who work in the gardens, bathed in sweat, are the identification figures. In other words, Hornbach's biggest customers-seemingly white men over 40 who work hard on their projects-find themselves in these five white men.
They work alone in their gardens. Without friends and family who help or at least say that they are grateful for their work at the end of the day. This is a problem for Hornbach, because if their customers do not feel good about gardening work, then they would no longer do such labor. Conclusion: no profit for Hornbach.
Therefore, Hornbach thinks that these men need appreciation. And in such an extreme form, that it leaves a lasting impression and the white men like to go to Hornbach.
The solution: Hornbach shows how an Asian woman in a supposedly fictional city, where Japanese is used, smells the men’s dirty clothes and gets horny. Hornback wants its main clients to imagine their odor after work can be so sexy anywhere in the world, particularly to Asian women.
The company claims that the ads are about springtime and diversity. What I see is something completely different. The advertisement says that the hard work of white men in Germany receives little social or personal recognition. Although they sweat so much—sweat is the biological proof of their hard work. And it stinks.
Every human being passes a period in one’s life where one feels rejected by one’s parents when they say one’s poo is dirty so it should be flushed away. Most people leave this period behind themselves. Still, the psychological trait remains. Now how damn good it would feel like when somebody tells you that your dirtiest part that even you don’t really appreciate about yourself is actually so great and turns him/her on?
The Asian woman, in the end, fulfills exactly this fantasy. She is there to make the sweating white men of the first world to feel better about themselves doing the gardening job. Doing so, Hornbach is outsourcing some white men’s fragile sense of self-affirmation to Asian women in somewhere else.
I have nothing against the people who like to smell dirty clothes and thereby be horny. At the same time, I find that it is precisely this sexual freedom of women in the ad that is exploited to encourage white men, not women’s various preferences.
2. The ad can make Asian women’s everyday life in Germany even harsher
As an alibi, Hornbach shows GIFs of other versions, in each of which a white man and a white woman also smell the dirty clothes and become happy. BUT YOU CANNOT FIND THESE VERSIONS ANYWHERE! (UPDATE: see below)
Besides, I call it alibi because we all know that white persons in German society and media landscape have a completely different subject position than Asians. Most figures in commercials in Germany are white. One sees white people of all different ages, sex, occupations, problems, and regional characters. Each individual white actress and actor represents one individual. They are unique and there are so many of them.
While the Asian are an absolute minority in German society and media. Therefore, an Asian actor in a German advertisement quickly evokes the impression that it's about the category "Asian," rather than an individual. In short: This ad can more easily reinforce prejudices about Asians as a category than the white people, whose variety is overwhelming.
Through my friends' and my own experiences over many years, I know that Asian people in Germany are confronted daily with sexual violence and racial discrimination that often go hand in hand. I am sure that the Hornbach advertisement will cause another real challenge for Asian people living in Germany. Because the ad offers an additional reference that ridicules the imagery of Asian women.
3. Hornbach knowingly picked Asian women because they are often consumed as sexual exotics with no voice.
Hornbach claims that the advertising campaign is simply about the spring fragrance and diversity—that everybody loves some kind of spring scent. If so, why is not there a version with Muslim and Jewish people, or even German white children?
Because Hornbach knows very well that this will trigger a huge scandal. After all, anti-Semitism and anti-Islamism have been problematized in Germany. But the Asians? They are so well integrated and so tame, come on, let's talk about the blonde jokes, Jew jokes, Arab jokes, or N_ jokes - this time about the harmless Asiatics.
I want to show that this cannot be longer possible. I want Hornbach to remove the advertising from all communication channels and apologize to Asian, particularly Asian women, living in Germany. Would the company recognize its fault and apologize? I think so, when we get louder.
Firstly, we demand an immediate cancellation of the campaign “So riecht das Frühjahr” and removal of the ad showing the Asian woman from all channels.
Secondly, we demand a thorough investigation of the responsibility for this sexist and racist campaign. Particularly, Florian Preuß, the head of public relations at Hornbach Holding, should take responsibility.
Thirdly, we demand a sincere public apology from John Feldmann (Chairman of the supervisory board of HORNBACH Holding AG & Co. KGaA) and Wolfgang Rupf (Chairman of the supervisory board of HORNBACH Management AG) to Asian women living in countries where the ad was aired in a written form. It should be published in main daily newspapers (i.e. FAZ, Sueddeutsche, taz) as well as online news sites (i.e. SPIEGEL ONLINE, FAZ.net, ...) at the least.
Fourth, we demand the publication of the screening process and a diversity report of Hornbach AG. Particularly, Hornbach AG should offer an answer to questions including: How many people with migrational background took part in the screening of the ad? How many of them were Asian women? Who made decisions about the screening process? How many none-white people are working for Hornbach AG?
Fifth, we demand the dignifying representation of minorities, particularly Asian women, in the future ad campaigns of Hornbach AG.
I want the next generation of Asian people in Germany to be proud of themselves and be more respected than we are right now. I want to set an example for the younger generations of Asians in Germany to speak out and act up to protect our dignity. The ad is not representing Asian women in a dignifying way. Asian people deserve something better than exoticizing jokes and sexism. Thanks!
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