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Have the Folks at Intel Lost Their Minds? 


Saturday, August 18, 2007.


By Keith Boykin


So I was on my way out the door a few minutes ago when I stopped by the mailbox to pick up the mail. There was nothing in the mail today except a flier for Dell Business products. I decided to flip through the pages before throwing it away, and the first page I came to was an ad for Intel, the world number one computer chip maker.


The text read "Multiply computing performance and maximize the power of your employees." That was innocuous enough, but the visual image of the full-page spread brought me back to the antebellum time and the days of the American confederacy and apartheid in South Africa.


There stood a white man with his arms folded in the middle of an office with six black men kneeling around him with their heads down. The unmistakable message was that the black men were not just employees but servants to their white master.


As I walked out the door in shock, the first thought that came to my mind was slavery. The second thought was revulsion. How could a major company approve such an ad in the first place?


The six black men were obviously supposed to be sprinters crouched in the starting position before a race. But the feeling it left was anything but sportsmanlike. I had never seen or heard of the campaign before a few minutes ago, but when I googled it I came up with several articles, including one in which the company apologized. "We made a bad mistake," said the company official. "I know why and how, but that simply doesn't make it better."


The ad was supposed to "convey the performance capabilities of our processors through a number of visual metaphors," wrote Don MacDonald, director of global marketing for Intel. "Unfortunately, this ad using African American sprinters did not deliver our intended message, and in fact proved to be culturally insensitive and insulting."


You got that right. Even the techno blogs thought the ad was wrong. You know you've got a problem when white people start to question if a black image is racist before the black people even hear about it.


Intel said it had pulled the ad from hundreds of publications, but was unable to stop two which had already shipped, according to Target Market News. The company, which recently reported second quarter revenues of $8.7 billion, said it had identified "specific steps covering heightened cultural sensitivity" in the process for reviewing ads and would use these steps to prevent future mistakes. They also promised to use their "common sense."


That's a good start, but I still don't get how this ad got approved in the first place. Could it be that the powers that be at Intel or at the advertising agency just don't have the diversity of representation that would allow them to spot such an obvious error and correct it before it ever saw the light of day?


Keith Boykin is a writer, broadcaster, journalist and political commentator. He blogs at Keithboykin.com


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