As anyone who has ever dyed their hair in hopes to look like Debra Messing knows, red hair is something to be celebrated — not mocked. That’s why when Australian beer company Carlton & United Breweries (CUB) released an ad that openly mocked redheads, they were met with a ton of backlash from viewers.
According to Refinery29, the ad in question was for CUB’s new Rusty Yak Gingery Ale, and talked about a discovery of a “ginger gene.” In the commercial, a narrator explained: “Floating around in our beer, just like it’s been floating around in human DNA, surprising families for generations,” adding imagery of parents holding a red-haired baby for emphasis.
However, it was the next part of the ad that many found truly offensive. The commercial urged viewers to “stop the spread of the gene,” along with an explanation of a marketing gimmick that included specially hidden labels within the six-pack of beer.
Australian news outlet Mumbrella reports that many people complained about the ad, calling it “discriminating” and “offensive.” One comment explained: “It’s very offensive for the advertisement to be discriminating against those with red hair, suggesting that they need to ‘stop the gene spreading’ as if it were some sort of disease. Children already get bullied at school for having red hair, and advertisements like this only further encourage that type of bullying.” And they have a point; in 2014, the BBC reported a University College Cork study that determined that people with red hair are frequently susceptible to bullying, a sentiment that has been echoed by the anti-bullying organization, NoBullying.com.
In response to the complaints, CUB defended their ad in a statement, Mumbrella reports. “The advertisements do not promote discrimination or vilification as defined above in a literal or figurative way given the theme and overall impression of the advertisements is not negative towards reds heads (sic), but rather a humorous and comical announcement that we have discovered ‘the ginger gene’ in our beer,” the statement read.
However, the Advertising Standards board thought otherwise. According to Yahoo! News, the board especially took issue with the “stop the spread of the gene” line, explaining: “The phrase ‘stop the spread of the gene’ overstepped the line between being light-hearted humor and made a strong suggestion that an identifiable group of the population was to be considered unpopular.” The Advertising Standards board also suggested that the commercial could be seen as racist, adding: “The panel considered that DNA can be considered to be related to ancestry and descent and therefore considered that in this context the reference to people with red hair falls within the definition of race.”
As a result of the ruling, CUB reportedly agreed to remove the ad from Australian television. According to Mumbrella, the company didn’t agree with the decision, but obliged out of “respect for the complaints.”
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