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Why is no one talking about the racial stereotyping in Net-a-Porter’s Christmas ad?

“Gifts All Wrapped Up” is the theme of Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter’s Christmas campaign, but underlying it is a clumsy dose of racial stereotyping that somehow got signed off by the combined teams.

Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter's combined Gifts All Wrapped Up campaign - racial stereotyping
Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter’s combined Gifts All Wrapped Up campaign

“Gifts All Wrapped Up” is the theme of Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter’s Christmas campaign, but underlying it is a clumsy dose of racial stereotyping that somehow got signed off by the combined teams.

An animated tale documenting the process of gift-giving and delivery from the luxury e-commerce sites, the film depicts a gentleman buying presents online, before seeing them all arrive under the Christmas tree in what looks like a family scene. The 30-second version of the ad has been viewed on YouTube close to 900,000 times so far. There is also a 60-second cut.

The gent in question is depicted as a white male. Also featured as characters in the ad are a white woman, a black woman and three white kids.

Here’s the issue: The black woman’s role is incredibly confusing – supposed to be a friend, she is the one spending her time doing the “work”. In decorating the tree, lighting the fire and eventually opening the door to the gift deliveries, she comes across as the hired help.

As a colleague pointed out, she’s dressed very well in the piece – seemingly wearing Gucci – but she almost certainly appears to be a personal assistant at the very least. So the question is, why has she been portrayed as a black woman? Was that necessary?

Let’s not forget this is an animation – meaning she was purposefully “coloured in”, to be incredibly vulgar about it. Had it been a real-life film however, that reflection of race may in fact have only been more evident.

For the record, the campaign does further include a gift guide depicting a number of different characters from a broader diverse background. In that context, it comes across as less a matter of stereotyping and more an intention to fulfill a diversity brief.

As the team told me in response to request for comment: “The heart of the campaign is the stylish and easy shopping experience Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter provides our customers during the busy holiday season, as showcased and experienced by the diverse characters depicted throughout, who represent both our customers from the 170+ countries we proudly serve and the individuals delivering our first-rate service.”

In the film however, the dynamic between the animated characters and exactly what the black woman’s role is, remains unclear. Another response from the combined Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter team to me, reads: “The whole group is a mix of grown-ups and children of all backgrounds with no discernible relationship to each other, who are celebrating the holiday season together.”

Unintentional though it may have been, the fact of the matter is, the campaign still comes across as though its based on a stereotypical, wealthy white family, even if they are meant to rather be a group of friends, while a black woman helps alongside. It’s a thoughtless depiction of society, not to mention its own customer base – an example of a brand naively playing the diversity card for commercial gain.

What really matters is that this didn’t get picked up internally before being released – neither by the Yoox Net-a-Porter Group nor by the agencies involved. (It was illustrated by Simone Massoni via Dutch Uncle Agency, with animation by Animade). Perhaps this is politicising something that doesn’t need to be politicised, but as part of a leading luxury business, these two brands have a responsibility to be more aware of the messages they put out into the world.

Net-a-Porter was previously praised back in August for its autumn campaign’s focus on diversity. Speaking about it at launch, Claudia Plant, global brand creative director at the company, explained: “We have a global audience we cater to and that audience is made up of multiple nationalities with different style aesthetics. For our fall campaign, we shot five completely different women, and what we got was a great variety of fashion characters that we hope speaks to a broad spectrum of our customers across the globe. When casting the models, it was very important to strike a balance between women who would inspire our customers, as well as having the right mix of fresh faces.”

As the Telegraph wrote at the time: “Translation: where you’re looking to sell designer wares to women on every continent, it can only help to show them women who represent them.”

In this instance, it looks like a classic case of that extended diversity brief gone very wrong.

By Rachel Arthur

Rachel Arthur is Editor-in-Chief of Current Daily, the leading news source for fashion, retail and innovation, and the co-host of its weekly Innovators podcast. She otherwise serves as Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Current Global, a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion luxury and retail. By background she is an award-winning business journalist and consultant, contributing to titles including Wired, Forbes and Business of Fashion.

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