Advertising watchdog backs Baby Soft over 'cultural appropriation' complaint

04 May 2018 - 08:00 By Nico Gous

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) took the teeth out of a complaint about a television commercial in which a coloured child is portrayed with a “passion gap”.

The ASA dismissed Edwina Haas’ complaint about a Baby Soft commercial‚ which she believed was in “very bad taste” in its portrayal of coloured people.

In the commercial a teacher stands in front a class. A voice-over says: “We gave Miss Jacobs and her class the Baby Soft Clean Routine to try and asked them how clean they felt afterwards.”

The children respond as follows:

  • Child one (a white boy): “Baby soft makes me as clean as a robot”;
  • Child two (a coloured girl): “Fluffy cloud”;
  • Child three (a white girl): “Bubbles”;
  • Child four (a black boy): “Flowers”; and
  • Child five (a coloured boy with missing front teeth): “Brushed teeth.”

Haas believes one of the coloured children being portrayed with missing front teeth is also cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is when one person adopts something from another culture. Unlike an exchange‚ there is a power dynamic where one group often takes something from a group that has been systematically oppressed and uses it in a way that bothers or offends that group.

The ASA said it would have been cultural appropriation if “white people started sporting the absent front teeth”.

“A coloured child showing a naturally occurring gap in their teeth cannot be said to be cultural appropriation‚” the advertising watchdog body said.

It added that cultural appropriation was permitted if it did not discriminate or offend.

Kimberly-Clark Southern Africa‚ parent company of Baby Soft‚ said it wanted to appeal to mothers with young families by portraying the message that this product was the best way to keep their family clean.

They decided to “dramatise” this message by using children as protagonists to make it resonate with mothers.

“As such‚ it chose cast six-year-olds as they are still cute at this age‚ but also eloquent in delivering copy‚” the company said.

The ASA agreed - and said Baby Soft promoted toilet tissue‚ a household grocery item.

“It chose a diverse group of cute children to execute this campaign. Some of the children in the commercial clearly already have their adult teeth‚ and some clearly have milk teeth. There is another coloured child who does have front teeth‚” the ASA said.

The ASA concluded nothing in the commercial hinted that having front teeth was culturally significant or gave children an advantage.