The Belo Men ads: on irony and hypocrisy

This is a little late I know but I thought I'd share my two cents anyway. The protest train has come and gone, Belo has apologized and taken down the ads. But I thought this is a worthy point of discussion, particularly about irony and hypocrisy.

Last Sunday, Belo Men has released a new campaign promoting their whitening range for guys. Three ads came out showing a conyo guy who is supposedly 10% lighter and thus 100% more sosyal and attractive. 

The knee-jerk reaction is that the ads are racist and promotes social stratification. But you know what? I think they're funny (while wrongly promoting social stratification, though definitely not racist)! The ads are tasteless but what Belo has here is self-deprecating sarcasm. Notice how the guy has a Kia - an old, far from sosy car. That's your giveaway. If there were only two ads or if his car is say, an Audi, I would think that Belo is being an asshole. But they're just trying to be funny, even going so far as to poke fun at their target market and even themselves.

Okay let's backtrack. From the car ad, we see a good looking guy throwing his keys at a valet in a swanky place. But he speaks in over-the-top conyoese and drives an old Kia, which means that he's not rich but that he's trying to climb the social grapevine. Being 10% lighter-skinned apparently makes him feel sosyal and confident enough to be wining and dining in an expensive place - even if he can't afford it.

The ad can be interpreted in any number of ways, but what I see is a brand making fun at middle-class men who want to be fairer to appear upper class. Oh don't tell me they don't exist, and don't tell me what you haven't thought of whiter-skinned guys (and girls) as well-off and maybe more attractive than your average dark guy. We live in a tropical country. Being fair-skinned is less common than being dark-skinned, so it is often considered a more attractive attribute. The added stigma of colonial mentality aside, of course. 

I read somewhere that the anger directed at that infamous BAYO campaign is caused by the fact that those ads shone a light on something unpleasant in our collective psyche: we admire, sometimes even worship half Filipinos more than 100% Pinoy beauty. We think Solenn Heussaff, Georgina Wilson, Anne Curtis, and Phil Younghusband are gorgeous. That's not wrong - they are beautiful people - but it is a problem when we think that being half-foreign is a "sure formula for someone beautiful and world class" compared to being pure Pinoy.

The lack of faith in our capability, talent, and beauty as a people - something that plagues many of us privately - is directly at odds with our very public Pinoy Pride. This conflict of identity is not something we talk about, but when it was pointed out rather bluntly by a bad ad campaign, we got angry.

Likewise, these Belo ads pointed out something that we think to be true, but hate about ourselves: many of us think fairer means richer and more attractive. Okay fine that is a hasty generalization. Don't take me too seriously. But when I go to Bonifacio High Street or Greenbelt, there is a concentration of mestizas and chinitas - fair, well-dressed, reeking of money. Check out the top fashion bloggers locally and tell me most of them aren't fair-skinned.

We want to be them, but we also want to love ourselves just the way we are. Ano ba talaga?

I know that there are Filipinos who are absolutely comfortable in their skin, however light or dark it is. There are those who want to be fair straight out; they're being honest about themselves and what they want to achieve. But I also know there are Filipinos who condemn those who want to be fairer, while wishing deep inside that they were at least 10% lighter too. That's called hypocrisy.

We should get over this internal conflict regarding skin color and be mature enough as a people to respect each other's wishes regarding their personal appearance. We don't have to like them or agree with them; we merely have to live with them because they are not ours to make.

Some people want to have a narrow nose, a smaller waistline, whiter skin, whatever. If that is how they think they will be percieved as more beautiful and confident in a society that has a pre-defined notion of what is attractive then that's their business. :)

How about you, what do you think of this campaign?


Addendum. Some of you might ask - sure we should let people decide what's beautiful for them, but isn't it wrong that brands like Belo are brainwashing people to think that only white is beautiful? In my experience working with ad agencies, I've learned that brands first research what their customers want, measure the demand, then finally produce a product that will appeal to their target market.

They don't say, "Oh I want to blow millions of pesos developing a product that no one wants. Once I have it I will spend more millions of pesos to create a demand!" It doesn't go that way. The consumer determines what goes on the shelves. Companies merely supply what their market wants, in this case, it's whitening.

The desire to be fair is ingrained in our culture, methinks. We can't just pick it off like lint from a shirt; it is as much a part of us as our appendix is.