The Guardian's Guide to Spotting Racism in Adverts - Look for Meerkats

Photo by lrargerich

Photo by lrargerich

When does an advert cross the line from poking gentle fun at people to outright racism? According to Guardianista Peter Jones, it’s when you get Meerkats involved.


In Mr Jones’ article, he paints an image of a blissful domestic scene shattered by a diminutive, jackbooted advertising mascot for

The inexplicably popular “compare the meerkat” advert appeared on his screen, prompting Peter’s Ukranian partner to turn to him and wail “I don’t like this advert. It is very offensive to me.”

Forgetting for a moment that the future Mrs Jones talks in the clipped tones of a Soviet agent circa With Russia From Love, let’s take a look at what exactly constitutes racism in this advert.

The advertisement centres on the word “market” – a word that eastern Europeans/Russians pronounce “meerkat” – using talking CGI-animated meerkats. The sole point of this African animal’s appearance is, it seems, to highlight the idea that east Europeans cannot pronounce the word market properly when they speak English.

The first part that leaps out at me is the grouping used. Eastern European/Russian. So that’s painting Romanians, Poles, Ukranians, Latvians, Belorussians, Georgians, Azerbaijanis, Khazaks, etc as a homogenous group similar to “Russians”. That’s very Cold War of Peter. He should just have said “Warsaw Pact” and had done with it.

The second is that he thinks this entire grouping of people from a dozen countries pronounce the word “market” as “meerkat”. He doesn’t say that the Ad plays on an assumption, a stereotype or a joke – just paints it as fact that whether you’re from Tblisi or Vladivostok, you’ll pronounce “market” as “meerkat”.

Just how likely is that?

I’m from Salford. I pronounce market as “mar-ki’.” My significant other is from Hale Barns and pronounces market as “marr-kit“. That’s about 15 miles. Now I’m no expert on Eastern European pronunciation, but I think that pronunciation will be as markedly different in Talin and Astana as it is in Brussels and Lisbon.

The kicker for the piece is this sentence, which shows that Mr. Jones doesn’t watch much TV.

It also occurred to me that were the ad to use stereotypical Indian or Caribbean accents in the same way it would never be allowed on TV.

Lilt. Reggae Reggae Sauce. Malibu. Need I go on?

Come on Guardian. I’m sick of having to defend you to my Tory friends and colleagues – and you’re really not making it easy for me.

10 Comments comments for "The Guardian’s Guide to Spotting Racism in Adverts – Look for Meerkats"

  1. Kieron Hughes says:

    I think ‘batz’ in the comments section of the article sums it up quite well:

    “It’s a fucking talking meerkat.

    This article is beyond parody”

    I like how he wrote the article in a way that he hoped people would all agree with him, but it’s completely the opposite. What an idiot.

    • Andrew Nattan says:

      I hope it’s not beyond parody. Someone could do a bloody good “Why inoffensive advert X offends me for ridiculous reasons” post.

  2. Andrew Kelley says:

    There is something quite delicious seeing an SEO copywriter being suckered by a not-very subtle piece of viral marketing.

    ‘Someone could do a bloody good “Why inoffensive advert X offends me for ridiculous reasons” post.’

    They had better make it a bit easier to spot next time eh ?

    • Andrew Nattan says:

      So The Guardian’s started printing Viral Marketing? I spotted that theory in the comments section too, right before another Guardian writer (not famed for his VM nous) jumps in pointing out how the whole campaign is a “racist” sendup of the lives of White Russians in the West following the revolution.

      If it is Viral Marketing, I’m impressed (impressed enough to give it an airing here!), but the sheer earnest offended-for-the-sake-of-it nature of the post, and the placing makes me think it isn’t.

      If that makes me a sucker, so be it.

  3. Ian says:

    It’s not quite a CGI animal shouting the N-word but it is all based around a terribly cheap laugh though, isn’t it?

    In the latest advert, in which the servers are upgraded, there seems to be an implication that everyone with an Eastern European accent are in some way technologically backward or ‘simples’, if you prefer.

  4. Steven says:

    There is something quite delicious seeing an SEO copywriter being suckered by a not-very subtle piece of viral marketing.

    I think there’s something delicious about seeing an SEO copywriter use a not-so-subtle piece of viral marketing to drive traffic and comments to his blog!

  5. Rob says:

    If this is really some sort of viral meerkating campaign run on The Guardian website for the beneift of God-knows-who, then Peter Jones is a genius.

    Otherwise it’s one of the most pathetic whinges I’ve ever heard. As Kieron pointed out so eloquently: “It’s a fucking talking meerkat.”

    • Andrew Nattan says:

      There’s some conspiracies about Mr. Jones. Mainly as he shares a name with Peter Jones – owner of GoCompare. Maybe it’s not terrible Viral Marketing, maybe it’s just a terrible attempt to drum up some opposition to CTM amongst well-meaning liberals?

      The plot thickens…

  6. Roger Davies says:

    I got some bad news for this guy, Pavel Chekov in the original series of Star Trek was played by (dun, dun duh!!) and AMERICAN actor with a fake accent too!

    If this is not racist, could you image him being played by a giant Meerkat?

    You should, that would make an awesome series.

  7. art says:

    I’m slowly losing the will to live now! I have been in business for decades and have use almost every trick in the book to advertise products, in a field which is already very difficult to operate in, the last thing we need is some new Meerkat Mafia!

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