Guerrilla Art Project Grades Racial Diversity of Downtown Ads
SOHO — A TriBeca copywriter inspired by New York's famous restaurant letter grades has plastered ads around SoHo, the East Village and the Lower East Side with "advertising diversity grade" stickers that he says point out the racial dynamics of images covering the city.
A huge Tommy Hilfiger ad filled with images of white people earned a "C" for "Caucasians Only Racial Group."
A Banana Republic ad showing an African American woman and white man won a "B" for having a "Believable Grouping with Ethnically-Mixed Individuals Present."
And an ad for the Whitney Houston movie "Sparkle" that shows only black actors was slammed with a "D" for "Disturbing Targeting of a Single Racial Group."
Chris Baker — who created a computer program called Unbaby.Me that turns photos of babies that pop up on Facebook feeds into shots of "awesome stuff" like puppies and bacon — said he wanted to praise brands that use believable images of multiracial groups and criticize those whose ads seem inauthentic or target just one race.
"When a brand goes out of their way to have all races present, they never get a pat on the back," he said. "This is a way to give them an 'A' and to give others a 'D.' "
Ads for Bushmills Irish Whiskey that Baker, 29, spotted in the city gave him the inspiration for the project.
"These white hipster guys were all leaning on each other," he said, "and you could almost see the client standing there to the side saying, 'We need a Hispanic guy. We need a black guy.'"
Baker, who started putting up the stickers last weekend, said he hopes to spur a conversation about what the racial makeup of ads should look like.
"Every brand has their market that they know is buying their products," he said, "but I'd like to see balance."
Baker, also the co-author of the spoof grammar book "The Elements of F---ing Style," said he had 400 stickers printed and is on the lookout for ads to slap them on Manhattan-wide, despite the risk of criminal mischief charges, which police said he could receive.
"I'm going to put these up where ever ads are," he said. "If I'm at Lincoln Center and I see something that's perfect, I'm going to do it."
"I have plenty of friends who have done stuff with no repercussions," he added.