The multinational chocolate firm Cadbury has been accused of racism and perpetuating "colonial stereotypes" of African people in its latest advertising campaign. A poster and television advert created in Ghana for Dairy Milk has infuriated a number of prominent equality campaigners and Ghanaian leaders in the UK.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) meets this week to discuss initiating a formal investigation into Cadbury's TV advert – slogan "show us your cocoa beam" – which features a giant, negroid rotating head that unleashes mass dancing among what appear to be highly excitable people in an African village.
The advert and an associated poster campaign mark the chocolate firm's move to Fairtrade, but critics say this move has been overshadowed by the campaign's portrayal of African people as "buffooning simpletons". The allegations will cause further embarrassment to Cadbury which was forced to pull an advert for Trident gum in 2007 after an ASA investigation ruled that the campaign showed "harmful stereotypes" of Caribbean people.
Toyin Agbetu, the founder of Ligali, a UK-based African human rights organisation, said: "The video makes Africans look like buffooning simpletons. The biggest presence on the advert is a giant mask that people fall about in front of. Part of being able to use the Fairtrade brand should also include a responsibility to advertise ethically."
Paul Epworth, a British producer, was flown out to produce the advert, which is also online as a full-length music video to raise money for Care International. The song "Zingolo" features Ghanaian musicians, but Mr Agbetu said: "The fact that Ghanaian musicians and artists were involved is sad, but it does not excuse it."
Nii Armah Akomfrah, the chairman of the UK branch of the Ghanaian political opposition group the Convention People's Party, has sent a letter of complaint to the Cadbury board on behalf of his party and British Ghanaians. He said Ghanaian groups in the UK will protest outside the chocolate producer's headquarters in Birmingham if the advert is not taken off air. "People are disappointed. It's like making an advert about America and only showing images of Harlem," he said. "It's a colonial mentality and stuff like this just brings the country down."
Reaction to the advert on the web has been mixed. A protest video was posted on YouTube by a Ghanaian living in Japan called Professor Lungu. The short film, called "Cadbury Sponsors Foolish African Tribal Monster Video", features a list of criticisms of the advert, the main one of which accuses the advert of "perpetuating sad and harmful stereotyping of Africans".
Kwame Nkrumah-Agyapong of Ghanaian Migrants Information Services said the campaign had caused outrage among the Ghanaian diaspora. "I've been called by loads of people about this advert. Ghanaians are very laid-back people, so for them even to voice this shows there's a problem. People feel it's racist and it doesn't present an accurate picture of Ghana."
A spokesman for the ASA, which has received complaints about racial stereotyping in the adverts, said: "This is something we take very seriously."
Tim Bishop, the head of private sector engagement at Care International UK, said, "Cadbury worked with Ghanaian communities to produce this advert and they consulted key figures in Ghana as part of their creative process."
Cadbury said it had been made aware of the ASA complaints and was co-operating fully. Phil Rumbol, the marketing director at Cadbury, said: "We completely reject these allegations. This campaign has been widely welcomed by Ghanaians, including community leaders both in Ghana and in the UK."