Someone's head will roll for this. There is a Microsoft employee inept at Photoshop who has brought a good deal of embarrassment to the company with a poor attempt to white wash the company's marketing materials in Europe.

The above images both graced Micrsoft websites this week. The top picture, which appears on the company's Seattle-based website, features a black man. But on the company's Polish site, a white man's head was superimposed into the shot. Whoever massacred the image didn't have time to deal with issues of consistency — he left the original man's hand unchanged in the Polish version.

A reader pointed out the discrepancy to TechCrunch, and Microsoft has since apologized. The company isn't naming names on who was responsible for the mistake, but they have since returned the image to its original state on the Polish website. Too bad for them it's already become a meme.

Microsoft is embarrassed by the blunder. On its Twitter feed, the company wrote: "Marketing site photo mistake — sincere apologies — we are in the process of taking down the image."

Microsoft has an executive statement on its commitment to diversity and promises to, "promote and integrate diversity and inclusion at every level within our organization and in everything we do."

There are plenty of funny things about the poorly altered image. The logo on the laptop in the photo, which clearly looks like an Apple product, was wiped out of the shot. And the original message over the image said the following: "Empower your people with the IT skills they need."

Meanwhile, since the image discrepancy was discovered, it has become a meme on TechCrunch. The site has started a contest to insert other images into the scene, among them are images of Darth Vader, Ronald Reagan, and a weird rodent.

This misjudgment was obviously made by accident, but it gets to another point. Ethnic marketing is tricky when done purposefully. It's a disaster when done in haste. My colleague Patricio Robles recently wrote about the issue here.

Microsoft is being called out is because the demographic change they made was done so poorly. But this sort of thing happens all the time.

In America, it's often the reverse — inserting individuals from different ethnicities to promote a company or brand's commitment to diversity. It always rings hollow when the images don't reflect reality, but at least when companies attempt to make themselves look better it shows that they care about the issue of diversity.

In a situation like this, an employee just managed to reiterate people's suspicions when it comes to race in large corporate workplaces. Emphasizing stereotypes (there aren't a lot of Black people in Poland) and reminding of a belief people have long fought against (that Black people are somehow less desirable in an image) is an especially eggregious offense.

This just highlights the fact that as companies increasingly try to address different demographics and minority groups, targeting will become more important. And also much trickier.

Image: Times Online

http://imgur.com/PJZbG.jpg

Meghan Keane

Published 26 August, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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John

This is non-sense, how many black people live in Poland? Very few.. Microsoft was not trying to be racist, they are trying to sell software, and in Poland, they have more Asians than Blacks... If they were trying to be racist then they would not have an Black guy in the US version.

almost 9 years ago

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Andrew

If Microsoft was trying to target Polish people they should have retaken the same scene with polish talents - Photoshoping this image is the height of laziness and damn right insulting to the people they are trying to sell to! 

almost 9 years ago

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Gravitate Media

That is omse of the sloppyist Photoshop I have seen in a while.

So in reality they reget getting caught.

almost 9 years ago

Alec Kinnear

Alec Kinnear, Creative Director at Foliovision

John is on the money. I dislike Microsoft business practices as much as the next open source developer, but if you are selling software to Polish people - blacks are not your target demographic.

And having a black person in the picture just shouts stock photo.

Which does beg the question: why Microsoft are using second-rate stock photos on their websites in the first place.

This is not racism in action, this bad account management in action.

A very amusing tempest in a teapot though.

almost 9 years ago

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Bob

Surely this is just (very) badly pulled off ethnic marketing.

almost 9 years ago

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Matt

This is not some sort of aberration. My sister writes and illustrates books for young children – she has a contract with a major publishing firm who are very concerned with international sales. In her latest she took the wholly unselfconscious decision to make the young protagonist curly-haired and dark-skinned in the early drafts, and was told by her editor that this wouldn’t wash in much of Eastern Europe. Apparently there are seven or eight countries (she didn’t name them) where illustrated books with black protagonists simply won’t sell. Whoever recommended this action to Microsoft was, regrettably, doing their job. Whoever, did that appalling botch of a Photoshop, however, was not.

almost 9 years ago

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Dan

"In America, it's often the reverse — inserting individuals from different ethnicities to promote a company or brand's commitment to diversity...  at least when companies attempt to make themselves look better it shows that they care about the issue of diversity...

...(that Black people are somehow less desirable in an image) is an especially eggregious offense.

So let me get this right - if white people are less desirable in an image it is due to a caring attittude, hwoever, it black people are less desirable, it is racist?

What a load of rubbish this article is!

almost 9 years ago

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McLaughlin

I can understand why they changed the color of the man in the image - Poland is about 97% ethnically Polish, and most of the rest are white Europeans. Seeing a black man is unusual.

I 1988 I was working at the American Embassy in Dublin. One day I was walking down Grafton street with a fellow American and a mother and child passed us. The little boy said "Look Mommy, a negro." I thought that was so funny because the boy (I checked) had never seen a black before, except on TV.

Putting a black face on an advertisement would draw attention away from the point of the advertisement, and to the man. I'm actually surprised they didn't just use a different picture - not too many Asians in Poland either.

Imagine selling a product in Africa and using a Japanese model. Unless you are targeting the people that like the unusual, you have the wrong model.

Speaking of Africa, when I lived there I was approached by a local to complain that a fellow American was treating people poorly and this guy wanted my friend dead (we were shot at, to prove his point). He explained that it could be understood when I, as a white man, treated an African poorly. That was expected from a colonial power. It could not be accepted by someone who was black.

The world sees things different from you - no matter who you are. For example, I know that my opinion is right and I am pretty sure that there are people who will strongly disagree with me. See, that's people seeing things differently than me.

almost 9 years ago

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Bart

Who cares, its a storm in a teacup. Is'nt there some real news to write about?

almost 9 years ago

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Simpson

Would it have been "racist" if it had been a black head superimposed on a white body? I doubt it.

almost 9 years ago

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philip

I do not believe Microsoft were been racist, they were simply targetting the demographics of Poland, if this image was to be shown in Ethiopia you could guarantee that the people on the picture would be black, would this be racist too?

almost 9 years ago

Ian Tester

Ian Tester, Senior Product Manager at brightsolid online publishing

Many sensible cooments on here. The issue is not one of racism, it's more about the problems of centralised marketing.

I used to have the same issue all this time at a large nameless global company - the US (who held the budget) would send over ads that either had the wrong ehtnic groups for a prticular market or simply looked...too American, which is not going to go down a treat on your French or German dating site. You're not really looking to hook up with Californian surf babes in Nuremburg, although you can always hope.

I can pretty much guarantee you that the Polish marketing guys had no money for ad production (so probably has to find an intern or a mate's little borther to do the photoshopping), and just to make things worse, it is almost impossible to find "european looking" stock photos from the image libraries which are stuffed full of bland US photos.

We resorted to taking our own photos and buying some (damned hard to find) european stock imagery....US stock photos tend to have people looking far too preppy, dressed wrongly or with hyper-US backdrops (try to find a car shot with people sprawled over a Ford Escort vs a Caddy....)

almost 9 years ago

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alex

lol hes using a mac

almost 9 years ago

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alan rushton

Microsoft do this and get away nearly scott free but I put the word `piss` in my xbox bio and get an instant ban for a week.What gives?

over 7 years ago

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Stacey

It's amazing but not unusual how outright racism is covered up in America. The comments suggest that the black man should be left out since Poland is 97% ethnically Polish and seeing a "black" man is unusual. But I see no explanation of leaving the Asian man in the photo. The Asian population is just as few in Poland but I see no comments regarding that but then again I'm not surprised. That's to be expected in our "so called" land of the "almost free."

about 7 years ago

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