Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Do Discover Card's Peggy Commericals Appeal to our Xenophobia or Are they Just Clever?



I'm not trying to start a mess, y'all. When I first saw Discover Card's commercial series featuring Peggy, I laughed. She works for "USA Prime Credit" and is a bearded, incompetent customer service representative played by a white male who speaks with a thick accent, choppy English, and she only responds "yes." Again, I laughed. Who hasn't dealt with a "Peggy"? And what a way to send the message that those foreign customer service reps seem to be part of some kind of massive deception and are not who they claim to be.

However, when I first saw the ad I also thought that someone at Discover's advertising agency, which according to AdWeek is The Martin Agency, cleverly dodged being called "racist" or "xenophobic" by giving Peggy all the audible traits of a customer service contractor from a foreign country while presenting the visual image as white male.

What do you think? Does Discover Card get a pass on its Peggy series because it's really about poor customer service or is the company appealing to some lower level of our humanity?

UPDATE: When I first posted this, I wanted to add a video preview of NBC's new show Outsourced, which is about customer service being outsourced to India, but I was tired, and so, I went to bed. I expect to hear of some fallout on this show. It may be very funny, but whenever you hit cultural issues and conflict head on, someone may not think it's amusing. This is food for thought in our so-called post-racial world.

27 comments:

Dan said...

Oh, when I saw this commercial a few weeks ago I immediately thought it was an awkward and clumsy reference to someone in Bangalore, as if to say, "We can't say it, but don't you hate those non-English speakers?" I object to the whole outsourcing thing, but I don't like the idea of appealing to people's dislike of foreigners.

Caspar said...

Can we ease up on the political correctness for one second? I swear, Americans are so obsessed with ethics nowadays that we forget how to laugh at the simple things like poor customer service. It's a damn joke. Stop reading racist overtones into something so lighthearted. The only people that are offended by this commercial are those utilizing projection bias as a defense mechanism.

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

Interesting thought, Caspar. Are you suggesting we laugh and then turn our brains off after we acknowledge something strikes us as funny?

People not thinking is dangerous.

The post simply asks a question about imagery and communication in terms of race and ethnicity. Uh, lighten up!

Thank you for commenting.

Multi-Ainjo said...

Yeah Caspar, I see your point. Kind of. I believe sometimes people get angry for no good reason. They get angry without thinking. But that's why we need to think.

Nordette stated she laughed, as a black customer service representative, I laughed.

But she then goes on to make a logical and interesting point. It doesn't mean we're angry. It just means we're thinking.

Being a human means we think. A famous philosopher Descartes said "I think therefore I am". Nothing wrong with going a little deeper and seeing what's just under the surface.

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

Thank you, M-A. And I still think what they've done with confusion of what we hear versus what we see is clever. I'm just not sure it's in the best interest of harmony.

Discover Card runs the risk of antagonizing groups of people who think the commercial is xenophobic and possibly racist. Someone on Facebook said she thought the accent was "Indian"? I caught an allusion to India because lots of customer service is being contracted to India, but I didn't think the accent was Indian. I think Discover Card purposely used a fuzzily foreign accent.

Will you be watching NBC's new show "Outsourced"? I'm adding that video to this post. You can watch it there.

Anonymous said...

Caspar, great comments. I too am tired of the obsession; evidenced by this blog in general. There's little one can do in this society without the risk that some overly-sensitive person will construe it as racism. Oh, yes, and please lighten up...if you can't say something that supports the racism twist, perhaps you should seek another forum.

The commercial(s) are hilarious; although the Discover card is hardly the choice for those with any finacial savvy; regardless of service. But hey, let's not focus on something intelligible; like customer service and the financial aspects associated with the commercial. It's all about racism -millions of dollars in TV media - not to market and sell, oh no, strictly to spread global racism.

I was actually looking for the commercials online when I stumbled across this 'please hate me some more' website. What a farce. You describe this as thinking? Let's take the simplest of messages, and see how we can twist and distort and read our own agenda into this commercial and somehow turn this into racism.

M-A, Descartes, really? I mean, even remotely relevant here? By the way, the concept started with Plato, not Descartes.

For the record, when I have a problem with something that costs me thousands of dollars, you better believe I want someone that speaks pristine English; complete sentences, diction and enunciation. That's part of the service I paid for and I demand as a consumer; why, because it is what I want. I have no desire to struggle through a communication issue, yes, I know, that makes me a racist...so hand me my racist card.
Why don't a few of you big thinkers do some actual research and find out the issues faced by HP with off-shoring customer service and how Dell doesn't seem to have the same issues (guess why!).

Heeeey, next forum....every time I call Dell I get an English speaking person...I mean they speak well...do you think that is a racist company?

Anonymous said...

These ads, while mildly entertaining, are bullshit. They are supposed to play on the public's frustration when dealing with out-sourced Asian call centers (India & Philippines) so why create an ad campaign making Eastern Europeans look foolish? If Indians frustrate, then call them out and create and ad campaign making light of Bhadflksfdgahsfesh calling himself "Bob."

"Peggy" is no more than portraying an African-American using blackface or an Asian using someone who just walked out of a tanning salon and popping a dot on their forehead. I am saddened that those on Madison Ave. don't have the intelligence to look past stereotypes to create a buzz and promote their product.

Anonymous said...

One night I came home feeling down, so I sat down in front of the television set & the first Peggy commercial came on. I tell you I snapped out of it really quick. I was laughing so hard I could not contain myself because it came before me without warning. I have shown the video to my co-workers, & they think it is hilarious. I work in a Call Center, so, it was quite fitting that I asked my boss if he was going to evaluate "Peggy"? Everyone roared with laughter.

Anonymous said...

I just saw this commercial during the Rose Bowl and I thought it was racist. It's a thinly veiled reference to offshored call center customer service in other countries. As a born and raised Buckeye, it sucks to see Madison Avenue appeal to prejudice, one of the lowest common denominators among sports-watching Americans.

Steve Cerruti said...

I just ran across this trying to come up with an idea of what nationality that Peggy was perceived as.

I did not interpret Peggy as vocalizing an Indian accent but rather as completely Eastern European. I just assumed that Discover was trying to establish a link between their competitors customer service and identity theft via offshore operations which is unconsciously linked with former Soviet republics.

Anonymous said...

Although I too laughed the first time I saw this commercial, after some thought, I realized the use of people's racial bias to gain customers. When "Peggy" mentions "her" name, the reaction on the American side is met with a very subtle disgust and surprise through a sarcastic "yeaaa, Peggy, sure." This is to say that Peggy is a name that only Americans/Caucasians should have. I was a bit disgusted by this.

Am I wrong?

Peggy said...

It's acceptable to beat up on white eastern Europeans at call centers because they don't exist. The ad agencies avoid the obvious -- call centers in India and the Philippines -- because the depiction would be dead on accurate and therefore uncomfortable. People feel uncomfortable when race-based stereotypes are revealed to be based in truth.

Anonymous said...

@ Last Anon
Yes, you are wrong. You said: When "Peggy" mentions "her" name, the reaction on the American side is met with a very subtle disgust and surprise through a sarcastic "yeaaa, Peggy, sure." This is to say that Peggy is a name that only Americans/Caucasians should have. I was a bit disgusted by this.

The subtle disgust and surprise through a sarcastic "yeaaa, Peggy, sure" is because the call center worker IS CLEARLY A MAN AND HE IS LYING BY STATING HE HAS A FEMALE NAME. It has nothing to do with Americans/Caucasians, although your comment shows that the unjustified bashing of Americans/Caucasians remains a problem.

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to learn what does this commercial actually do to the image of decent foreign people like myself who live in the US. Sometimes this commercial makes me feel that people may think less of me because of my accent, and probably about my tax guy who is Indian and has a thick accent too. In my opinion this commercial negatively affects the general public on the subconscious level, while their conscious is laughing at a real life situation they might have experienced themselves.

Anonymous said...

Overseas isn't the only place that has customer service representatives with English speaking issues. I have to deal with Sony whose site is in Laredo, Texas. Now, I speak some Spanish, but I would never attempt to use it to speak with a customer on technical issues. I'm simply not good enough to do it. So why are many of the Sony reps native Spanish speakers who have difficulty with English other than basic conversation?

I don't care where the rep helping me is located. I just want to speak to someone who understands me and whom I can understand. Outsourcing will continue to be a fact of life as long as it is cheaper for companies to get their work done elsewhere.

Brendan said...

Peggy is obviously supposed to reside somewhere in northern Siberia, though his name is neither Russian nor of any other linguistic provenance within the former U.S.S.R. Valerie would have been a better name for Peggy; Valery is a masculine name in Russian, but Valerie is a feminine name in American English.

Still, the commercials make me laugh.

Anonymous said...

Well I believe it pokes fun at the white man trying to keep his money in his pocket by hiring cheap labor oversees! The white mans face america and the female poorly paid women in the voice overshadowed by the white male! How about that to ponder!

IdaSlappder said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TimmyAnn said...

Peggy's not a she. Peggy is the name he was given to use on the phones because his real name would be too hard or sound too "foreign" to American callers. They evidently don't realize it's a woman's name. I don't think it is meant to imply that non-English speakers in general are incompetent, just the ones employed by the rival credit cards.

matt_in_carajo said...

We live in a globalized economy, yet these commercials play off of our meager bullshit complaints about customer service, in this case obviously alluding to India. In my experience their English is perfectly fine (a little hard because the accent is different, but that's because we refuse to listen to their music, and their movies or have personal relationships with them). We expect that because it's an American Country all the workers should be American. What about the products we buy from China, Japan, etc. Would we expect someone on the end of the Nintendo Wii customer service line to speak perfect english? Absolutely! yet they really have no obligation to hire native speakers. Same with airlines. English speakers have been bullying customer service reps by demanding perfect english while speaking with a customer service rep in Barcelona (I live here and have 3 friends who work in Vueling's call center). They've demanded perfect english from a budget airline that is based entirely in Spain. That's a double standard to me. American consumers think only of themselves, and whenever it's convenient. Maybe Discover outsourced to foreign language speakers because they speak 2-3 languages and can actually speak (let's admit good enough) english and another language and can take care of many more customers. I work in 3 languages, btw. I thought the commercial was funny, made me feel bad, cause it's obviously veiled racism and xenophobia.

TimmyAnn said...

Oh, for crying out loud. Let's just let Political Correctness suck all the fun out of everything, shall we? They would never even get away with Elmer Fudd or Daffy Duck now since they would be seen as making fun of people with speech impediments.

Anonymous said...

I find this commercial rather unethical, and I cannot dismiss its racist tone. You can promote good customer service without using foreign accents and showcasing overseas customer representatives as uneducated and uncultivated people.

Now of course we all joke and most of us make stereotypical jokes every now and then, I am fine with that. However, when a company does it to make money it turns me off.

I may be misunderstanding their objective here.. but as a target customer for the Discover CC, they've completely alienated me and therefore lost my business. If others feel the same way, they've missed the boat with this advertising choice.

Anonymous said...

Dang... I think some folks are overthinking this. I am a foreigner living in America and, like the average American, I get frustrated when I am directed to some customer service rep who doesn't speak English well enough to do more than follow the script before him/ her. So I can totally relate to the female customer in the ad. Instead of focusing on race (which, frankly speaking, I feel Americans obsess too much about), why not focus on language and (mis)communication.

Bruce said...

I agree wholeheartedly, Anonymous. I have good friends from several cultures, and am sensitive, I believe, to their perceptions. However, as soon as I hear an Indian accent on a help line, I cringe... not because I dislike Indians, but because I know they will repeat everything I say back to me, and STILL not resolve my problem. The commercial is funny because it hits home.

Marcia Wall said...

Yes, it does appeal to Xenophobic mind-sets. There is NO Way this commercial would have aired if "Peggy" were black, asian, or hispanic. Also to note: there is some homophobic undertones to the ads as well. Peggy is first rendered "Other" by that fact that her name does not match with her voice or body. Even more reason to laugh, right? People who don't want to understand or cannot understand the issue use the accusation of "political correctness" to dicredit those people who do not share their beliefs. "The post simply asks a question about imagery and communication in terms of race and ethnicity." It's is an issue I had already considered and am glad that someone else is considering it as well.

Anonymous said...

I'm a slightly Americanized Central European who speaks with noticeable accent. I think that political correctness (p.c) should be reserved for the elitists who coined that term, together with the attitude that makes them so self-righteously proud of it.

From MY perspective, p.c. is a way of conduct that only makes a p.c. person more laughable. Worn as the "I-am-now-civilized" mask, p.c. is meant to suppress the superiority complex of certain Western citizens. Our instinct tells us that we ARE different (and inevitably those differences make us laugh at others at times, in a healthy way, without a trace of hatred).

It's the *American* business that outsourced the calls to Peggy in the first place, right?? For me, Peggy is just an innocent victim of the whole system, and as opportunistic as he is, he wins my honest sympathy.

To me, these ads are against the system, not against the foreigners whose lives depend on it.

JACK WILLIAMS said...

I think these outsourced agents should be stoned. When i call an American company i expect an American agent. Kudos to Discover for investing in our country! I am a big fan of Discover! They only hire Americans. Screw these foreign bums