Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hotels4U ad brings up issues of old-world regional prejudice

Via The Mail
It's not just the old world. Here in Canada, Newfie jokes used to be as common as donuts. And in the States, Southern, Appalachian and even Midwestern accents and attitudes have often been fodder for satire.

But there's something especially interesting about the longstanding prejudices and modern hurt feelings brought on by regional stereotypes within the modern nations of Europe. When I lived in Italy, the Milanese told me they thought the Genoese were cheap, and the Sicilians criminal. The Sicilians said they thought the Milanese (and other northerners) were stuck up and avaricious. The whole North vs. South conflict is actually what brought Berlusconi, a northern nationalist, to power years ago.

My own ethnic homeland of England and the British Isles has similar cultural stereotypes and conflicts. Unlike the new world, the regions of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland have centuries of separate political, cultural, and linguistic history. Just a few hundred years ago, dialects of "English" were mutually unintelligible in regions a day's journey apart.

Today, regional differences are still a source of pride among those who have not moved far from ancestral lands. Which might explain the controversy over this goofy little ad by Hotels4U:

First of all, could you understand what he was saying? I couldn't. It's apparently the campaign tagline, "Anything for you, cupcake," in a thick Birmingham accent.

The Daily Mail says that "Brummies" (another thing I learned today) are furious over the portrayal of their distinctive way of speaking, especially in the mouths of such tacky characters.

Here are some representative Tweets:

"Racist"? Let that sink in for a minute. It reminds me of times when I have heard my fellow Canadians, who speak French, talk about language conflict in Canada as "racism". It really shows you how unscientific, and therefore universally useless the term "race" really is.

The Mail reveals that the actor playing the Birmingham husband, Craig Painting, is actually from the city.

Mike Hoban, marketing director for Hotels4u, stated: "We wanted to create a popular duo that people would warm to. That’s why we cast a Birmingham born and bred actor as our lead character. We wanted to use a friendly accent from one of the great UK regions to help create a distinctive character so that people remember how easy it is to save money on hotel bookings"

Distinctive? Certainly. And memorable. It could even be effective over the long term, as long as they don't end up getting boycotted by an entire offended region.

But is it right to use regional accents and stereotypes as ad fodder? Is it "racist"? Classist? Just plain rude?

Comments welcomed below.


  1. Another Canadian here, and I found them adorable. I probably would not have known what he was saying if I hadn't read it first, but as I had, I was able to make out the words - and I have an auditory processing disorder that makes it extremely difficult to make out individual words in any accent, including my own.

    As for racist? Yeah... WTF

  2. UK resident here - understood the ad fine first time I saw it - but didn't immediately connect it to other Birmingham accents I'd heard. I was more put off by how tacky those two are, and the weird relationship they have