Showing a coloured child with missing front teeth is neither offensive nor cultural appropriation, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled, after a complaint against toilet-paper maker Baby Soft.
In the advertisement a group of young children are asked how using the tissue makes them feel. The multiracial group gives feedback ranging from "Baby Soft makes me as clean as a robot” to "bubbles” and "flowers”.
But it is the "[I feel as clean as] brushed teeth" response from a coloured boy – apparently the only child in the class without front teeth – that drew a complaint.
“Why was it that the only the ‘coloured’ child was portrayed without front teeth?” asked a complainant.
The ad, she said, was a form of cultural appropriation and, in her opinion, in very bad taste because of how coloured people are portrayed and perceived by society.
Missing front teeth, especially in South Africa evokes connotations of a social trend called the "passion gap".
Baby Soft argued that it had cast six-year-old children because they are cute – but old enough to be eloquent. That children also lose their teeth at that age was not a consideration.
The ASA found that there is “nothing in the commercial that imposes burdens, obligations or disadvantage on or withholds benefits, opportunities or advantages from coloured people,” and dismissed the complaint.
A coloured child showing a naturally occurring gap in their teeth cannot be said to be cultural appropriation, the ASA said in its ruling.
“The target market is mothers with young children, as it wants to exploit the connection between mothers and their young children. It chose a diverse group of cute children to execute this campaign,” it said.