IAOVC Garners Support From A Variety of Ethnic Organizations, Files Complaint With The American Association of Advertising Agencies

By Corrado Gigante

In a recent article about the use of the image of Michelangelo’s statue David, we cited an advertising industry organization, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) standards of practice. At the end of the article we wrote “stay tuned”. We had also written about our campaign against AFLAC’s commercial again depicting Italian Americans in negative light. After writing those articles, we learned that our efforts were not solitary. In fact we began to receive copies of letters and emails of support for our efforts from several national organizations, some of whom are Italian American groups. We received support messages from UNICO national and chapters as well as from the Order of the Sons of Italy’s New York State Lodge’s Commission for Social Justice.
What were extremely gratifying were the messages of support from non-Italian American organizations. A letter was sent to the members of AFLAC’s Board of Directors by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. Another letter was sent by the Serbian American Museum in Chicago as well as a letter of support from the Media Action Network for Asian Americans. In Rev. Jackson’s letter he writes, “We are mostly a nation of immigrants who came here voluntarily to build a better life and nation, and a nation of slaves who were brought here involuntarily and helped to create a better life for all Americans. As African Americans we know the hurtful sting of negative stereotyping better than most, so we identify and support our brothers and sisters in the Italian American community when they are offended.” The Serbian American Museum letter includes the following,” We raise our voice against negative stereotyping of Italians, and immigrant nationalities in general. In a modern nation where nearly everyone is an immigrant, stereotyping of any sort is unbecoming and disappointing. Furthermore, we are dismayed by Aflac’s lack of sensitivity and their refusal to respond to the calls from the Italian American organizations throughout the country.”
There was also a letter from the publisher of an insurance industry publication, the Insurance Advocate in which the author cites several problems with the commercial. He noted the following,

1. The ad is weak for its redundancy and cliché ridden aspect, i.e. using a hackneyed stereotype yet again to convey an unrelated message;
2. The ad’s message is dulled by the complex little drama with the thugs and thus serves more as a reminder of the stereotype than the product. That cannot be good for Aflac; it is certainly NOT good for the image of Americans of Italian descent. The constant reminder of mobster sub culture in our – or any – ethnic group cannot but harm that group;
3. It’s rather a silly ad, not really funny or effective and for the sales men and women of Italian descent who represent Aflac or for the customers who buy Aflac who are of Italian descent, this is an embarrassment.

With this amount of support, you would think that AFLAC would have engaged in a conversation with the IAOVC and its supporter groups. What we have come to understand is that sometimes we need to get to the advertising firms that create the offensive material.
Recently IAOVC President Dr. Manny Alfano wrote a letter (see letter below) to Nancy Hill, President and CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s). In that letter he referred to the actions of a member of the 4A’s, the Kaplan Thaler Group which created the offensive commercial. Citing the 4A’s own Standards of Practice, specifically sections (a) False or misleading statements or exaggerations, visual or verbal and (e) Statements, suggestions, or pictures offensive to public decency or minority segments of the population, Dr. Alfano asked that actions be taken against the Kaplan Thaler Group in accordance with the organization’s procedures. We are now awaiting a response from the 4A’s
One bit of irony was found in doing research on the Kaplan Thaler Group. On its website you will find a list of clients and images of their ad campaigns .One of its clients is the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a powerhouse anti-discrimination and anti-defamation group nationally and worldwide. You would think that having that sort of client would sensitize the Kaplan Thaler Group to issues of defamation and discrimination. Maybe we need to send a louder message and if you are so inclined you can join Dr. Alfano and the IAOVC in sending that message to the Kaplan Thaler Group through the 4A’s. The contact information for the 4A’s is:

Nancy Hill, President and Chief Executive Officer
1065 Avenue of the Americas, 16th Floor
New York, NY 10018
Phone: 212-682-2500
Email: nhill@aaaa.org

Copy of Letter

Dear Ms. Hill

I write to you as the president of the Italian American One Voice Coalition. We are an Italian American anti- defamation and anti- discrimination organization. As is unfortunately often the case we respond to media images that defame and cast Italian Americans in stereotypical mob themed roles. We have had success in having some of these images removed from broadcasting media. One of our efforts addressed the Ally Bank’s “Nothing Hidden” campaign using a mob theme ad. We were successful in pointing out the unacceptable and damaging images portrayed in the ad. We have however been unsuccessful in having AFLAC’s mob themed ad removed. In fact AFLAC has not only ignored our requests, but also the request made by the Rainbow Coalition and UNICO.

The offensive ad in question is “Family Business”, a not so subtle reference to Mafia families, starring Frank Vincent who is well known for playing mobster roles. This ongoing perpetuation of negative stereotypes of Italian Americans needs to end. In your organization’s Standards of Practice, we find two very pertinent sections. The first one we cite is (a) False or misleading statements or exaggerations, visual or verbal. The second is (e) Statements, suggestions, or pictures offensive to public decency or minority segments of the population. The ad agency responsible for this racist ad is the Kaplan Thaler Group.

Pursuant to your Standards of Practice, the IAOVC wishes to file a complaint against one of your members, the Kaplan Thaler Group for violating the Standards. Clearly, the depiction of Italian Americans as low life mobsters is both false and misleading. Factual data clearly does not support the premise even though the media continues to perpetuate the myth that Italian Americans are all “connected to the mob”. As well the pictures are clearly offensive to a minority segment of the population. The Kaplan Thaler Group would not create such offensive material depicting other groups. Italian Americans have for some time now been the butt of racist defamatory depictions by the media. Enclosed are copies of the letters sent to AFLAC by the IAOVC, the Rainbow Coalition and UNICO.

We ask that your organization take the appropriate steps to bring the Kaplan Thaler Group into compliance with the Standards and inform this organization of the actions taken.

Sincerely yours,

Emanuele A. Alfano
Dr. Emanuele A. Alfano