July 2nd, 2008
10:00 AM ET
14 years ago

Japan phone company pulls 'monkey' ad that hints at Obama

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/02/art.monkey.ap.jpg caption="A Japanese company has pulled a cell phone ad that uses a monkey that appears to portray Obama. "](CNN) - A Japanese cell phone company has pulled one of its television ads that used a monkey that appears to portray Sen. Barack Obama.

The commercial opens with a crowd rallying behind a well-dressed monkey speaking from a podium. The supporters are cheering and waving signs that say “Change.” In the ad, the monkey was encouraging users to change providers.

Watch: Cell phone company pulls ad

The company behind the ad, eMobile Ltd., insists it had no idea of any racial undertones and says the ad was just a nod at Obama’s worldwide popularity.

Eric Gan, president of eMobile, points out that their company’s mascot is a monkey – an animal revered in Japan - and has been used in previous ads.

“When we saw the idea for the first time, it was ‘Hey, you're copying the idea from the presidential election in the U.S.’ Yes, but, you know, that's how you make a presentation. How you make an impact. We thought it quite was interesting,” he said.

Bloggers immediately voiced their disapproval of the ad and accused the company of being racist.

Gan says the company was unaware of how the ad might be interpreted, but “now, of course, we know.”

Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama
soundoff (211 Responses)
  1. arc, Lugano CH

    It looks like the similar mindset of many Hillary Supporters is being portrayed in Japan. She should be proud of the 'people' who make up her base.

    July 2, 2008 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  2. Lavallette, NJ

    I am scared of Barack Hussine Obama!

    This lifelong Democratic is voting McCain.

    Obama is scary, think of his church, his family, his voting record, his inability to work with others and his lack of experience. He belongs on the streets of Chicago not Pennsylvania Avenue.

    People like Obama because he is cool, well this is not a popularity contest. Wake up, we shot ouselves in the foot by not putting Clinton forward.

    July 2, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  3. NC for Obama

    I am not sure how to take this. On the one hand I would not accuse the Japenes of being aware of any racial undertones that ad might convey. On the other hand Eric Gan does not sound like a Japanese name to me. Though I do not know where Mr. Gan hails from I will speculate that he might have more knowledge of these undertones than he is reporting. Either way this ad I would guess was being run in Japan and has no impact on voters.

    July 2, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  4. maria

    Calm down, this is just nothing but the usual ad. Foolish CNN made this such a huge issue.

    July 2, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  5. shahid

    Maybe that's how people feel about Obama subconsciously but did not know or dare to express it because of the current celebrity-worshipping public

    July 2, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  6. Peter E

    Obama is a millionaire. On top of that he has raised record amounts of campaign cash. He got more votes for him in the primaries than any other primary contenders in history. Polls show him popular with democrats, independents, even foreigners who hardly even heard of him. The main stream media has been giving him free air time for him to speak his talking points. They have made every effort to avoid offending him. He's gotten endorsements accross the board, from religious figures to democratic leadership, and even from several republicans.

    So stop this 'I'm-the-victim-of-the-world' charade! It didn't suit Hillary and it sure doesn't suit Obama! Ever since he started his presidential campaign (heck, even going back to his Congressional campaign) he had EVERYTHING going for him. We are wasting far too much time and news space apologizing for things we never did to him!

    July 2, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  7. Rutherford B Hayes

    Seems like an honest mistake to me. But of course, trying to cast Obama as any type of animal, even a company mascot, must be racism and an attempt by Japanese Big Business to ensure McCain's election, preferably sponsered by Karl Rove.

    CNN, why don't you write some compare and contrast pieces on the issues with nuetral scientists and professors weighing in on the suitability of each candidate's plans? I rather enjoyed the business ones you did earlier.

    Moderates 08

    July 2, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  8. Ben

    The monkey is like their logo, they used obama's popularity and that's it. No racial thing in there unless you really want to see one. Wheter you like it or not, don t have to make it a racial issue. When Chris Rock makes fun of fat rich white people, we don't call him a racist, we laugh and ask for more. I don't start a big national campaign on the media calling him a racist because I am white and he hurt my feelings. Poor little me... If the monkey was playing the role of Bush, you might actually find it funny or you could even find some similarities between the two... But because Obama's black, that means they wanted to be racist. Give me a break.

    July 2, 2008 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  9. kyle

    are you kidding me? how can any off you possibly accuse this of being racist? clearly they were doing a stupid ad playing off of his message, and it happens that their mascot was a monkey. nobody would be freaking out if their mascot was an elephant or a tiger. get over yourselfs
    OBAMA 08 12

    July 2, 2008 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  10. Ken Pittsburgh

    Mr Ayers ;
    I will not talk about what experiences you may have however I would venture to guess that your life experience would best be found living under rocks.

    July 2, 2008 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  11. The Truth

    Racists come in all colors, shapes and sizes. It's really just a shame.
    Erase the hate people, it's 2008 not 1908 or 1808.

    Obama 08' and 12'

    July 2, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  12. Kendrith

    Say what you want to, "William" but that monkey probably has more good sense and a more well-developed conscience than our current idiot-in-chief or McCain who changes positions on various topics like the wind or when his party tells him to... Maverick, my foot.

    African Americans or perhaps I should say people of African descent in general have always had to deal with this type of crap for longer than just about any other group of people bar none.

    For anyone to say that there weren't any racial undertones, is either naive, in denial or simply about as bright as a broken lightbulb.

    July 2, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  13. matt

    I also spent 1.5 years in Japan. I've had several japanese explain the concept of a racial heirarchy to me. Racism simply isn't all that controversial in Japan. Mainly because no minority groups have a voice in their society. The effects of this are clear. Only the most overt forms of discrimination are even recognized as such. Something clearly offensive to Americans, such as likening Obama to a monkey, may actually be too subtle for them to recognize as offensive. I took the good with the bad over there. I must say they've got a looooooong way to go in understanding racial discrimination. Truth be told, we're not quite there ourselves so lets not judge, k?

    July 2, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  14. Independent Voter

    Obama is such a delicate flower! Is he going to spend the next 4 years hunting down supposed "racially charged offenses" or does he expect to make time to be president?

    Are we going to see one of these articles once a week from now on out?

    Japan is pretty far away, and the company has a monkey as a mascot-good thing Obama isn't green – the GEICO gecco would have to go.

    July 2, 2008 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  15. Paul

    I was furious until I read about Japan's special relationship with the monkey. This is plain culture clash. I admire Kristi Keck and Kyung La's journalism. Their reporting reveals a larger picture.

    July 2, 2008 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  16. John

    Nobody understands another place until they have been there a while, and even then one nation's racism is invisible to observers who do not match one of the groups involved.

    This was not political, it was advertising; it ran afoul of cultural truths unwittingly. WHat is funny about it to me is that historically faux pas were all done by Americans, in other places. It is amusing to see one done here, by someone else.

    July 2, 2008 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  17. Jim in S.C.

    Why does Obama continue to evade a debate with McCain?

    July 2, 2008 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  18. ANGIE

    karl rove do you ever stop your so slimy why are you not in jail now slimball rove dont worry your days are NUMBERED!!!!

    July 2, 2008 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  19. Clint, Kentucky

    Contrary to popular belief, there are actually other countries in the world besides the United States. In Japan, the monkey is a revered symbol and the commercial was aimed at a Japanese market.

    When we refuse to acknowledge other countries' perspectives and insist that the only way something can be viewed is how it would be viewed here in the United States, we are being "Ugly Americans" at our worst.

    July 2, 2008 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  20. Keith R.

    Sometimes things don't translate well across country lines.

    I can believe they meant well.

    July 2, 2008 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  21. JVD


    July 2, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  22. Brenda

    It was very smart of Japan to take this ad down. I don't care if a monkey is the company's mascot–it's very incencitive since Barack's theme is change.

    Barack H. Obama will be our next president and Japan and the rest of the world should treat him with all due respect of any head of state. PERIOD.

    July 2, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  23. Ben

    Wow, that's scary. However, I'm willing to give the Japanese the benefit of the doubt...

    July 2, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  24. jack

    Who said ads were chosen by YouTube? Or CNN, or some japanse phone co.?

    July 2, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  25. NC voter

    Honestly I feel that this was completely innocent and unintended and the Japanese firm excercised international good will in withdrawing the ad. As much as americans would like not to believe it, US social and racial stereotypes are not universal. This is a typical case of America-centric thinking that US citizens need to drop.

    July 2, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9