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On this date in 2005, a division of Nextel Communications publicly apologized for its racially explicit advertising for its cell phone.
The advertisements were billboards depicting a bug-eyed Black male asking “Where you at?” The ads, scattered around Reno, NV, were promoting a new cell phone designed for teens. Some people criticized that it exploits Black youths, promotes non-standard English, and resurrects an ethnic form of segregation and slavery.
“Boost’s billboard advertising works with Nextel Communications to help the company be humorous and appeal to young adults,” Andrew Colley, Boost Mobile communications manager, said in a written statement. “We truly apologize if our billboard offended anyone.” The billboards had been running in the western city for nearly three months and Colley said they would be removed by the end of the week.
Ken Smikle, president of Target Market News, a Chicago-based market research firm specializing in African American marketing, media, and research, said Boost Mobile erred by “trying to be hip.” Constance Cannon Frazier, senior vice president of diversity and strategic programs at the American Advertising Federation in Washington, D.C., said "advertisers must not alienate ethnic groups as they target a subculture of the group in “their particular language.”
John Rickford, a linguistics professor at Stanford University said “Where you at” is acceptable grammatical structure; however, the bug-eyed image is stereotypical and objectionable.” Walt Wolfram, a linguistics professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC, said when the popular dialect is paired with a Black Sambo type image the ad becomes a “racist parody.”
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