The election of Donald Trump has increased the prominence of the so-called “alt-right” (a euphemism for white supremacists and neo-Nazis), so much so that a casting agency working on a Cadillac TV commercial recently issued a casting call for “any and all real alt-right thinkers/believers” for a “beautiful artistic” ad about “standing together as a union.” A feel good commercial with racists? Nice.
— gina young (@ohginayoung) December 10, 2016
When word of the casting call began circulating on social media, Cadillac quickly blamed the casting agency. A Cadillac spokesperson said:
“Cadillac did not authorize or approve a casting notice for an ‘alt-right (neo-nazi)’ role in a commercial. We unequivocally condemn the notice and are seeking immediate answers from our creative agency, production company and any casting companies involved.”
The casting company blamed and subsequently fired an employee who posted the casting call “by mistake”. But it remains unclear where exactly the casting idea came from.
It’s possible that Cadillac came up with the idea and then killed it when word of the casting got out; after all, casting and advertising agencies don’t typically make casting call decisions without first getting oversight and express approval from the companies they’re representing.
It’s also entirely possible that Cadillac saw their customer base as overlapping with Trump voters and asked the agency to work something up along those lines but didn’t tell the agency to pick an alt-right personality. Maybe Cadillac or the casting agency thought alt-right thinkers sounded like a good idea, but didn’t really understand what the word meant. It’s also possible that Cadillac had no idea and the agency came up with the alt-right casting idea all on their own.
In some cases, casting and ad agencies (especially ones on large retainer accounts) develop campaign strategies intended for later client review and approval. In this scenario, Cadillac wouldn’t have known about it but would deserve praise for swiftly killing something they theoretically never would have condoned in the first place
We may never know which of the above scenarios took place, but it’s clear that racists and neo-Nazis are now seen as a viable ad demographic by mainstream ad and casting agencies, and that’s a bad step towards normalizing racism and xenophobia in our society. While commercials have long trafficked in race, there’s a significant difference between casting a commercial for a certain racial demographic and actively featuring neo-Nazis in your ads.
The profile of racists and neo-Nazis has undoubtedly risen with Trump’s election. Trump’s campaign CEO and White House Chief Strategist is Steve Bannon, founder of breitbart.com, a so-called alt-right website filled with anti-Muslim articles; during the campaign, Trump made an appearance with Nigel Farage, leader of the racist and xenophobic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP); the Ku Klux Klan’s official newspaper officially endorsed Trump (an endorsement his campaign denounced); and Trump’s victory has inspired neo-Nazis to publicly throw the Heil Hilter salute in family restaurants.
Racism in America has a long history. It hurts people and when we see it, we need to draw attention to it and discourage it. What we don’t need is to use it to sell cars.
(Writer Greg Goolsby did additional work on this article)