First off, in case anyone missed it, I'm an Apple guy. My firm's all Macs and iPhones, and I know nothing about worms, trojan horses, or blue screens of death. Unsurprisingly, I'm not a fan of Microsoft.
But put my bias aside for a moment. Decide for yourself whether Microsoft passes the smell test here. This is a website image (click to magnify) from a Microsoft website intended for an American business audience:
Now look at the Polish version of the same site with the same photograph (again, click to magnify):
Notice anything different? Yes, the words are all in Polish. Good. What else? Yes, the monitor on the table in front of the woman isn't plugged into anything. Very good. Anything more subtle? Yes, the white laptop looks strikingly like a MacBook minus the Apple logo. Excellent. Is that it?
Oh yeah. The black guy is now a white guy. (Microsoft has since changed the Polish site to revert the new white guy back to the old black guy.)
Actually, that's not entirely true. Only the head and neck were changed. If you look carefully, you'll see that the white dude has the black dude's hand and wrist.
Let me be clear: I'm not saying that Microsoft did this because they're racist. It's far more likely that they did this because they're clueless. Some marketing flunky probably came up with data showing that there weren't a lot of blacks in Poland (or, apparently, monitors with power cords). Maybe they even tested too see if focus groups responded better to a white man than a black man. (Asians and white women are apparently OK.) But the point is, they did it. And they got caught. Looking stupid.
Three lessons for employers here:
- Don't do something cute like this thinking that no one will find out. People always find out.
- Ignore what marketers or even customers tell you about race or religion or sex or any other protected class. You can't use that information as an excuse to discriminate. If a plumbing company has a racist customer who says, "Don't send a black plumber to my house," you say, "Too bad." The customer isn't always right. Instead, tell the customer, "You're not our customer anymore."
- Understand that stupid things like this have a tendency to find their ways into lawsuits. Someone somewhere will someday bring an unrelated race-discrimination claim against Microsoft, valid or not. If his or her lawyer is good enough, this little Photoshop flop will be used as evidence of bias, or at least a lack of sensitivity. It may not be legitimately so, and it may not be persuasive, but it will be something that Microsoft's employment lawyers will have to deal with.
That's why I'm glad I'm not their employment lawyer.
Hat tip to the excellent blog TechCrunch, which broke this story in a post by Michael Arrington ("Marketing Decapitation In Poland: Asians Ok, Blacks Maybe Not"). Make sure you read the comments there; many are hilarious. The two images came from that story. As I mentioned, the Photoshopped Polish one is no longer on the Microsoft site. But I've seen no statement from Microsoft denying what happened.
Update Microsoft has apologized in a statement, CNET has reported. Also, PhotoshopDisasters has good coverage here, Reddit has some terrific discussion here, and now TechCrunch has started up a contest inspired by this.