Verizon’s Asian-American Dad Buys Yellow-Haired Doll

These stills are from a Verizon Wireless TV spot. I first noticed it last year around Father’s Day, and I spotted it last night on Hulu, which was handy for screen caps.

In the ad, the man stands opposite a Verizon Wireless store, expresses (in internal monologue) his desire for a new mobile device and eventually goes and gets himself one.

In the Father’s Day version, he rationalizes that his wife and daughter might not know he wants one for Father’s Day, so he should just go get it.

In the current iteration, he rationalizes that his wife won’t mind him being late if the reason is that he stopped to get this new mobile device.

While the link between the doll and the man’s child is more loose in the second spot, the job of the prop is the same: to identify him as a family man.

It’s not difficult to conjure a backstory that would explain this man buying a yellow-haired doll. However it remains a jarring choice for a 30-second TV spot starring an Asian-American dad.

All I can think is that the lighter-colored hair gives the doll more separation from the dark background in the wide shot, and competes less with the dad in the closer shot. But light brown would have worked fine, or even the same soft blue as dad’s shirt. It’s a toy after all.

It begs the question why the toy had to be a doll in the first place. If it were a stuffed puppy I wouldn’t even have a pit to hiss in, so to speak.

The point is this ad bothers the hell out of me and I thought it was gone last year and now it’s back.

(The actor in the spot is Randall Park and he does a good job. I probably wouldn’t even have looked up at the TV otherwise.)


Draws. Sweats. Eats too much sugar-free candy.

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6 Responses

  1. AngelMercury says:

    Hmm, my sister and her sister-in-laws (who for the sake of perspective I’ll inform you are from Mexico. Maybe that’s unimportant?) buy their girls dolls of all colors, and as far as I’ve seen they seem to enjoy playing with them all fairly equally. Often times they do prefer dolls to stuffed animals (the older girls tend to be more mothering, but that probably has to do with the fact that the kids are all very close in age and often look out for each other/emulate their mothers/aunts). I’ll admit however I don’t see them as often now days to know how much this still holds true. Last I spoke to them the whole family (they have an older boy) was all about super heroes (spider girl and cat girl).

    In the past year or so there has been a rather obvious effort from Verizon (and a few other companies like chase who has a few minority ads. Possibly they have the same ad agency) to use Asian actors in their spots, which I would applaud since seeing anyone ‘not-white’ getting the spotlight is, in a sense, refreshing.

    I will note that the yellow-green has been graded down to meld into the trees behind them fairly closely so I would guess there was more effort to be like ‘Family man, but lets not distract from what dad’s thinking’ cause while the prop department could possibly be indifferent, when the ad folks go into the color and editing suits they push at every detail and would definitely not want this to be the issue you guys feel it is (as far as I know from experience). That’s not to say they might not make mistakes or be somewhat insensitive, but the client may not have seen it in the same light. Or perhaps they wanted to make the Asian dad still seem accessible to a white/blond audience. I could keep guessing, but…

    Also, that doll has freckles.

  2. Random_Tangent says:

    I love you guys so hard.

  3. Tory says:

    It’s rad as hell that you talk to Miss P’s mom about this stuff. It’s rad too that you’re thinking about your influence in all directions.

    But utmost radness goes to you putting emphasis on doing rather than looking. That actually works on the problem of which dolls and hair are only a symptom.

    Also: bunnies and monkeys rule.

  4. Adri says:

    Fantastic response Tory.

    I discussed it a little with Miss P’s mum and she is indifferent to what her daughter fancies, because as she puts it, ‘She’s 5 and that is her world’ but we both agree the most important thing to encourage is that she loves herself just as she is.

    I think my heart would break if she began insisting we straighten her hair, I remember her being 3 and imitating me walking in heels when walking through a grocery store. I had a meltdown with her parents and they pointed out, that she’s going to always want to emulate me as along as I’m a positive influence in her life, I just pay more attention to what influence that is… if it’s blonde hair, that’s out of my hands, but we focus more on what we can do (crafts/baking) than what we can look like (I don’t apply makeup or paint my nails around her, I wear it, just don’t put it on when she’s around).

    I also didn’t buy into the babydoll thing for little girls, her most prized doll is a bunny I gave her named Kate and I gave her baby sister a monkey named Grace, I agree if the doll in the commercial was a puppy there wouldn’t be anything to think about other than cell phones…

    I also wonder if we’d be having a different discussion if we were both not blonde.

  5. Adri says:

    To play the devil’s advocate, why must he buy a doll with darker hair? It bothers you because it’s not what you expect to see… but what makes that right?

    I only bring this up because a very spunky 5 year old in my life with dark skin and even darker hair draws every picture of her and her family with blonde hair. Initially her fascination with long straight blonde hair came from me, as I’m the only one in her life with this kind of hair (most are brunette/grey/black haired – from all ethnic backgrounds), but now it’s because of her love for Rapunzel from Tangled. The child wears a long blonde wig from her Halloween costume and thinks it’s the coolest thing on earth, not because it’s different from her own hair, but because she identifies it as mystical..

    Although the ad was not what you’d expect to see on TV, when do those kind of decisions start to be applauded and we all get more comfortable with seeing multi-cultural/multi-racial advertisements without thinking it’s a bizarre decision or that they’re just superficially trying to appear diverse?

    • Tory says:

      The ad depresses me because I keep imagining the dad giving his brown-haired daughter this doll saying, “Here, Tabitha. I got you this because BLOND IS BEST.” I feel like we’re not at the point yet where there are so many anybody-but-white people on TV and movies and commercials that a yellow-haired doll feels diversifying instead of whitening (or just obtuse.)

      I completely understand every kid and every family has the right to their own journey. Kids have the right to be obsessed and fascinated with whatever they want to be obsessed and fascinated with.

      That said, I do think American kids of all colors get pummeled with a “blond is best” message, and drumming under that is a “white is best” message. If your five-year-old friend has escaped that, huge high fives to her whole family. I hope she always prefers her own hair to anyone else’s.

      But the yellow-haired doll in this spot reminds me of three things specifically:

      In “Bossypants,” Tina Fey explains: “When I read fairy tales to my daughter I always change the word ‘blond’ to ‘yellow,’ because I don’t want her to think that blond hair is somehow better.” The whole passage is here and funnier than I can do justice to.
      In her stand-up, Whoopi Goldberg had a “Little Girl” character who wanted “long luxurious blond hair.” (Can’t find video, but there’s a still here at 00:24.) I remember seeing a clip one time and being moved. If I can find it I’ll share it.
      They’ve done studies with African-American children between ages six and nine where they present a white doll and a black doll and asking the child a series of questions, including which doll was “nice” and which was “bad.” Seventeen-year-old student Kiri Davis repeated the experiment in a short film: A Girl Like Me. Even in 2005, most of the children picked the white doll as the “nice” one and the one they’d like to play with. It’s a rough watch.

      That said, raising kids is hard and I don’t know how to do it. I just know what Verizon ads stress me out.

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