Laundromat in hot water over 'dirty' ad

This advertisement for the White Rabbit Wash House saw a patron complain to the advertising watchdog that it is racist and sexist.
This advertisement for the White Rabbit Wash House saw a patron complain to the advertising watchdog that it is racist and sexist.

A Cape Town laundromat owned by Madame Zingara is “strictly for dirty laundry only” but it recently got too down and dirty and landed in hot water over its advertising.

This after former ANC MP Melanie Verwoerd found an advertisement for The White Rabbit Wash House racist and sexist and complained to the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA).

The ad appeared in a booklet distributed at restaurants in the Madame Zingara group and in it, the laundromat promised to “Wash wash cheap cheap – we spread leg make happy happy”.

The tagline appeared underneath an image of the laundromat's interior showing a mural of an apparently Asian woman. The business's name followed by Chinese characters were superimposed over the image.

White Rabbit is a candy produced in China.

Verwoerd said that the tagline was discriminatory. “Not only does it portray Chinese people as incapable of speaking English properly, but it also suggests that women who do laundry will or should spread their legs to make customers 'happy happy',” Verwoerd said in her complaint.

Madame Zingara told the ASA that it had already withdrawn the material and would not use it again.

The ASA accepted this and considered the matter closed.

It warned the company to withdraw the offending advertising "from every medium in which it appears, notwithstanding that the complaint did not specifically refer to that particular medium”.

But on Monday just before noon, [the newspaper] found the offensive line still appeared on the Madame Zingara website where the laundromat is listed, two weeks after the ASA handed down its ruling.

By Monday afternoon, following an enquiry by [the newspaper], the line had vanished from the website, though "Wash wash cheap cheap" still appears.

“It was never our intention to offend anyone,” Madame Zingara representative Nicky-Anne de Beer said.

Dr Paul Tembe from the Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University said that the wording of the advert was pure racism.

“[With] the way race is framed in SA - our perception of the other - Chinese [people] still don't feature as an important entity.”

He said, however, that attitudes towards Chinese people are changing. South Africans had a negative notion of Chinese people selling “fong kong” items, but they are now viewed more positively as wealthy job creators, he said.

Verwoerd said she had visited a Madame Zingara establishment since the ASA's ruling and found the booklet had been discontinued there. She said that she planned to visit more of the company's restaurants to ensure the “problematic” ad did not reappear.

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