It’s 2010. Let’s all black | Up

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Thanks to Debenhams for giving me a big belly laugh this afternoon with their mailshot promoting the number one French cosmetic brand now available in their stores, black | Up.

It doesn’t say much about the folk who work in marketing that they could miss such a glaring cultural reference as this. To a white woman such as me the thought of blacking up is obviously offensive, belonging to another time, another land, where somehow it was OK to turn racial stereotypes into vaudeville entertainment. To the dark-skinned woman the product is actually aimed at there’s all this and…well is she really going to go to the cosmetics counter and ask if she can black up?

Clearly the people in branding on both sides of the Channel missed the controversial shoot for French Vogue, which was accused of cultural insensitivity for making up pale-skinned model Lara Stone to appear black. And took it a step further by actually naming a whole range of products black | Up.

My first thought was that it was a problem with translation, like Nova in Spain (no va means it doesn’t go) and all those other apocryphal stories about brand names that flopped when translated into another language. But no, it has always been called black | Up. And putting it in mixed case doesn’t really help, guys. Sorry.