Norwegian Air, home-based in a country that prides itself on equality, has raised a new flap over the casting call for a new commercial shot in Los Angeles last spring. The casting company for Norwegian plainly stated that it was seeking “20-something tourist girls, preferably blond” along with a “20-27 year old quintessential Scandinavian woman.”
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Tuesday that the wording of the call for actors who would represent the airline has been criticized as potentially discriminatory at worst and “old-fashioned” at best. Peggy Brønn, a professor of communications and leadership at the Norwegian Business School BI in Oslo, told NRK that the formulation of Norwegian’s ad could make many people feel excluded.
“If I’m not blond, not blue-eyed, but fully Norwegian, I would have been offended by this, because it doesn’t represent me,” Brønn told NRK. Brønn referred to immigrants and new citizens in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, while there also are many native or so-called “ethnic” Norwegians who don’t have blond hair or blue eyes. Norwegian’s ad, Brønn contended, rules out everyone who doesn’t fit Norwegian Air’s “stereotype.”
Norway’s foreign ministry and its consulate in San Francisco are now trying to distance themselves from Norwegian Air’s apparent definition of what Scandinavian women look like. Even though the casting call was printed on the letterhead of the “Royal Norwegian Consulate,” a ministry spokesperson claimed to NRK that “neither we nor the general consulate in San Francisco were aware of this audition or have approved its contents. Questions about the content of the audition must be directed to the airline Norwegian.”
The new commercial is part of the airline’s current “America – just like the movies” campaign, aimed at the Scandinavian market for flights to the US. Lasse Sandaker-Nielsen, who was forced to spend a lot of time this past summer dealing with Norwegian’s delayed and cancelled flights that left passengers stranded from California to Spain, claimed it was “completely common to generalize when you make a commercial.” He claimed he couldn’t understand how anyone could try to turn the airline’s casting call into a case of discrimination.
“We have made a series of commercials to raise travel demand to the US,” Sandaker-Nielsen said. “When you fill roles in such films, it’s ordinary to use generalizations and that’s what we’ve done here.”
He claimed that Norwegian Air has otherwise made efforts to promote diversity among its employees. “We have colleagues from 73 countries, and we’re proud of having a staff that represents a diversity of languages, culture, skin color and age,” he told NRK, “so we can’t understand the problem here.”
The leader of the Norway’s national organization against public discrimination OMOD (Organisasjon mot offentlig diskriminering) also believes, though, that the casting call for Norwegian’s ad could have offended many. “The text gives the impression that they only want to portray a part of Norway,” Akhenton de Leon told NRK, “a part that doesn’t represent everybody. People with minority background get the impression Norwegian doesn’t want them in the commercial.”
See NRK’s coverage here, with a link to the commercial (external link, in Norwegian.)