Is the advertising industry homophobic?

It’s the question of the year.
Today there is a guy with a funny walk being shot at by Mr T in a 4×4. Before
that it was Nike and its Dunkin’ ad. Bob Garfield has got so fired up he wrote
a letter about it to John Wren. Is it a storm in a tea-cup?

 

Today we are talking about
the Mr T Ad who shoots Snicker bars at a guy speed walking through
suburban America.

 

 

Is it gay bashing? OK, he
has a funny walk, but really it is difficult to speed walk without wiggling
your hips a bit. It doesn’t mean you’re gay or that gay people walk funny. It
just means you are a speed walker.

 

Mr T attacks him because he
is walking and not pounding the streets like a runner. He says he pities him
and that he is a disgrace to the man race? See nothing much to get worked up
about. Besides Mr T is a solid wall of testosterone. It was the Mekong Delta
that made him that way.

 

The campaign is jokey and some
might say cruel and violent. It could also be seen to encouraging bullying, but
I don’t think it is.

 

The scenario depicted in the
AMV London ad is clearly humorous and is part of a long-running campaign that,
from its conception, has put humour at its heart, delivered via the booming
megaphone voice of mockery that is Mr T. It is knockabout fun, it really is.
How can something that fires chocolate bars be anything else?

 

Bob Garfield at Advertising
Age got himself worked into a huge lather and took it upon himself to write an
open letter
to Omnicom CEO John Wren. He argued that the latest Snickers ad
follows a trend coming out of Omnicom-owned agencies that is essentially gay
bashing.

 

In the case for the
prosecution he begins by citing a two year old ad from BBDO Detroit for Dodge
Caliber, which featured a tough guy snorting the words “silly little
fairy” at a Tinkerbell-like pixie. It was part of a long running “Anything
but cute campaign”.

 

Again it is funny and the
pixie gets the last laugh. I liked it, I liked the focus group one as well.

 

 

The pixie in the ad I hasten
to mention is not a lipstick lesbian, just a stand-up, run-of-the-mill, Lord of
the Rings-type pixie who wants to turn the world into a toy box wonderland land, which means there is no place for the secret service-like black suburban vehicle.

 

Garfield then cites another Omnicom spot, this time from TBWA,
New York. It
is also for Snickers and was its Super Bowl spot. In this one, two mechanics chew
on the opposite ends of a Snickers bar until their lips meet in an accidental
kiss.

 

 

“Quick do something manly”
and they both rip chest hair from their bodies. It’s quite funny. It isn’t laugh-out-loud funny as you can see the joke coming a mile away, because the set-up is
lame playing on the general dislike straight Anglo Saxon men have for kissing
other men. I mean that’s fair enough, we’re not French. Bob should get that.

 

Garfield even admitted the ad while “wasn’t exactly
homophobic” he said it was about homophobia and “men’s deepest sexual fears
about themselves”.

 

Worse, Garfield said, was the Mr T ad. “The
sentiment behind it is simply sick. John [Wren]: three Omnicom agencies, three
outrages. It is time for you to intervene”.

 

He goes on in his open letter
to Wren to ask how he can be “so insensitive, how could you be so shallow,
and how could you be so mean?

 

“Stop the dehumanizing
stereotypes. Stop the jokey violence. There is no place in advertising for
cruelty. Pull the campaign. Do it now. Then tell your agencies how to behave.
Or else.”

 

I think Wren will be resting
easy. The ads Garfield
talks about are mixed humour wise, but homophobic they are not. The Garfield
Gaybashometer needs to be retuned and to get a sense of humour. No one was hurt
in the making of those ads, not even the little pixie. Her message was don’t
mess with me as I will turn you into a preppie. That’s a harsh punishment to
deal on anyone. So don’t mess with the pixie/fairy. Whatever.

 

Coincidentally the criticism
of these ads comes as Nike pulls an ad that has been accused of sending out anti-gay
messages.

 

The controversy broke last
week when ads for Nike’s new Hyperdunk basketball shoes broke and someone at Nick Denton’s New York media blog gawker.com
asked the question: does “Nike hate gays? Or do gays hate basketball.

 

 

The ads concerned as you can
see features basketball players getting dunked in apparently what is considered
the worst way possible with the dunker dangling off the rim and his
undercarriage in the face of the dunkee.

 

I’ll have to take Gawker’s
word for it that this is bad as I know nothing about the world of basketball.

 

The Gawker piece strikes me
of being guilty of the same thing that Garfield
is guilty of and that is reading too much into the ad. The blogger concerned
even writes  leaving aside my unrelated
general hatred of Nike”. Well, I’m not sure we can.

 

In the case of the Nike ad
sport is a fast, sweaty and occasionally painful business. Bodies crash into
one another and like all things in life someone always ends up on top whether
you are dunkin a basket ball, sliding into home or scoring a goal. It’s a
sweaty scramble. Anti gay? Well I wouldn’t want to have someone’s balls in my
face, but then I don’t get a hard on thinking about scoring a basket. No hoop
dreams here.

 

Gawker argues that the
campaign with its lines “That Aint right” is based on the implacable
homophobia of straight jocks. “That can’t be denied”.

No probably not, but that
isn’t the point. Who, gay or straight, wants someone else’s balls in their
face?

  • http://www.gaydarradio.com David Muniz

    Regardless of the spot being humorous; it still reinforces stereotypes. Having Mr. T do this in a humorous fashion does have an impact on both adults that remember Mr. T from his original program and youth who see an adult bullying and demeaning another person for they way they walk. What is humorous about Mr. T stating, he pities him and that he is a disgrace to the man race?

    To say that this is ok since it is a form of humour and will therefore not reinforce or promote intolerance or bullying is itself humours. Why if humour laced intolerance is acceptable is black face no longer allowed? Why do cartoons of my youth, created by Warner Brothers which depicted pickaninnies and mammies no longer aired? These too were humorous endeavours that were laughed at and defended in the face of cries of racism. This argument was lost then, why are we not applying the same standard here?

    The simple facts, a male archetype is talking down to anther male for not being a classic male archetype. This is intolerance. What’s so funny about that?

  • http://www.gaydarRadio.com Susann Jerry

    The answer to your question in our experience is yes – and no. Luckily there are some enlightened brands out there that have the creative ability and maturity to talk to the gay and lesbian community – and then there are those who clearly don’t. As a gay media owner we face a tremendous daily challenge in engaging intelligently with an industry in which many workers, who also so happen to be gay, are often frightened and unwilling to be open about their sexuality at work. As to this particular advert, whether you think it homophobic or not, creativity has clearly given way to the kind of crass schoolboy stereotypes that still abound in adland – and will do until there is a culture change. What a pity.

  • Rory Sutherland

    Brand Republic seems rather more guilty of homophobia, since it employs blogging software which treats the word “Lesbian” as though it were an obscenity and blocks it out with three little asterisks.

    Say it ***, say it ***, I’m *** and I’m ***?

  • Ben Bold

    Dick Cheney

  • http://bordelloivorytales.blogspot.com/ Peter Martin

    Methinks some doth protest too much… and hence will get coverage… and their point (whatever it may be) across more. Maybe the aim?

    Whether that is a good thing, for their point, them, or life in general, is more a case of plus ca change.

  • Roger OThornhill

    I think a lot of men in advertising are gay but keep quiet about it. then there’s the BBC

  • Richard Hayter

    I’m outraged! The Dodge Caliber ad should have been pulled. It’s a terrible commercial based on a really thin strategy. The Mr T ad id brilliant – funny and engaging yet inoffensive.

  • Elfie

    Wow, the advertising world is in such a pickle over something that really isn’t publically taboo anymore; at least not in my generation. More and more of the general public have come to accept that sexuality is not black and white and increasingly complex in our modern world not dissimilar to political and religious standing.

    AMV BBDO’s recent ad in the Mr T campaign for Snickers IS slating speed walkers, yes there is no denying that. From my POV, due to the theatrical entrance of Mr T and his choice of weapon (a gun firing snicker bars); I think we can safely assume the ad was meant in tongue-in-cheek.

    I humbly praise the strategy in which similar to the classic notion of a man who drives a supercar slowly in order to show-off/pose, this man is depicted to run slowly in order to show off his ‘machinery’. Superb thinking.

    Unfortunately I do not think this was produced to its full potential; the actor was badly cast & I found the dialogue and angles clumsy. A fine sequel in a fantastic campaign, but we are going off point.

    In this industry, it is vital to understand your audience and it is obvious to me that Mr Garfield is incredibly narrow-minded individual. My first point being there is no indication that the man in question is homosexual and it never occurred to me to speculate on his sexuality in the first place. It is totally irrelevant to the advertisement. Mars is selling a FMCG not a concept.

    The fact that Mr Garfield speculated this from the way he was walking is far more insulting and outrageous. His view that ‘real men’ i.e. butch, traditionally testosterone-fuelled men are all heterosexual is dated and a ludicrous assumption. People like Bob Garfield are the reason why homosexuals are in cases misunderstood and therefore ridiculed.

    I also fully agree with Gordon in regards to BBDO’s ‘anything but cute campaign’ for the dodge caliber. The fairy is as you would expect the mythical creature to look and is in fact a woman. She represents a vision the car is disassociating itself from. Cleverly, she does get the final laugh and merely confirms the precise image of the vehicle. Great advertising if it’s to your taste.

    TBWA’s ‘Quick do something manly’ for Snickers does play on a male heterosexual fear of being attracted to a fellow man. This is risky as it could be seen to disorientate the already confused. However I do believe this ad was aired with good intentions and actually pulls fun at heterosexuals being daft in order to salvage there ‘manliness’. I think it is important to note that the kiss was initiated by the chocolate bar not sexual feelings.

    I appreciate Susann Jerry’s comments, although off topic; there are more obvious issues with this campaign. Peter Martin raises a very good point, is this outrage intentional? I sincerely hope not for the credibility of the agencies involved however isn’t advertising designed to provoke further discussion? Roger of course is right but why limit it to those industries; why does he think this is and how does this affect advertising in general? Richard Hayter makes intelligent analogies but is the dislike of the dodge calibre advert due to supposed underlying homophobic tones?

    It would be interesting to research further into seeing how many people where offended by these ‘homophobic’ advertisements. I would but for a fear of being laughed at…

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