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Critic Hits Out at Ad Agency Head Over Homophobia

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Ad Age critic Bob Garfield has written a scathing open letter to John Wren, the CEO of Omnicom. Garfield was pushed over the edge by the latest Snickers spot from AMV BBDO, London, one of the corporation's ad agencies. Like two other spots, one for the Dodge Caliber (created by Omnicom agency BBDO, Detroit) featuring a couple of 'fairies', and the first well-known Snickers Super Bowl ad (created by Omnicom's TBWA, New York) which featured two mechanics who accidentally kiss and then force each other to do something "manly" to rid themselves of the gay, a new Snickers spot features the same type of effeminate stereotyping and bullying.

PowerwalkerWrites Garfield:

"Now, from AMV BBDO, London, another Snickers spot, in which a butt-wiggling race walker is just too effeminate for Mr. T's liking. The snarling scourge of all things sissified chases after the guy in a pickup. "You a disgrace to the man race!" he bellows. 'It's time to run like a real man!' -- whereupon the terrorized wimp is mowed down with a candy-spewing Gatling gun and admonished to 'Get some nuts!' The pun behind the campaign is obvious, adolescent and unfunny. The sentiment behind it is simply sick. John: three Omnicom agencies, three outrages. It is time for you to intervene. The Super Bowl ad, at least, was grounded in something real. It wasn't exactly homophobic; it was about homophobia and men's deepest sexual fears about themselves. Why that issue would be the stuff of candy-bar advertising is an open question, and a good one, but there was nothing genuinely malevolent in the televised spot. This new Mr. T commercial -- like the online wrench attack -- is explicitly malevolent and beyond the pale. So unseemly, so perverse, so beneath you."

Check out Garfield's full letter, and the new Snickers clip, AFTER THE JUMP...

Related
The Dodge Caliber and Fairies [tr]
Snickers Super Bowl: "Quick, Do Something Manly" [tr]

(via mediabistro)

***An Open Letter to Omnicom President-CEO John Wren from Bob Garfield, AdAge***

Dear John:

Two years ago, from BBDO, Detroit, came the spot for the macho subcompact Dodge Caliber. It featured a burly tough guy snorting the words "silly little fairy" at a Tinkerbell-like pixie, only to be magic-wanded into a mincing, sweater-draped girly man. The execs at Dodge and BBDO said the connection between a storybook fairy and the epithet "fairy" never occurred to anyone in the organization. But, of course, they were lying.

In January 2007, from TBWA, New York, there was the Snickers Super Bowl ad: two auto mechanics, chewing on opposite ends of a candy bar till meeting in an accidental kiss. The incident struck them as so repulsively gay they commenced trying to cleanse themselves via a chest-hair-ripping display of manliness. The accompanying website offered alternate endings, such as one guy attacking the other with a wrench.

Now, from AMV BBDO, London, another Snickers spot, in which a butt-wiggling race walker is just too effeminate for Mr. T's liking. The snarling scourge of all things sissified chases after the guy in a pickup. "You a disgrace to the man race!" he bellows. "It's time to run like a real man!" -- whereupon the terrorized wimp is mowed down with a candy-spewing Gatling gun and admonished to "Get some nuts!"

The pun behind the campaign is obvious, adolescent and unfunny. The sentiment behind it is simply sick. John: three Omnicom agencies, three outrages. It is time for you to intervene.

The Super Bowl ad, at least, was grounded in something real. It wasn't exactly homophobic; it was about homophobia and men's deepest sexual fears about themselves. Why that issue would be the stuff of candy-bar advertising is an open question, and a good one, but there was nothing genuinely malevolent in the televised spot. This new Mr. T commercial -- like the online wrench attack -- is explicitly malevolent and beyond the pale. So unseemly, so perverse, so beneath you.

This is from your own statement on corporate responsibility: "As a leader in the communications industry, Omnicom Group is committed to ensuring that we use our position to promote socially responsible policies and practices and that we make positive contributions to society across all of our operations." Is that so? My guess is that the parents of Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming college student beaten to death for being too effeminate to suit his killers, would take a different view. Because your commercial is just a cartoonish recapitulation of their son's brutal murder.

Since you are the executive ultimately in charge of both TBWA and BBDO, I ask you: How could you be so insensitive, how could you be so shallow, and how could you be so mean?

This letter is to you, but it is equally to your colleagues throughout the industry. Are you so bereft, of ideas and simple humanity, that you must be reduced to stereotyping and bullying? That you must identify an "other" to ridicule, or worse? That you must build a brand on the backs of people who have harmed no one save for challenging a high-school locker-room standard of masculinity?

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.

***END***

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Comments

  1. I'm more insulted by Bob Garfield for assuming that the speed-walker was gay just because he is effeminate looking.

    Posted by: crispy | Jul 22, 2008 9:45:48 AM


  2. Come on - it's pretty clear that this agency is repeatedly pulling from gay stereotypes for their commercials, and most viewers WILL make that connection on some level. For that reason alone, it is certainly homophobic.

    Posted by: scientitian | Jul 22, 2008 10:02:55 AM


  3. If these ad agencies depicted gay and bi men as everyday citizens and lovers, I wouldn't have a problem with the occasional homophobic ad. But the simple fact is that EVERY ad coming from these agencies is either surrounded with anxiety or outright homphobic. It's a biased scenario which feeds into negativity about our community.

    Thank goodness Garfield had the cajones to criticize these ad agencies. Wish there were more like him.

    Posted by: jason | Jul 22, 2008 10:04:35 AM


  4. Crispy... I hope you're kidding. The ad is obviously playing to stereotypes in order to lead viewers to make that conection. The point is that the advertiser/agency WANTS you to think they guy is gay. So faulting Garfield for making the connection is kinda stupid.

    Posted by: darb | Jul 22, 2008 10:08:52 AM


  5. And how would that attention whore Mr T like it if some ad agency made a commercial featuring black people eating watermelon while some white redneck made fun of them? I don't think he'd like it. Blacks like Mr T ought to realize that prejudice and stereotypes are not healthy.

    You ought to know better, Mr T.

    Posted by: jason | Jul 22, 2008 10:09:27 AM


  6. "it's pretty clear that this agency is repeatedly pulling from gay stereotypes"

    Speed-walkers are a gay stereotype? I had no idea.

    Posted by: crispy | Jul 22, 2008 10:13:29 AM


  7. Shoot the fag with a Submachine Gun. Protect the "man race." Great message.

    Posted by: FASTLAD | Jul 22, 2008 10:20:35 AM


  8. Crispy,

    Yellow shorts, a sissified gait...these are all elements which fit into the "you're so gay" stereotype which homophobic straights like to throw at us. I am personally fed up with this stereotype. Meanwhile, our raison d'etre (our love, for instance) is consistently ignored or censored by these agencies.

    Posted by: jason | Jul 22, 2008 10:25:23 AM


  9. Reinforcing internalized self-hatred, reinforcing homophobia, reinforcing stereotyping, reinforcing fear and hatred and bigotry.... what's not to like about that? eh... everything. Helloooo?

    Posted by: soithoni | Jul 22, 2008 10:25:42 AM


  10. Campaigns that are insulting, dehumanizing and cruel are 'beneath' the CEO of an ad agency?

    Posted by: David D. | Jul 22, 2008 10:34:57 AM


  11. Keep in mind that a lot of these ad agencies are heterosexual boys' clubs at heart. Gay and bi men are generally not welcome. There is a pervasive pandering to homophobia in these agencies.

    Posted by: jason | Jul 22, 2008 10:37:33 AM


  12. 'Tis a sad day when JASON has to school CRISPY on homophobia.

    Posted by: JohnInManhattan | Jul 22, 2008 10:37:40 AM


  13. Crispy,

    The point isn't that the man is gay but that he is being attacked for being effeminate. Regardless of orientation, the man's feminine qualities are being attacked metaphorically and physically--with a gun!

    Also, there is this nasty side of contemporary gay culture that in fighting stereotypes has decided to attack gay men who are not butch. Why is that? Some gay men are effeminate. Denigrating them for their natural tendencies is a reflection of internal homophobia.


    Recently, I read on a gay sports blog about a young ice skater who came out as gay. The author of the piece made it a point to say that it was "OK" that the skater had stereotypical qualities (was effeminate and wanted to be an interior designer). How generous of the author.

    Could you imagine a respected African-American author congratulating an African-American athlete "even though" the person had a black accent or aspired to be a rapper? Don't think so.

    Posted by: noah | Jul 22, 2008 10:39:27 AM


  14. "Yellow shorts, a sissified gait...these are all elements which fit into the "you're so gay" stereotype"

    Um, no. Those are stereotypes of speed-walkers.

    Have you ever seen a speed-walker? They look silly. Not gay. That's what this ad is making fun of.

    Posted by: crispy | Jul 22, 2008 10:43:37 AM


  15. Noah,
    I'll grant you that... the ad is anti-femme. (Although personally, I interpreted it as anti-metrosexual.)

    Posted by: crispy | Jul 22, 2008 10:56:00 AM


  16. JASON,

    I too hate Mr T's participation in that stupid, homophobic (and more important to me)EFFEMOPHOBIC/MISOGYNISTIC ad; but can't you criticize Mr T without taking on all black people?

    Yes, Mr T should have refused to do the commercial, but I wonder how many black faces were behind the cameras, JASON.

    We've had this happen too many times on this blog, and I get tired of calling white gay people ugly names that I hadn't used since 1974.


    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Jul 22, 2008 11:00:32 AM


  17. Funny that the tag line is "Get Some Nuts".

    Posted by: OneFineGay | Jul 22, 2008 11:04:41 AM


  18. Yeah...all those stereotypes about speedwalkers that everyone is so familiar with(?). Regardless of how you might receive it, a vast majority of the general population would identify the man in the commercial as gay or effeminate.
    And I would like to say, for the record, that I have NEVER seen anyone (of any gender or age) shake their ass like that while walking, jogging, prancing, or running at any speed. I don't know what kind of magical world you live in, but the speedwalkers must have some major problems with their hips.

    Posted by: Scientitian | Jul 22, 2008 11:07:05 AM


  19. I agree that assuming the speed walker is gay by the way he walks is wrong. That is the technical way the sport requires.
    But the ad plays on that and its intent is to ridicule, but it goes even further as to emasculate the runner.
    This is ad clearly homophobic. Good on Garfields part to call them on it.

    Posted by: Erick | Jul 22, 2008 11:21:20 AM


  20. Crispy,
    You're, at best, willfully naive and, at worst, a complete tool.

    "anti-femme" is different from "anti-gay"?

    Though I do think it's funny (sad) that you're not at all embarrassed about expressing these limp views publicly.

    Posted by: UnionStayshyn | Jul 22, 2008 11:35:33 AM


  21. "If these ad agencies depicted gay and bi men as everyday citizens and lovers, I wouldn't have a problem with the occasional homophobic ad."

    Are you kidding? How about no homophobic ads at all?! I don't care if an agency puts out even just one anti-gay ad, it's still wrong and they should be called on their shit.

    Posted by: Jai | Jul 22, 2008 11:50:53 AM


  22. Naive, perhaps. But a complete tool? Really?

    If you want to participate in the discussion, please do. But try not to be such an asshole.

    Posted by: crispy | Jul 22, 2008 11:55:33 AM


  23. In all honesty, I mostly agree with Crispy on this one, when I saw the ad I didn't see the dude as being gay, I saw him as a speed walker. I don't know any femmes that walk like that, I know bowlegged people that walk like that, but not a lot of femmes. While I can see why people could see it as homophobic, but then again I don't feel it's necessary to tear Crispy to shreds simply because his viewpoint is different, especially because he didn't antagonize anyone, he simply stated his opinion. Learn some class people.

    Posted by: PeKeMo | Jul 22, 2008 12:43:27 PM


  24. sad for "mr T" lol who is he anyways? So tired of this bs ads, why don't they make fun of the religious right or black people or asians??? well, because is wrong...why they make fun of us?? Because they can. SO fu*k them..let's do what we can to show them by anymeans...stop buy their products..slowly pass the word to friends (like I do, they do listen IF you explain to them)...FIGHT BACK...Alexander The Great was a homo and he ruled with a fist and so was Hadrian.

    Posted by: Bosie | Jul 22, 2008 12:44:57 PM


  25. This charming and delightful ad reiterates age-old messages about masculinity: to be a real man you must adhere to strict codes of behaviour and violence is an appropriate response to those who transgress those ideals.

    Masculinity is never given but must be earned and there is always someone, somewhere to scrutinize your behaviour. Traditional masculinity sees itself as active and femininity as passive. Women are objects to be looked at and it is men who do the looking. In this commercial the camera frames the speed-walker’s ass in a sexually suggestive manner. This is indeed a transgression because it in effect objectifies him. “You a disgrace to the man race!” shouts the bejewelled 80s icon, Mr. T. As punishment for presenting his ass to us, the speed-walker is pelted and forced to run for his life. Then, in the ad’s tagline, the speed-walker and all guys are commanded to “get some nuts” or more specifically “get some balls and reclaim the male privilege that you’ve abdicated. Conform or get pelted, fool!” Ha, f**king, ha.

    LGBT folk do have larger issues than this commercial to deal with and no, this ad doesn’t specifically target gay men. But it does reaffirm that there are only a limited number of ways to be a real man. Many guys –gay and straight—lose out with such a narrow definition.

    Posted by: RobbieP | Jul 22, 2008 12:58:03 PM


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