Critic Hits Out at Ad Agency Head Over Homophobia

(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.