Using codes of masculinity to sell products to guys is nothing new, but it’s usually about beer, “hard lemonade” or deodorant. It’s also usually funny, and pokes fun at male insecurities while celebrating them. A new Snickers commercial, however, seems to just be about beating the crap out of sissies.
It opens on a guy in bright yellow shorts sashaying down a sidewalk. He’s speedwalking. Suddenly a truck comes roaring over the houses and smashes onto the street beside the man. Mr. T is in the back of the truck behind a Gatling gun. He yells at the man to stop speedwalking: “You a disgrace to the man race!” he shouts. Then he fires candybars at the man, and the man dances around on the sidewalk in fear and takes off running. The tagline: “Snickers. Get some nuts.” (You can watch it here.) Yum! Now when I want to satisfy my hunger and think about shooting down a mincing, nutless homo in suburbia, I’ll know what candy bar to buy! Thanks, Snickers!
Bob Garfield at the magazine Ad Age wrote an open letter last week to the CEO of Omnicon, the ad corporation responsible for the spot, accusing him of using “dehumanizing stereotypes” and “jokey violence” in of all things a candy commercial.
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?
He points out that Omnicom says it practices corporate responsibility by “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.” Then why, in a candy ad that you assume is at least partially targeted to children, would you go this route? Garfield points out that it’s not just about anti-gay attitudes, or more broadly about gender roles and what’s “okay” for one sex or another. It’s really about attacking people who are different or seen as weak:
You don’t have to be gay to be the target of macho aggression. If you are slight, or weak, or meek or odd. If you don’t like football or groove on Liza. If you read books. If you drive a Neon. If for any reason you don’t fulfill the masculinity expectations of the bully, you are therefor[sic] a faggot and: ridiculed, berated, laughed at, marginalized, stuffed into a locker, beaten up, murdered. Ass-wiggling speedwalker = faggot. It’s code. Likewise sweater-draped poodle walkers who squeal “oooooooh!” This kind of ad, which normalizes and even incites contempt or worse for the supposed faggots, is therefore homophobic whether the runner is gay or not.
Some Ad Age readers have commented that Garfield is being too politically correct and that it’s all in good fun. After all, it’s not a crime to offend someone. At the very least, one of them argued, kids today don’t have the same anti-gay culture of past generations.
Is this true? I’d love to hear from Consumerist readers who are, say, in their early twenties or younger: has bullying based on codes of masculinity abated in recent years? Is that sort of behavior really a thing of the past? Because if it is, good for humanity—but I wonder if a Snickers ad that shows a pop-culture icon firing a large gun at a big ole’ sissy is teaching kids it’s time to bring it back.
But enough about that cheery world of high-school—the real question, writes CV Harquail on her blog Authentic Organizations, is why a global corporation that claims social responsibility would produce a spot that undermines its promises to do good.
What I don’t understand about the responses to Garfield’s letter is that so few people are focused on holding Wren accountable for aligning his organization’s actions with its words. Why is this?
Striving for authenticity, for alignment between who you say you are, what you believe about yourself, and how you behave as an organization, is the responsibility of the organization’s leadership.
And responsibility for being authentic is not confined to leadership: Keeping behavior aligned with the organization’s statements of purpose, vision and value is the responsibility of every employee. The people at Omnicom know this– it’s right here in Omnicom’s Code of Conduct statement:
Our reputation depends, to a very large measure, on you taking personal responsibility for maintaining and adhering to the policies and guidelines set forth here. Your continued cooperation in this regard is appreciated.
“An Open Letter to Omnicom President-CEO John Wren” [AdvertisingAge via Towleroad]
“Homophobia and (In)Authenticity at Omnicom: What can a leader do?” [Authentic Organizations]