By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
The maker of Snickers drew snickers from many viewers of Sunday's Super Bowl broadcast with a commercial featuring a brief, unintentional lip lock between two guys.
Soon after, the complaints started to roll in.
Result: In what might be one of the fastest retreats in corporate history, candymaker Mars Inc. yanked the multimillion-dollar commercial from the airwaves late Monday and vaporized related material from its Web site. The normally reticent McLean-based company issued a public statement, saying it was just trying to be funny and didn't intend to offend.
But its ad, in which two auto mechanics bite into a Snickers bar from either end and inadvertently end up lip to lip, clearly rubbed some people the wrong way. Three gay rights organizations condemned the commercial as homophobic, arguing that the men's reaction (they tear out their chest hair to prove they're really "manly") demeans gay men.
Worse, the groups said, were the alternative endings that Snickers included on its Web site as part of a contest to determine which version would air during the Daytona 500 later this month.
In one ending, one of the characters grabs a wrench to beat the other, who responds by slamming a car hood down on the other guy's head. A second ending shows members of the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears reacting with amusement and disgust to the "kiss."
"I don't know what kind of mind-set it takes to think it's okay to slug another guy because of a mistaken kiss," said Neil G. Giuliano, president of Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which objected to the ad. "It's just unacceptable."
Added Giuliano: "This is clearly the wardrobe malfunction of 2007," a reference to the Janet Jackson breast-baring incident during the Super Bowl's halftime show in 2004.
The rights groups Matthew Shepard Foundation and Human Rights Campaign also complained to Mars about the commercial. The ad, made by New York agency TBWA/Chiat/Day, cost more than $2 million to make and air during the Super Bowl, which drew more than 90 million viewers.
GLAAD said the agency had offered to preview the commercial last month but then pulled out without explanation.
Alice Nathanson, spokeswoman for Masterfoods Inc., the Mars subsidiary that markets Snickers, said yesterday that the company had received plenty of positive feedback about the ad, including a top ranking in a USA Today poll. But she said: "We're not trying to be controversial. We're acting in a way that is sensitive to folks who may have found it offensive."
Other recent commercials have traded comically on homosexuality and stereotypes, sometimes with controversy trailing after them.
Some gay groups took offense at a 2005 commercial for Chevrolet trucks in which several men in a pickup truck become noticeably uncomfortable when a fellow male passenger sings along with the Shania Twain song, "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" An ad last year for the Dodge Caliber featured a tough guy walking a Doberman who taunts a Tinker Bell-like character with the line "silly little fairy."
The fairy then turns the guy into a mincing man dressed in a pastel shirt and short-shorts with a leash attached to several little dogs. Amid complaints, Dodge's agency, BBDO, said it did not intend to slur gay men.
Los Angeles ad woman Claudia Caplan said yesterday that gay groups may be overreacting to the Snickers ad: "My take on it is, why is it homophobic for two heterosexual men to kiss by mistake? If a homosexual man kissed a heterosexual woman by mistake, would that be considered hetero-phobic?"
But Steve Hall, a former ad executive who writes the Adrants.com newsletter and blog, says the Snickers commercial has harmed the candymaker's image with all consumers.
"Can you imagine the looks one will now receive from the checkout clerk when they buy a Snickers bar?" he wrote yesterday. " . . . There's plenty of other perfectly good candy choices with far less embarrassment attached to them."