In this week's Advertising Age Bob Garfield in his "Garfield's Review" column writes a blistering open letter to Omnicom's President, John Wren, for allowing his ad agency to create a blatantly homophobic commercial for Snickers.
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.
Garfield has Omnicom dead to rights for ignoring its mission statement, which, like those of too many corporations, are cynical public relations releases that are ignored in practice. Of course, I agree with Garfield, but what also fascinates me is that there are 68 comments on Garfield's column (as of 4:45 p.m. 7/23) on the Ad Age Web site, many of them excoriating him and some ardently supporting him. Many of the critical comments site freedom of speech and creative license as reasons to support the homophobic Snickers commercials.
However, I believe the larger issue is that many of the popular media and the advertisers (and their agencies) that support the media have crossed over the line of good taste and social responsibility just to make a little more money and are hiding behind the skirts of the First Amendment and creative license in order to duck their responsibility.
And I admire and respect Garfield's courage in calling them out. It's time the lying and hate mongering of Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Lou Dobbs, and Snickers advertising are called out, too. Keith Olbermann does it; although, he, too, often lacks credibility by crossing the line himself and by often being in poor taste and irresponsible.
Garfield has credibility as the leading critic of television commercials in the country and as the co-host of "On the Media." I have criticized Garfield in the past for being snide at times and for doing an ambush interview with Bill Gates a year and a half ago, but I've never felt he was a wimp. He's no wuss, and he called out a huge advertising conglomerate and a major advertiser for tasteless, irresponsible advertising.
It's about time that all of us who watch television and see irresponsible hate mongering begin to voice our repulsion and punish the offenders by turning off our TV and radio sets, blogging, writing letters to the offenders, or not buying products that are advertised irresponsibly. Never eat a Snickers bar again, and join me in saying, "Go get 'em, Bob."
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