09/04/2012 07:22 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

The White Hands and the Rainbow Wig

Last night, while watching the Georgia Tech vs. Virginia Tech football game on ESPN, I saw a series of short Chick-fil-A advertisements. I'll admit that Chick-fil-A's marketing strategy is typically pretty smart. The witty use of cows to promote chicken products is marketing at its finest. But one commercial wasn't so cute. It was definitely not smart.

The short, few-second ad featured three cows in football jerseys doing the wave. When the cows started the wave, the first cow, decked out in a red baseball cap, had a jersey that read, "DONT." As he proceeded to sit down, the next cow stood up, exposing his jersey, which said, "HAV A." Finally, the third cow, sporting a rainbow wig, stood. His jersey said, "COW."


I'd like to give folks the benefit of the doubt and assume that there is no connection between the commercial and the recent spat over Chick-fil-A's connection to anti-LGBT organizations. I hope this is a case where lack of forethought, not malice, is the cause.

The ad seemed close enough to Chick-fil-A's normal advertising strategy to not strike me as odd, but it was just "off" enough to make me raise an eyebrow -- or two.

Advertising like this is concerning. We have a long history of using subtle references in advertising that pit communities against each other for political gain. Jesse Helms' "White Hands" commercial famously featured a white man who was portrayed as losing his job to a lesser-qualified African American. The intent was clear: Then-Senator Helms sought to galvanize white support against his African-American opponent. Though this commercial is a far cry from the Helms ad, it is a slippery slope.

We can do better than that in 2012.

Whether the commercial is a subtle slap in the face to the LGBT community and its allies or an incredibly mindless and poorly conceived piece of fast-food marketing, I'm not certain. But regardless of the intent, someone clearly committed gross professional negligence by failing to avoid the appearance of impropriety.