The McLean-VA based Mars Corporation this week was forced to withdraw a TV commercial that critics deemed offensive. The candy maker, inventor of the Snickers, M&Ms and Milky Way bars, among others, and $21 billion strong in sales, didn’t think much of having ad agency AMV BBDO in London shoot a commercial they probably felt was amusing.
In it, 80s relic and pop culture hanger-on Mr. T, in certain need of a paycheck, can be seen riding atop a truck firing a Gatling-type gun full of candy bars at a man who is speed walking down a street. The man is portrayed as stereotypically weak and effeminate, with a close-up shot of the guy’s wiggling ass in his short-shorts. To which Mr. T also yells out to him to “walk like a man” and finally, “get some nuts”. To join in on the laughter, click here.
Mars has been here before, in similar circumstances. They caught a little flak during the 2007 Super Bowl for an ad involving two male mechanics who accidentally kissed after eating one of their candy bars. But this one was far worse. And it took various protests from groups, including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), for Mars to issue the following statement the other day:
“This ad is the second in a series of UK Mars ads featuring Mr. T which are intended to be fun and have been positively received in the UK. However, we understand that humor is highly subjective, and it is never our intention to cause offense. Accordingly, we have pulled the Mr. T speed walker ad globally.”
Mars may have found the ad humorous because it wants to tweak what it sees as political correctness run amok. Or, in keeping with its own right-wing tendencies and significant support of Republican candidates and issues, it simply wants its ad agency to put forth its own cynical views of society. I am not implying that Mars itself is homophobic, but at the very least it shows poor taste in approving the ad in the first place. All in the name of selling candy bars, of course.
The ad agency itself had no response to the criticisms, referring the matter instead to Mars, and by then, they were forced to pull the ad. But who is at fault here? Whose vision is it to create this kind of immature ad? Over at Ad Age, writer Bob Gardner puts the blame squarely on Omnicon, the owner of the ad agency, and in particular, its CEO, Jack Wren. In an open letter, Gardner strongly chides Wren, using his own past promises to show “corporate responsibility” as head of the ad agency. “How could you be so insensitive”, Gardner asks, “how could you be so shallow, and how could you be so mean?” He continues:
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.
It’s sad that a company like Mars, with its own social agenda and an ad agency like Omnicon might feel that people are overreacting to all this, that it’s just some kind of PC reaction –i.e., can’t you take a little joke? Also, Mr. T, while he is probably there to collect a much-needed paycheck, can’t be absolved either. You wonder how his strong born again Christian views stand in contrast to the image of him shooting something –anything—at what he sees as a girly man.
To those bloggers out there who aren’t convinced of the hatred in this ad, it’s clear that Mars wants to court this publicity, no matter who is offended. That they trade on discrimination and essentially suggest that violence (with candy bars!) is the way to deal with less-than-macho men validates those who would think about harassing or, worse, causing violence to men who are “different” in real life.
So the next time you break yourself another piece of that Kit-Kat bar, think about the right wingers over at Mars who just want your money anyways –and who seem to support the most socially acceptable phobia that’s still alive and well in this country.