Ad protesters in need of a healthy dose of humor

February 09, 2007|By JEAN MARBELLA

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has sent a letter to General Motors criticizing an ad that shows a perfectionist assembly line robot dreaming about jumping off a bridge after dropping a bolt. ... The group demanded that GM apologize, not air the spot again and remove it from its Web site. "We wouldn't see this ad [about] cancer or heart disease," says Robert Gebbia, executive director. "Why's it OK to make fun of mental illness or depression?"

-- USA Today

A commercial for Snickers candy bars launched during the Super Bowl broadcast Sunday has been pulled after its maker got complaints that the ad was homophobic. The ad showed two auto mechanics accidentally kissing while eating the same candy bar and then ripping out some chest hair to do something "manly." .... Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation spokesman Marc McCarthy said Tuesday the group believed "this kind of prejudice was inexcusable."

-- Associated Press

Kevin Federline has something to say to those who are offended by an upcoming Super Bowl ad featuring him as a fast-food worker: He's "really sorry." Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.'s 30-second spot shows Federline performing in a glitzy music video. However, the punch line is that he's daydreaming while cooking french fries at a fast-food joint. National Restaurant Association President and Chief Executive Steven Anderson said last week that the ad amounts to a "strong and direct insult to the 12.8 million Americans who work in the restaurant industry."

-- Associated Press

Is it time to start a new support group; Humorless Anonymous? Or should it be called Easily Offended Anonymous? High Dudgeon Anonymous?

Might be hard to come up with a name that wouldn't insult such an easily insulted group.

Call me insensitive, but I think suicidal robots, kissing mechanics and K-Fed are kind of funny. (Although wouldn't it have been funnier if Britney's ex had been in an ad for ... FedEx?) I wouldn't call them $2.6-million-per-30-seconds-of- Super-Bowl-airtime funny, but just nice-break-from-Rex-Grossman's-humiliations funny.

So far, only the Snickers commercial has been pulled from the air, which is too bad -- I took that ad to be more of a jab at homophobia rather actually being homophobic.

Plus, it reminded me of that great scene from the movie, Planes Trains & Automobiles, when Steve Martin and John Candy end up in bed one night. (Really, it's not what you think: They're two travelers who just can't seem to get home for the holidays, and end up having to share a hotel room with a single bed.) In their sleep they accidentally end up cuddling and, realizing it, fly out of the bed and compensate with manly chatter -- in voices about an octave deeper and about, coincidentally, a certain football team. "See that Bears game last week?" "Hell of a game."

I don't recall anyone protesting the movie back then -- it came out in 1987 -- but maybe we've gotten more enlightened since then.

"The reference points keep changing," says M. Thomas Inge, a Randolph-Macon College professor who, seriously, teaches a course in humor.

People once thought Polish jokes were funny, so I suppose he has a point.

Inge, who edits a serious academic journal called, funnily enough, Studies in American Humor, says he sometimes assigns his students to go out and find a joke that doesn't insult someone. If they come back empty-handed, well, that's the lesson for the day.

"Humor is aggressive," he says. "It is always at the expense of something or someone."

The difference is that these days, entire groups apparently exist for the sole purpose of being insulted -- and, according to Barbara Lippert of Adweek magazine, get their name in the paper for reacting to ads on the Super Bowl.

"It's the only occasion when 90 million people are watching, and they're watching the commercials," Lippert, the magazine's advertising critic, says. "The ads are there to be a spectacle. People are sort of primed to respond."

Lippert says that in the age of TiVo, when viewers increasingly have ways to skip over commercials, advertisers are desperate for attention, but even spending millions on edgy Super Bowl ads doesn't guarantee they'll get it.

"Remember the Janet Jackson Super Bowl?" she asks, referring to the 2004 game when the singer's wardrobe was malfunctioned by Justin Timberlake. "No one was talking about any of the ads, all you saw was the nipple."

The broadcast remains unpredictable, she says, even for a professional ad watcher such as herself.

Lippert was offended by the beer commercial in which a class learning to speak English is coached in how to order a Bud Light -- but no one seems to be complaining about that one, yet.

But her critique of the GM ad has less to do with taste than smarts.

"It just makes no sense to have a suicidal robot when you're laying off all these workers," Lippert says. "It's not an offensive ad, it's a stupid ad."

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