Ad Agency Fired for ’Homophobic’ Ad?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday October 9, 2009

In the annals of commercials that make light of homosexuality, some have been mocking and some bellicose. A few, however, have used humor that straddled a line: some might have taken offense, but others laughed.

Case in point: a British ad that caused a ruckus last year by showing a New York deli guy serving up sandwiches to the kids--and a peck on the cheek to his husband--as the family's members were departing for school and work.

In that case, a couple hundred viewers complained about the depiction of two men in a spousal relationship. In the case of an ad for a Canadian sandwich shop chain, the response was the opposite: enough gays took umbrage that the ad was pulled and the company severed its relationship with the ad agency that had produced the commercial.

But others took nothing from the ad except a good guffaw.

An Oct. 6 article posted by Marketing magazine said that the ad agency BOS, working with the slogan "Not everyone likes surprises," launched an online commercial on behalf of sandwich shop company Mr. Sub that showed a father sitting down to dinner with his wife and a large brood of children.

The father than announced that he was gay, to the consternation of his children, including a little girl who asked him, "You mean like gay, gay?"

"Like super, super gay," the father responded, patting the girl on the head.

The upshot of the ad was that customers sitting down with a Mr. Suyb sandwich--"A Canadian classic for over 40 years"--need not fear that they were getting anything other than what they were expecting.

Members of the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW), however, took offense, interpreting the commercial as a slight to people struggling to come out to friends and family.

The article said that GLBT union members began a campaign against the spot, which had been slated for a television run in 2010.

The article said that after hearing complaints about the ad, the union's communications director, Shannon Devine, sent an email that read, in part, "In the last few days, the sandwich chain Mr. Sub has come out with a new commercial which is shocking (and completely ridiculous) in the way that it mocks the LGBT community.

Continued the missive, "This is offensive and we must let Mr. Sub know that making fun of our LGBT sisters and brothers and the very difficult and often painful coming out process is no way to sell submarine sandwiches."

Devine sent word to the president of the company himself, Jack Levinson, the article said, advising Levinson that, "In fact, coming out to one's family and friends is a major cause of stress and anguish as people face the rejection, misunderstanding and outward disapproval of their loved ones."

A few days later, the article said, there was an answer to the union's missive: an email with no signature was sent from the company's "Information & Help Line" advising that the chain had "decided to end its relationship with BOS, as clearly this campaign has not met the objective of positively engaging with our customers."

The company had taken steps to scrub the ad from the Internet, the note went on to say.

The Marketing article quoted Devine as saying, "We were actually quite pleased with [Mr. Sub's] response."

Added Devibe, "They wrote back very quickly to the letters and then they did discontinue their relationship with BOS advertising... it really shows that they are listening to their customers and the Canadian public in general."

Marketing also heard from BOS, who told the magazine in an email that, "The fact is, there was no malicious intent."

Continued the email from BOS, "We did not mean to belittle the 'coming out' experience. Nor did we mean to imply that it was a bad thing.

"In fact, we were very careful to downplay the reactions of the family members so the father's announcement would not be perceived as being catastrophic.

"It is most unfortunate that others have interpreted this commercial otherwise."

The message from BOS went on to state that, "it is most unfortunate that Mr. Sub has chosen to terminate our relationship over the complaints for an ad which they approved," Marketing reported.

The BOS email quoted from a posting at About: Gay Life Journal, in which author Duane Booth, commenting on the fracas over the ad, wrote, "We need to lighten up."

Continued Booth, "Sometimes in life we have to learn to laugh at ourselves and allow others to laugh along with us. By doing so, we are far more likely to break down barriers and be accepted for who we are and should be treated as--normal, regular people."

"We would like to conclude by saying that it is most unfortunate that Mr. Sub has chosen to terminate our relationship over the complaints for an ad which they approved," said the BOS statement.

An Oct. 6 article at Canadian GLBT site Xtra struck a similar note. The posting noted that, "cooler heads on Twitter and gay activist listservs questioned the outrage: is the ad actually homophobic? Or is it a step forward for gay visibility?

"Some encouraged others to email Mr Sub to express their support for the ad campaign," the posting added.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.