I’ve been reading commentary about Australia’s new (and disastrous) Snickers ad, and I’m having trouble deciding who’s more confused: the team behind the commercial, or the audience in front of it. The ad’s message is a hot mess that leaves much to be desired, and as for the subsequent reactions of Internet Folk? I think we need to have a talk.
First off, the video’s title (“Aussie Builders surprise public with loud empowering statements”) is misleading as hell. The wording makes it sound like a news clip or an Upworthy headline rather than an advertisement, and what’s perhaps so jarring is that if you remove Snickers’ fingerprints from the video, it very easily could be. The minute-long segment has a crew of Builder Joes calling out to the women across the street, but it’s nothing rude and vulgar: instead they shout things like “Have yourself a lovely day,” “Wanna hear a filthy word? Gender bias,” and “A woman’s place is wherever she chooses,” all much to the confusion, and eventual cautious delight of the recipients.
“You know what I’d like to see?” a man shouts toward the end, “A society in which the objectification of women makes way for gender-neutral interaction, free from assumptions and expectations.” While the words themselves are some undeniable Real Talk that warrants several standing ovations, it’s their context—the intent of the ad itself—that makes the whole thing cringe-worthy. What takes the air out from under their wings, demolishes every modicum of potential like Miley on a wrecking ball, is the commercial’s intro and outro.
The setup is “What happens when builders aren’t themselves? We thought we’d find out,” while the last frames have the familiar Snickers slogan “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” We’ve seen that punch line before—usually with people being overdramatic curmudgeons (portrayed by Betty White at least once) until they’re handed a candy bar and return to their normal selves, much to the relief of everyone around them. If this ad campaign has been relatively harmless so far, however, it’s because “humor” is a slippery slope, and it’s easy to tumble to the bottom if you don’t find the right footing.
This particular ad feels like the equivalent of trying to hike Mount Everest wearing rollerblades: it’s painfully obvious what the problem is and how it could have been avoided. Snickers could have changed the entire tone simply by reversing the scenario and showing that the workers are only mean and vulgar when they’re hungry, and that Snickers can bring back their normal, respectful personalities. Instead, they suggest not only that all builders are obnoxious, sexist meatheads, but also that a good ol’ Snickers bar can restore you to your usual terrible self.
It’s almost dizzying, trying to keep track of all the reasons why the whole concept is offensive. TIME Magazine pointed out that regardless of what the men are actually saying, “the ad still depicts the stereotype of construction workers shouting at women,” while Ad Week noted the classist undertones: “By saying blue-collar guys ‘aren’t themselves’ when they’re being polite, it pretty clearly implies they’re otherwise a bunch of misogynistic boors.” Elizabeth Plank of PolicyMic also tears Snickers a new one: “Just so we’re clear, in Snickers’ world, ‘you’ doesn’t mean acting like your unique and special self,” she says, “It’s synonymous with being a sexist goober to every vagina-owning human that comes within your vicinity—because that’s how you sell chocolate to men in the 21 st century.”
Even with all of this criticism burning a hole through the Internet, the ad is still receiving an incredibly puzzling amount of praise. Countless YouTube comments beg feminists to “take a joke” and “understand humor”; faithit.com shared the video with the caption “It’s always good to break stereotypes, but what these construction workers do is much bigger and more important than that”; and I’ve seen it posted on Facebook with hashtags like “#equality” and “#beautiful”.
Are we watching the same video, everyone?
Plenty of commercials base themselves around a moronic, sexist joke (lookin’ at you, J.P. Wiser’s Rye) and/or perpetuate gender stereotypes (“If you can fit this much girly into one man,” says the Dr. Pepper TEN voiceover as a dude freaks out about a bug), but to essentially mock the entire concept of men being respectful and supportive of women is beyond disgusting. Plank sums it up nicely, saying that “Men shouldn’t be told that being kind of half the population is equivalent to being untrue to themselves,” and “a man treating the opposite sex as his equal shouldn’t be funny, it should be expected—for both genders’ sake.”
It’s irritatingly normal for advertisements to treat women (and sometimes even men) as a joke, but to insult both sides at once is pretty extraordinary. I’m actually a little concerned about the brains behind the operation; you’re not usually so sexist. Are you okay, guys?
Maybe you should eat a Snickers bar—you’re not you when you’re hungry.