Thank God I found something to feel uncomfortable about this week. I was running out of things to write about. Have you seen this ad for Snore Stop? (Picture after the cut.)
This image has been raising some hell. Let’s break it down into its component parts:
A woman in a niqab (we are meant to assume she’s Muslim) and an American soldier are embracing. We are meant to assume that they are a couple, that they sleep together nightly, and that one (or both) of them snores.
First, the obvious: LOOK! IT’S A COUPLE THAT WE DON’T NORMALLY SEE. Oh good. We got that out of the way.
People are upset for various reasons. Some have claimed it’s an insult to the military. Some have openly praised it for its use of a very nontraditional couple. I say it’s unnecessarily exploitative. I have no doubt that somewhere this couple exists. But advertisements that play on racist and war-driven impulses read as backwards propaganda to me, and I’ve never been comfortable with pushing the envelope for the sake of money or notoriety. It’s not all that different from celebrities co-opting elements of other cultures for fame. I was uncomfortable when Gwen did it, I’m uncomfortable with Miley doing it, and I don’t like it when Snore Stop does it.
Second, what really bothers me has nothing to do with the worldwide anger that seems to be spewed over this image. This is just bad advertising. The best ads work because you don’t know that they’re selling you something. They make you feel like you’re in on the joke. When you see, hear, or read them, they evoke an emotional response without ever having to think about them.
Think about the 2013 Budweiser Superbowl commercial. Let me tell you what I remember. There was a little colt named Hope who was being raised by a nice man on a farm. One day, Hope grew up and becomes one of the big Clydesdales that pulls the Budweiser float in parades. When Hope sees the man who raised her in the crowd, she pulls the float away and she goes over to nuzzle her best friend.
Where is the beer?
It’s not there. It’s a commercial for beer, but you would never know that. The product doesn’t matter. At all. You know what I think of when I think of Budweiser? Warm fuzzies.
Now let’s turn to the Snore Stop ad. Look at the picture again. How does it make you feel? I already told you that it makes me uncomfortable because I find it exploitative. It probably also makes me feel subconciously uncomfortable because of when and where I grew up. Honestly, I feel like one of these things is not like the other. It can’t be helped. Do I get the joke? Do I feel like I’m inside of the message? No. Because I don’t know what the message is. According to the ad department, the message is that couples like this have to fight hard enough to be together, snoring shouldn’t keep them apart, too.
I mean, I guess that’s true. But if you have to tell me that this is about an anti-snoring drug, then your message is not working.
And in the face of all the hurdles this couple will face, Snore Stop isn’t really going to keep them together, especially when snoring isn’t really what’s keeping them apart.
What it comes down to, my friends, is that we do need more diversity in advertising. We need more gay and lesbian couples, we need more people of color, we need more body types and shapes, and we need people of all abilities represented. But the reason we need all those people represented is because that’s what the world we know actually looks like. We don’t need diversity in advertising for shock value, we need it because what we have now just doesn’t look like us. These two aren’t being used to show normal, they’re just being used.
And that’s just not a type of advertising I’m willing to buy.