Only Weak Advertisers Fold To Special Interest Ad Baiters.

David Kiley

Special interest groups are making themselves heard about Super Bowl ads that offend them. Save me.

Taking a page from Bill O'Reilly's war against Christmas playbook, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention sent a letter to General Motors complaining that a game ad featuring a story about an assembly line robot that commits suicide in a dream sequence after being fired from his job is offensive and insensitive.

So far, GM hasn’t caved to taking the ad off the air or off the Internet. And it's tough for the automaker not to do it. After all, it's not like the Foundation is an adversary you want to take on. It doesn't have a political agenda like the American Family Association, which is boycotting Ford for running ads in gay media.

The Foundation, which does good work, though, does have an agenda to get itself noticed whenever it can to drive awareness, nudge donations up and, if it can get GM to take the ad down, post a victory press release on its website and with the media.

The GM ad was constructed as a narrative story, like a movie. Does the Foundation get its press release machine rolling every time a network or cable station runs a movie with a suicide sequence in it? How about TV shows? Every time there is a suicide story line, does the network get a letter? The argument here is that the ad gives people the idea that suicide is an acceptable option for someone getting fired. Puhleeez. It's a car ad.

So why should an ad agency and advertiser creating a story get subjected to the PR treatment? Because GM, as a big company, is an easy target. Movie studios and boadcast networks are tougher to sway. And there is a long illustrious history of advertisers caving to special interest groups. That the Foundation is a pretty likable and worthy organization, unlike some others, though, shouldn't matter. Do we really think any suicides are going to be inspired by the site of this robot in a GM ad? Oy.

The GM robot ad scored pretty well with the viewing public. In the USA Today Ad Meter, it scored 18th highest with the audience out of almost 60 ads, and was the highest rated auto ad. ranked it "Best in Show," with 50% of respondents ranking it #1. ranked it #9. The people have spoken about how much they liked the spot. It didn't make my top-five for the game. But I would rank it in the top-ten for sure.

Meantime, ultra-conservative corporation Mars folded like a spent candy wrapper in the face of complaints by The Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation about its Super Bowl ad that depicted two mechanics who ate a candy bar from each end, and met in the middle with an inadvertent kiss. Then, in the ad, the two alpha men, realizing what had happened, started acting all uncomfortable and began tearing out their chest hair in an attempt to act manly.

Memo to the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance: get a freaking sense of humor will ya? It's comedy. It was funny. I howled at the ad and replayed it twice. I also rated one of the best ads of the game. And it had nothing to do with any homo-erotic feelings I have for beer-bellied mechanics. For the record, my wife didn't think it was funny. But she doesn't like The Honeymooners or Laurel and Hardy either. But two male gay friends of mine thought it was hilarious. And they further though that that the Alliance was crazy.

Back to the strategy at hand. The Human Rights Campaign and the Alliance have parlayed this into TV appearances, press releases and media attention. That's what it's about. It’s not about indignation. It’s about media opps.

As an overweight man, or what radio TV personality Don Imus calls me on air when I’m a guest--A Fat Bastard, if I made a squawk about every time an ad, TV show or movie used a fat person as the centerpiece for a joke, I'd have given up my day job years ago to keep up with the correspondence.

We all complain about how lame and irrelevant ads are most of the time. We use our DVRs to skip over them. We complain about insipid sales pithes. If we nitpick every ad storyline, and cave into every special-interest complaint, I shudder to think how awful ads will really become in the future.

In short. Lighten up.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.