Saturday, 30 January 2010

Watching football makes you gay

Since the dawn of time, people have been debating what makes someone gay. Is it nature, nurture, or just a love of musical theatre?

But now, an altogether surprising new angle has been thrown into the mix. According to a new TV ad for a dating site, watching the Superbowl and eating crinkle-cut chips can turn you into a Friend of Dorothy.

The ad is for the unappealingly titled ManCrunch, which sounds more like an industrial accident than somewhere you might find your significant other. Although its name might be bad, that's nothing compared with the company's strapline, "Where many many many Men Come Out and Play", which reads as though it was written by Commandant Lassard with the 'caps lock' key randomly applied.

In the company's 30-second commercial, two desperately unattractive men cheer on their respective teams. Then, during a moment of tension, their hands touch in the snack bowl and they're reduced to a dry-humping heap on the couch - to the unsubtly-portrayed disgust of their other friend.

Ordinarily such a tacky ad would be lucky to air on a satellite channel in between Steven Seagal movies, but the ManCrunchers believe in big (they are gay after all). They set their sites on a slot during the Superbowl.

Promising an estimated audience of up to 90 million viewers, the Superbowl is the holy grail of ad space, with 30 seconds estimated to cost around $3 million. Slots tend to get booked months in advance, with ad agencies using the broadcast to showcase their biggest, flashiest commercials.

According to the network CBS, all the spaces had already sold out, but ManCrunch submitted its ad for consideration, in case someone dropped out. In a post-Tiger Woods world, I guess that's not as unlikely as it sounds.

What did seem unlikely though, was the idea that CBS would actually approve the ad to air during the most watched TV show of the year. Networks are notoriously nervy when it comes to man-on-man action, unless there's half a ton of body padding and a couple of helmets to separate them.

Unsurprisingly, CBS said 'no', on the grounds that the ad's "creative is not within the Network's Broadcast Standards for Super Bowl Sunday." Given that the network has no issue with airing an anti-abortion ad paid for by evangelical political group Focus on the Family, it's easy to see why some media commentators are up in arms.

Adding to the controversy, ManCrunch mouthpiece Elissa Buchter stated "If the ad showed a man and woman kissing it would have been accepted. You see ads for erectile dysfunction morning, noon and night. It's discriminatory that they wont show this..."

Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. To be quite honest, the ad could have been rejected because it's poorly acted, badly filmed and has all the production values of one of those behind-the-scenes shows that you'll find on ITV3 at four o'clock in the morning.

What's clear here, is that someone at ManCrunch knows how to bluff, and deserves a promotion for smartest PR move of the year. They were never in any doubt that CBS would reject the ad - that was the point all along. They knew that the moment there was a whiff of homophobia or broadcasting double-standards, the news would be all over it.

And since the ad has been helpfully posted on YouTube (with no embedding limitations), it can be easily seeded everywhere that runs the story. That way, they reach the audience they want, and it doesn't cost them a penny. Well, except for the bag of crisps and three borderline vagrants that feature in the ad.

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