The Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) says a radio advert for Volkswagen South Africa (VWSA) is an example of “everyday homophobia” and is discriminatory.
The commercial promotes the use of the carmaker’s genuine parts. It consists of a voiceover that states:
“It’s 1 am and you’re stuck somewhere in the Karoo. You don’t have food and it’s cold. But you do have your colleague Andile. And you remember that whole body warmth tip. So, who’s the little spoon? Andile’s 6”2, and you, Themba, half the size. Snuggle up! It’s going to be a long night. Next time, use Volkswagen Genuine Parts with a two-year warranty so you won’t end up in parts unknown, playing the part of the little spoon.”
In a complaint to the regulator, Joy Sixholo said the advert has “homophobic undertones and promotes toxic masculinity”.
Sixholo argued that “there is nothing wrong with two men cuddling, yet the advert suggests there is,” and noted that “they could have used many other scenarios to describe the inconvenience and incompatibility without using two men snuggling – In fact, snuggling is a normal, healthy act in homosexual relationships.”
Sixholo went on to say: “Adverts such as these, that have the potential to perpetuate stereotypes against vulnerable groups should not be tolerated, especially in the violent society we live in.”
Volkswagen defended the commercial and denied that it “portrays a homophobic undertone, was offensive, or was discriminatory” and insisted that it was simply an example of “hyperbole”.
The company asserted that the advert was meant to “amuse the listeners” and that they would not take it literally. It further claimed that any perceived violation stemmed from the complainant’s interpretation.
“The prospect of cuddling a colleague is a humorous situation, considering people prefer personal space over anything else, especially between professionals in a post-Covid environment,” said VWSA.
The company added that its “brand supports all forms of inclusivity and diversity through its communication”.
This subtle negativity around male-on-male affection or proximity has elements of both homophobia and toxic masculinity.”
The ARB was not convinced by VWSA’s arguments and commented in its 27 March ruling that it takes issues of homophobia and toxic masculinity seriously.
“At first glance, the commercial seems lightly amusing. The advertiser has tried to find an amusing scenario that could result from your car breaking down. However, of the hundreds of options available, they have chosen one in which the negative outcome is for a man to be snuggled by a co-worker,” noted the regulator.
The ARB pointed out that “the ‘ick’ factor that the advertisement is attempting to establish is not achieved through the suggestion of bodily proximity to a colleague alone (even in a post-Covid world), as the advertiser argues. There is no mention of fear of Andile’s germs, for example. It is being the little spoon with Andile that is the fear.”
It said that the discomfort in the depiction “goes beyond just body space, and employs some kind of sexual dynamic”.
The ARB found that the advert smacks of “locker-room humour” that sees snuggling between men as something unpleasant that should be avoided.
“This subtle negativity around male-on-male affection or proximity has elements of both homophobia and toxic masculinity,” said the regulator.
“The argument by the advertiser that this scenario is ‘to amuse the listeners’ in fact further entrenches that these tropes are such strong examples of everyday homophobia that they are often overlooked or seen as justified.”
The ARB ruled that the commercial is “offensive against sectoral values or sensitivities”, and “contains descriptions that are discriminatory”.
It instructed VWSA not to air the commercial in its current format in the future.