Last year, I was extremely critical of a Nicorette commercial that featured a man so distracted by thoughts of cigarettes that he didn’t realize a shark was chewing on his arm. This led to a spirited discussion about where sharks fit in to our popular culture, and resulted in more than a few people calling me overly sensitive. One person called me a member of the “apocalyptic legion of killjoys who battle against fun and innocent symbolism all over the world” (one of my standard comebacks is “I’ve been called worse” but I’m not sure if that’s true in this case).
Snickers recently unveiled a new commercial featuring sharks:
In it, several sharks in a focus group are asked which person was more delicious, and it is revealed that the person who ate Snicker’s new peanut butter squares tasted better. The Dorsal Fin stated that it “will probably rub some shark conservationists the wrong way, as it does little to dispel the myth that humans are preferred food source for sharks”. AdFreak claimed that “It might not go over well with shark lovers or shark-attack victims, but thankfully, both of those demos are small.” The opinion of your friendly neighborhood killjoy might surprise you. While I’d certainly prefer if more people tried to educate people about sharks instead of talking about shark attacks, this ad is, in the words of Patric Douglas , “not your average Nicorette ad”. Several things make the new Snickers ad vastly different from it’s Nicorette counterpart.
1) The Snickers sharks are in a preposterous situation (speaking English while sitting in a chair) that no real shark could ever possibly be in. This creates a clear separation between these sharks and sharks in the real world. I cannot imagine anyone becoming afraid of going in the water as a result of this commercial. The Nicorette commercial, in contrast, showed a realistic-looking shark adjacent to the ocean. Seeing an image of a realistic shark adjacent to the ocean chewing on someone’s leg is more likely to inspire fear than seeing a talking shark in a conference room.
2) In the Snickers commercial, the sharks are sampling different people because they were asked to by a human (the Snickers focus group leader). These animals are not mindless monsters who bite a person just for being near the water as in the Nicorette commercial.
3) The Snickers commercial is really about sharks preferring (if indirectly) the taste of Snickers new candy over their competitors’ product. Nicorette’s point was that taking their product makes you more able to focus on the world, including any sharks that may be trying to eat you. Snickers’ point is that our product tastes good.
4) No shark-on-human violence is actually shown in the Snickers ad. It is only alluded to.
5) The Snickers ad is actually funny and comes from a company known for having funny ads (a la “Great Googly Moogly” and “Betty White“). Knowing that it’s supposed to be funny makes a difference in how it is interpreted. A product like Nicorette that helps break a dangerous addiction is not really associated with humor, and the tone of the ad in question is more sad than funny (the man is craving a cigarette so much that he isn’t aware of his surroundings).