The Snicker’s great white commerical: Harmless humor or dangerous anti-shark stereotypes?

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).


  1. David Diley · January 21, 2011

    Spot on and I made pretty much exactly the same points to Patric when he posted it on Facebook last week. The separation of the sharks from any sense of reality makes this ad completely different to the nicorette one, in fact, it shows sharks and humans interacting in a cooperative way!

    The po faced, pious killjoy approach from individuals or organisations in the conservation world also does nothing to gain support from the man on the street either and that is the biggest battle.

    Good post.

  2. Jason R · January 21, 2011

    In a related vein, do we have to ask if the mere presence of abrasive cleaning material necessary leads to an increase in Erinaceid auto-eroticism?

    Or can we just assume it amusing? Bonus though, the abrasive cleaning material company actually teamed up with the British Erinaceid Preservation Society to make people aware of the dwindling numbers in the UK. Let’s have a call for Snickers to do something similar for sharks!

  3. Patric Douglas · January 21, 2011

    Bah! just announced 5 million online members, they are the second largest B2B trade portal on the net and they sell sharks fin, by the ton.

    There are 5-8 other sites that also trade shark fin in volumes that would swoon at, so why the fuss over a very amusing snickers commercial?

    Seriously, anyone who has an issue with this commercial needs to get over themselves and dial “back chest clutching eco swoon” that goes along with every faux save the sharks hysteria over small things like commercials.

    This commercial is benign.

    8000 tons of shark fin being traded *today* is not

  4. Richard Theiss/RTSea · January 22, 2011

    I think we can gain a bit more traction with those who don’t necessarily see what all the fuss is about regarding sharks if we can show ourselves to have a sense of humor. After all, we are never going to be able to totally dispel the notion that sharks can be dangerous because 1.) they are predators (important ones at that) and 2.) well, they have bitten people!

    Good analysis, David. The Snickers ad is a break from reality and therefore we should sit back and have a good chuckle – and then resume our efforts against those who are profiting from sharks’ destruction.

  5. Aggie · January 23, 2011

    I found this commercial to be one of the funniest things ever! People just have no sense of humor anymore, so sad.

  6. tony · January 23, 2011

    Are people really this thin skinned? No wonder this country is falling behind in everything compared to the rest of the world.

  7. William · February 14, 2011

    All sharks should go extint.

    Please review comment rules, sockpuppetry is not tolerated, ed.

  8. Tammy · February 16, 2011

    I luv this commerical!

  9. Judy Thomas · March 25, 2011

    I think this is a horrible commercial, they didn’t think about the familes out there that have lost loved ones by shark attacks i think it was verrrrrrry poor taste. they should be ashamed of themselves

  10. Steve Mahoney · April 5, 2011

    It is a valid topic for discussion.
    To those who have lost someone to one of the vary rare shark attacks, it must be a terrible feeling. My sister-in-law had a niece killed by a shark a few years back; a lovey girl that had just begun a stint in the Peace Corps in Tonga had a leg bitten off and bled to death. I am sure she finds the commercial extremely unpleasant.
    The other hand is that any topic or presentation will affect someone in a negative fashion. Humour is, and should remain, unrestricted. Satire is a great leveller politically and remove it at risk.
    I don’t have major issues with the commercial other than that the technique calls for anthropomorphic sharks. Not an improvement.

  11. Donna Burns · April 9, 2011

    I think the shark Snickers commercial is NOT funny!!!!! People usually think i have a great sense of humor….. but I certainly don’t see the funny in this!

  12. Donna · April 21, 2011

    That commercial is the funniest thing EVER! It is totally off the wall and in no way would make one think of actual shark attacks. Lighten up and laugh a little!

  13. Patsy · May 4, 2011

    I was shocked when I watched this commercial. It was so out of line and was not the least bit funny to me. I will start boycotting Snickers and the company that makes them.

  14. Joey · May 5, 2011

    This commercial is funny, period. Are we honestly worried that this is going to impact peoples’ opinions of sharks? There’s real work do be done, and this shouldn’t even register as an issue.

    Also, the argument that it might be insensitive to anyone who has lost someone to a shark encounter loses some steam considering all the car, alcohol, and fast food commercials aired every day. Pretty sure people have died from them as well.

  15. Morgan · June 30, 2011

    I am totally angered with this commercial. Not only is insensitive to victims of shark attacks but it is offensive. The first time I saw it, I couldn’t believe. I literally couldn’t believe Snickers could get away with something so distasteful, disgusting, and disrespectful. The logic that shark-attack victims are such a small margin of the population is no excuse. If I were the parent of a shark attack victim, I would be utterly appalled and boycott not only Snickers but Mars. Incorporated aswell. Seeing that I, myself, am outraged and have not been personally affected by a shark incident, I’m sure Snickers has received backlash for this commercial so why is it still running?

  16. Paragogos · July 6, 2011

    It’s unecessary to be offensive to even the few that have lost loved ones to shark attacks just to make a buck. It’s shallow, insensitive and down right inapropriate. I am going to boycott Mars and Promote HERSHEY.

  17. Joseph Yoder · September 22, 2011

    I find the commercial funny. As for all of you who find it offensive, how many of you drink alcohol. Do you protest the use of humor involving intoxication which we find everyday in sitcoms and elsewhere? What about the families of victims who were murdered by drunk drivers? Do you stand up against intoxication humor or do you still drink?

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