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No coming-out party for Super Bowl

As predicted here, a row over the Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad for the Christian advocacy group Focus on the Family blew up last week, with the National Organization for Women, among others, calling on CBS not to air the commercial, and right-to-lifers rallying on Facebook in support.

Insert strident churchy brouhaha here.

But the story at the crossroads of advertising and sexuality that got my attention last week was CBS’ decision not to air a Super Bowl ad for gay dating service ManCrunch.com. In doing so, CBS appeared to be choosing sides in the social values scrimmage, since Focus on the Family’s leader, the Rev. James Dobson, is well known as an All-Pro gay hater.

“It’s one thing for CBS to say they are not going to have any issue advertising on the Super Bowl,” Mancrunch.com spokeswoman Elissa Buchter said. “But when they accept issue advertising on one side of the social agenda [the Tebow ad] while rejecting others, it looks like a double standard.”

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Right up front, you’d have to suspect that the Mancrunch.com bid is a hoax, designed to generate free publicity. For a company to come out of nowhere -- Buchter says the site has been in operation only since January -- and to expect to waltz into the Super Bowl lineup with its cheeky ad for a gay dating service seems pretty naive. I mean, how mangled does your cultural antenna have to be to think such an ad will fly?

But in a way, it almost doesn’t matter whether the Mancrunch.com effort is genuine, since the issues its ad raises are. Maybe this is just one of those hypotheticals in marketing textbooks, but a good one.

Buchter said the Toronto-based service primarily caters to gay-curious men, which is to say, straight-identifying men who might be seeking their first homosexual encounter.

This led the company right to the Super Bowl, which represents not only the largest TV audience of the year but also a predominantly male one. “If we were aiming at established gays, there are certainly more targeted means of advertising,” said Buchter, including the Bravo and Logo cable TV channels. “But since we’re looking at men who are in search of a safe first gay encounter, we wanted to cast the net as wide as possible.

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“I don’t think we’ve really established who gay-secretive men are or what they watch,” she continued. “As a demographic, they are not well understood. That makes this a unique marketing challenge.”

Regardless of how it plays out, Mancrunch.com has gotten a huge, Flubber-like publicity bounce from having its Super Bowl ad shot down. As of Sunday, Mancrunch.com was mentioned in more than 2,000 Google news search results, which is a fair marketing return on zero investment. Last year, ads from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the adultery-themed hetero dating service AshleyMadison.com were nixed, resulting in a tidy publicity windfall for them.

But the company that plays the banned-in-Boston game best is the Internet domain service GoDaddy.com, which has ritualized the process by each year making ridiculous T&A epics and then issuing news releases howling in mock outrage when the network declines to air them. Then the ads blow up online.

Mission accomplished.

Martin Franks, executive vice president of planning, policy and government affairs at CBS, told Reuters: “A whole cottage industry has grown up out of trying to make use of network turndowns. . . . They’ve found a loophole in an otherwise well-intentioned process.”

This year’s banned GoDaddy.com spot is a little different. Titled “Lola,” it portrays an outrageous queenie character, depicted as a retired professional football player, who markets his own sexy lingerie company using GoDaddy.com. Although there’s plenty of female flesh in the ad, it’s certainly not as risque as your average Victoria’s Secret ad. That leaves the possibility that CBS found the mincing gay stereotype offensive. Whether it’s offensive to gays or straights, or both, isn’t clear.

Typically, CBS declines to elaborate on its reasons for refusing this or that ad, issuing only boilerplate to the effect that an ad is “not within the broadcast standards for Super Bowl Sunday.”

There’s another intriguing possibility that links “Lola” to the Mancrunch.com ad. The subtext in both is that football itself is, well, kind of gay.

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I realize that what I’m about to say may ruin my chances of getting into Canton. But American football strikes me as a pretty homoerotic spectacle, beginning with the hypertrophic masculinity of the male form in tight pants and huge shoulder pads and ending with the most undignified gesture in all of sports, the hands-between-the-cheeks snap of the ball. Hike, indeed.

The pats on the fanny, the showering together, the endlessly rolling around in the dirt. All things considered, I think figure skating is more butch.

This is not exactly a novel observation, of course. (Remember the gay gridiron-hero-turned-bodyguard character played by Alex Karras in “Victor Victoria.”) And if I were one of football’s guardians, I might be a little touchy about it. Perhaps that is at the root of the ads’ dismissal.

The Mancrunch.com ad portrays two guys watching a football game -- wearing jerseys for the Vikings and the Packers (oh my!) -- who, in their exuberance, happen to touch each other’s hands while reaching for the potato chips. They look up, a moment of recognition passes between them, and then they start making out furiously on the couch. (Creatively, the ad comes dangerously close to plagiarizing a “Mad TV” comedy sketch from a few years ago.) The camera pulls out to reveal a friend watching them in gape-mouthed astonishment. His take to the camera is priceless.

The most subversive part of the Mancrunch.com ad is not its open acknowledgment of gay life, or even its portrayal of two guys kissing -- and kissing for comic effect, much like the Snickers Super Bowl ad of two years ago that caused a flap. No, the ad’s real transgression is to imply that football-loving straight men, the sort who high-five after touchdowns, might under the right circumstances act out sexually with another man.

You have to wonder what sort of marvelously awkward silences on Super Sunday the ad might have provoked before the tension was broken.

“Want another beer?” “Yeah, dog . . .” (while thinking, as his friend walks to the fridge, “That Jimmy, he’s sure got a nice butt. . . .”).

These ads are definitely not brought to you by the NFL.

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dan.neil@latimes.com


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