Australia’s Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) recently received complaints after Kellogg’s released an TV advertisement for Sultana Bran, the Australian version of its Raisin Bran breakfast cereal. The ad features a forgetful but easily excited goldfish that some viewers found offensively stereotypical.
In the 30-second ad, a young girl asks her dad whether goldfish really have memories that only last three seconds long. The dad responds, “That’s what they say,” though science has debunked this popular misconception. The commercial then cuts to a goldfish swimming around its bowl, repeatedly amazed that at a note on the box that says the cereal has more fiber than two slices of wholemeal toast (or as Americans call it, whole wheat toast).
Here’s the ad:
While the goldfish’s voice definitely reads as “gay,” one complaint to the ASB stated:
“By utilising the camp voice and tones the advert and advertisers have perpetuated the stereotypical characteristics of gay males that have been criticised over the last decade…and contributing to the denigration of the LGBTIQ community and in particular towards gay men.”
Kellogg’s defended its ad as humorous, claiming, “The goldfish was not depicted, nor given features or movements, which were homosexual in nature. Further, the advertisement made no reference to homosexual relationships. There was no innuendo or further suggestion of anything other.” The ASB agreed with Kellogg’s, saying, “The depiction of a talking fish with no identifiable gender is not negative or demeaning to any person.”
While stereotypically “gay voices” have attributes harmfully perceived as feminine, weak or gay, there’s nothing inherently offensive about “gay-sounding” voices on their own. In fact, both gay and straight men sometimes talk in similar ways. The commercial uses the voice in an attempt at mid-grade humor, but the humor comes from the fish’s increasing levels of excitement rather than any perceived homosexuality.