On the back cover of Sports Illustrated’s 2018 Swimsuit edition, you’ll find a mock ad for swimwear that perhaps leaves more to the imagination than most.
Entitled “Goddesses of Asbestos Removal,” the ad features a model wearing a hot pink bikini atop a white asbestos abatement suit. The model’s face is almost totally covered by a respirator mask. Believe it or not, the ad is for Snickers candy bars (a Mars product). It’s the latest installment in the Snickers’ “You’re not you when you’re hungry” campaign, apparently depicting what hunger looks in the form of bad brainstorming.
New York agency BBDO Worldwide, the agency behind the concept, claims that the idea was to poke fun of magazine editors who sometimes have terrible ideas (when they’re hungry). In reality, however, the ad dared to ridicule something much deeper and much more serious. Any consumer, not to mention people who have been directly affected by asbestos, would find the merits of a humorous twist on a very serious public health concern questionable at best.
ADAO: ‘Asbestos Is No Joke’
Bianca Guimarães, BBDO’s Associate Creative Director, explains the theme on her website, where she posted both halves of the double-paged ad. On the inside back page, a wall covered in “bad” brainstorm ideas of Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue themes ranging from “Retention Pond Blondes” to “Active Volcano Vixens” surround the chosen “Goddesses,” on which a sticky note concurs a resounding “YES!!!”
The ad’s tagline, “This is what happens when hungry people brainstorm swimsuit issue themes,” comes with other spoof promos: “These hot newcomers bared it all (Inside polypropylene hazmat suits)” and “From respirators to disposable coveralls: This year’s sexiest safety equipment.”
What the ad doesn’t mention is this safety equipment’s vital role in protecting people (especially abatement workers) from asbestos, which kills an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 Americans each year, and some 107,000 people worldwide.
“This ad doesn’t make me hungry for Snickers or smile,” said Linda Reinstein, president and CEO of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) whose husband died from exposure to asbestos, in a tweet she featured within an article. “Most people don’t know that asbestos is still legal and lethal in the USA, yet imports and use continue.”
Filmmakers: ‘Asbestos Is a Joke’
The makers of the upcoming documentary “Dirty Laundry” take a different approach from Reinstein’s message.
Connor B. Lewis and Bryan Lemon created a film of their journey across the U.S., traveling by bicycle to conduct interviews and research on asbestos exposure. Connor and Bryan are cousins; their own grandmother died suddenly from asbestos-caused mesothelioma.
“Asbestos is a joke – and that’s why we made a movie,” the pair wrote on their own social media pages in response to the ad. “Culturally it’s a joke, BUT it’s also a joke that asbestos is STILL a problem in the United States. Let’s get some new material.”
Lewis explained that he advocates for an open dialog about asbestos, which helps put it under the public eye. However, what he and other anti-asbestos advocates want the public to know is the truth.
No End to the Parody on Poison Yet
Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the West that has yet to ban asbestos, though its dangers were publicly acknowledged decades ago. The once-called “miracle mineral,” studies found, is lethal when inhaled: A single asbestos fiber can lead to untimely death from diseases like mesothelioma, a cancer caused exclusively by asbestos.
Many Americans believe the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned asbestos in the 1970s, though the ban was only partial. Until the EPA moves forward with banning all uses, and while the chlor-alkali industry continues to import hundreds of metric tons of asbestos into the U.S., every American remains at risk of exposure.
Rather than leave the public in ignorance of this risk, filmmakers and organizations like ADAO work hard to raise awareness of asbestos exposure and its fatal consequences – only for popular culture to make light of them. Marvel’s Asbestos Lady and Asbestos Man comic might have been more acceptable during an age when asbestos dangers were less documented, but in today’s climate, it is not.
Neither Guimarães nor BBDO has offered comments on the ad’s backlash. Snickers’ future stunts, after 4 consecutive years on Swimsuit’s back cover, also remain to be seen. But Reinstein, likely speaking for other potential customers, says she has no interest in buying a Snickers bar. Rather, she is “hungry for a ban on asbestos. And a candy bar won’t satisfy me, or thousands of other asbestos victims and their families.”