Was Snoopy fired by MetLife for being too white?
After more than 30 years of using Snoopy as its mascot, the insurer MetLife is parting ways with the famous beagle from Peanuts.
The "Peanuts" character, one of the most recognizable figures in American pop culture, is being retired after more than 30 years of appearing in print ads, TV commercials, marketing materials and on the sides of MetLife's blimps at sports events.
The global chief marketing officer for MetLife, Esther Lee, announced the change on Thursday, saying that Snoopy was adopted as a symbol in 1985 to make the company seem "more friendly and approachable during a time when insurance companies were seen as cold and distant."
"We have great respect for these iconic characters," Ms. Lee said in the announcement. "However, as we focus on our future, it's important that we associate our brand directly with the work we do and the partnership we have with our customers."
The broader MetLife palette was expanded to include a range of vibrant secondary colors, reflecting "the diverse lives of its customers," a company statement said.
The palette was expanded to reflect the "diverse lives" of the customers. Does that mean that Snoopy was fired for being white?
Have a look at MetLife's recent marketing campaign for some elaboration:
The centerpiece of the campaign is a pair of video clips presenting people, in on-the-street interviews, describing who they "live for." The people who appear in the clips are from a variety of races, ethnicities and sexual orientations, forming what a New York City mayor once described as a gorgeous mosaic. The vignettes include a young Hispanic man who talks about his boyfriend, an interracial couple, men who could be single parents and a lesbian couple[.] ... [I]n one short clip, the young Hispanic man says of his boyfriend, "He's even helped me come out of the closet."
This does make it seem more likely that Snoopy was fired for being a white, heterosexual beagle. If you think about the Peanuts comic strip and cartoons, most of the characters were white. There was only one black child, there were no Hispanic children, everyone spoke English (except adults), there were no lesbians or even kids transitioning to other genders (unless one counts Marcie). Peanuts hardly represented the kind of "box-checking" MetLife seems to be doing now.
Questions for discussion:
1) If Snoopy was fired for being too white, do you think a more diverse cartoon character like Goofy might be more appealing to MetLife?
2) Do spokesmen need to be of the same race to appeal to customers? For Caucasian readers, would you be more likely to buy pancakes if Aunt Jemima were white? Would you buy more rice if Uncle Ben were black and the rice were white, or if Uncle Ben were white and the rice were brown?
Ed Straker is the senior writer at NewsMachete.com.