'Uncomfortable imagery'? Times Square ad depicting US soldier embracing Muslim woman rejected

'Uncomfortable imagery'? Times Square ad depicting US soldier embracing Muslim woman rejected
A billboard depicting a US soldier with his arm around a Muslim woman wearing a niqab has been denied a place in New York City’s Times Square because of a fear the picture would be too polarizing.

The advertisement was developed for an anti-snoring mouth spray from a company called SnoreStop. Along with the picture in question, the billboard also features the Twitter hashtag #BeTogether and a tagline reading “SnoreStop: keeping you together.” 

The California-based pharmaceutical company has also used the tongue-in-cheek motto: “If we can keep this couple together, we can keep anyone together.”

After a flurry of media attention earlier this month, Californians driving along Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles have already grown accustomed to the sight of a US soldier embracing a Muslim woman, who is also wearing a wedding ring. 

The image has been met with positive reviews in trade publications, with AdWeek covering the story almost immediately and company spokeswoman Melody Devemark denying that the billboard was meant to be anything but a joke. 

SnoreStop is a product for couples, and we want to show couples that you normally don’t see in advertising,” she told CBS Los Angeles. “People feel that we are trying to misuse the image of military servicemen. I think they don’t understand that there are couples like that that do exist. It’s just that you’re not used to seeing them.” 

It is also expected to be posted soon in Chicago, Illinois, but SnoreStop said that any goodwill was not evident during a recent conversation with Clear Channel communications, which denied SnoreStop’s bid for the Times Square ad. 

They flat out rejected it,” Darren Shuster, a spokesman for the public relations firm representing SnoreStop, told DNAinfo.com, a New York news site, on Friday. SnoreStop acknowledged that “an American military figure and a Muslim woman holding each other is bound to raise eyebrows.”  

Clear Channel is among the owners of the high-priced ad space in Times Square, but company representatives refused to comment on the matter.

There is no nudity or bigotry or hostility in our #BeTogether campaign,” said SnoreStop chief branding officer Christian de Rivel. “In fact, we are specifically and aggressively promoting diversity, equality and harmony.” 

Executives said Clear Channel rejected the idea “because of its ‘sensitive nature’ and ‘uncomfortable imagery.’” 

In fact, according to Fox 5 in San Diego, the ad was inspired by actual veteran Jamie Sutton and his Muslim wife, Aleah. While they are not the pair depicted in the image, SnoreStop officials maintained that they too are an actual couple. 

I did this because I am no stranger to other people’s discrimination,” Paul Evans, the US soldier on the billboard, wrote on Facebook. “Anyone should be with who they want to be with, that’s really what it’s all about.” 

PR spokesman Schuster acknowledged that the controversy is generating welcome media attention, yet SnoreStop is still hoping to launch ad campaigns in Houston, Salt Lake City, San Diego, and elsewhere. 

They’re trying, but not [getting] a lot of callbacks,” he told DNAinfo. “We’re getting some PR from this, but we really want to put this in Times Square, put it on the global stage there. Los Angeles is great, but there’s nothing like New York City.”