Don’t Spar with the Sponge

January 20, 2005 by

SpongeBob SquarePantsEarlier this week, Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, launched a diatribe at SpongeBob SquarePants. The lovable sponge, along with a cast of other children’s characters, appeared in a video remake of the disco hit “We Are Family,” which Dobson alleges is trying to insidiously promote gay tolerance. The video’s creators say it’s meant to carry a message of multi-culturalism and racial tolerance and does not have anything to do with sexual proclivity.

I’m not going to get into the political, social or moral debate at all, because that doesn’t have anything to do with marketing. What I am going to tell you–and this isn’t a suggestion, but a straight up marketing imperative–is don’t ever, ever, ever get in a fight with a fictional characacter. I don’t care if it’s the protagonist in a classic novel, a lead figure in a play, a cartoon animal, a comedic role in a modern sitcom or the animated spokes-thing for a major brand of pet-food. It’s a lose-lose-lose proposition for you from a PR standpoint. Why? Four main reasons.

1. You look foolish.
You’re arguing about (and potentially with) something that doesn’t exist. That’s bad enough in the business and political world, but even worse in the world of faith. If you think that a particular type of entertainment or show is problematic, say so simply and back it up scripturally. You don’t need to poke fun or villify the authors or creators of the work. All that will do is turn their fans into enemies. And fans of creative work are some of the worst enemies you can have from a PR perspective.

2. You’re on their turf.
Created characters actually live in the world of information. That’s all they are–content. You have to eat, sleep, walk the dog, sit in traffic, etc. You have friends whose opinions matter to you. You have family. They do not. They are not real. They can defy the laws of space and time. Dead presidents can speak on their behalf. They can appear on 20 different shows at the same time. It’s like trying to outswim Flipper. Bad idea.

3. Reason isn’t reasonable.
The fans of fictional characters love them because they aren’t real. Serious, rational arguments about their “faults” don’t count.

4. They bite.
It’s one thing to get taken down a peg by a real-life antagonist; someone with an argument better than yours or a competing organization that simply does a better job at what you’re trying to do. It’s another thing entirely for a fictional character to take you out back and spank you like a redheadded stepchild. Murphy Brown did it to Dan Quayle. Not pretty.

Again… if you have a problem with the message being delivered by a character, show, medium or cultural sector, you should not hesitate from speaking. But to single out one particular character for public chastisement, ridicule or attention is asking for trouble from a marketing and PR stance.

Post By:

Andy Havens

Andy Havens brings 15 years of experience to the table and is the founder and president of the marketing firm Sanestorm, as well as a number of different blogs. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, with his wife, Christina, and his son, Daniel.
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9 Responses to “Don’t Spar with the Sponge”

  • willzhead
    January 20, 2005

    Dobson vs. Spongebob

    In case you have missed the SpongeBob / Dobson controversy, Church Marketing Sucks does a great overview on why it was such a bad idea for this particular political activist to pick on a cartoon character. See: Don’t Spar with

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  • radioreb
    January 20, 2005

    After Quayle v Brown, who would ever go after the Sponge?

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  • b2blog
    January 21, 2005

    Here’s a good shouting match on the subject of this video with 477 comments posted.
    Seems people can’t agree with what ‘respect people regardless of …sexual orientation’ means. Scary stuff that wants me to be #478 to comment, if I thought they would listen.
    Interesting, too is that the ‘report’ that leads this discussion has a comment that they had linked to the wrong ‘We are Family’ site (apparently the pro-gay one), yet all these people continue to look for issues with a lot tamer group.

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  • Bene Diction Blogs On
    January 22, 2005

    No, not Bob the Builder too!

    An agenda of fear – code words – conspiracy. Tolerance – diversity – They are the words in a war. The American Family Foundation says that the following characters are being used. The nation

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    January 24, 2005

    Before Spongebog, there was Bugs

    Last week, there was a lot in the news about Jim Dobson’s commnets on Spongebob Squarepants. I had to laugh…

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  • SpongeBob SquarePants Fuels Ideological Debate

    by Colleen Berry, Editor-at-Large Regardless of your opinion about the SpongeBob SquarePants cartoon, chances are you probably have an opinion about either the current controversy involving the character, his music video debut, or Dr. James Dobson. How…

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  • Agape - Muncie Indiana
    February 9, 2005

    The Spongebob Uproar

    Today’s interesting read is on the Spongebob gay thing.
    Saint Kansas: Much Sponge and Fury, Signifying Nothing
    Church Marketing: Don’t Spar with the Sponge
    Dawn Eden: Pick to Click

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  • Cowboy
    February 8, 2006

    So I guess that means ol’ Jimbo won’t
    be appearing on “Queer Eye For The
    Straight Guy” any time soon.

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  • Joann
    March 26, 2008

    I’ve been a Christian for almost 6 years now (since April 21, 2002), and despite everything that I am taught in church to believe, the one thing I will NEVER give up for ANY reason are my favorite cartoon characters/TV shows, activities, and secular entertainment just because another Christian decided to come along and tell me that I should part from these because they are “worldly,” a bad influence on my spiritual growth, and not of God. Come on! Just because I’m a Christian and need to stay focused on God, it doesn’t mean that I should have to give up on everything I like to do and live a rigid, unhappy, miserable life of self-sacrifice and denial. Life is too short for that, plus none of us are perfect, anyway. We are all sinners, and we all fall short of God’s glory. Why would God love us just the way we are and not let us become something we’re not, then turn around and punish us for “not being like everybody else?” And why would He delight in our pleasures, then turn around and punish us for trying to enjoy ourselves? I mean, am I going to lose my faith because I enjoy listening to Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks? No! Am I going to become negatively influenced by Harry Potter because of the magic and witchcraft that are portrayed in these fictional stories? No! Am I going to Hell because I enjoy fictional cartoon characters and other forms of secular entertainment? No! So, why take these and other so-called “worldly” things away from me just because people like Dr. James Dobson doesn’t like it and believes that, because some individuals abuse what they enjoy or whatever, we must forbid everyone from enjoying ALL secular activities and entertainment? Have any of these Christian leaders ever heard of the term “having a discerning heart and mind?” How can we discern for ourselves what is right and wrong if we are not allowed to make that judgment call on our own? Why let someone else do the thinking for us? I mean, what happened to the true concept of having a free will?

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