Aired first on network TV during the US gymnastics championships, then reedited for the Olympics and World Series, two women are in line at a crowded immigration office, holding an Asian infant girl.
As they're waiting, they coo over the sleeping child.
"Hi baby, this is your new home," whispers one. Jokingly, the other says, "Don't tell her that, she's going to want to go back."
"Do you have her papers?" Her partner responds, "Yeah, they're in the diaper bag." They smile at the mention of such a domestic item. "The diaper bag -- can you believe this? We're a family."
The tagline then appears: "Insurance for the unexpected. Investments for the opportunities. John Hancock."
On the cutaway with only audio, one woman says to the other, "You're going to make a great mom." Her partner replies, "So are you."
This original version of the commercial is nothing short of amazing. It affirms same-sex adoptions and partnerships -- using usually disregarded lesbians -- and avoids sensationalism. The women (one of whom is open lesbian actress Jeanne Smith) and their new family are treated no differently than a heterosexual couple would be.
Unfortunately, Hancock had much turmoil over this commercial after its first appearance.
After the original version aired, the financial services firm quickly backed away from it, gutting it through edits. By cutting out the women's closing comments about being a great mom, the company created a more gay vague version -- the women might be sisters or friends. Still, that ad ran during the 2000 Olympics -- an event Hancock sponsors -- and was seen by millions of people again during the World Series.
Explaining the changes, a Hancock spokesman claimed that focus groups for the commercial were "concentrating too much" on the adults – meaning the lesbians – rather than the adopted infant. The comment appears disingenuous, since focus groups are typically conducted before a commercial airs, not afterward.
But the problems didn't end there. A Wall Street Journal
story appeared reporting fear by many international adoption agencies that Chinese authorities may become upset at the implication that they approve of same-sex couple adoptions. Hancock then edited the commercial again, this time reportedly blurring the child's face and adding an announcement in the ad that a plane from Cambodia had arrived.
Other ads in the campaign are actually quite depressing. One has a man committing his father to a nursing home and the other has a recently divorced heterosexual couple fighting.
Edited out of all the aired versions was a kiss on the cheek by the women, revealed its director Tony Kaye, who also worked on an un-aired gay British ad for Guinness beer.
"We got a boatload of support for that spot, and didn't back away from it one inch," president and creative director for the ad agency Mike Sheehan claimed to Brandweek
The magazine also reported that "Hancock execs also insist that the company was not 'running away from controversy.' " It quoted vice president of advertising and corporate communications Steve Burgay as saying, "Our advertising has always tried to honestly and respectfully depict what's going on in the world. We don't target a segment. We speak to a need, an emotion, a financial uncertainty or opportunity."
"The reaction has been great,' Burgay says. 'It has some of the best ad recall. The point of 'Immigration' is to show that no matter how a child comes into a family, it deserves financial protection.'
But Burgay was unable to address another real-life issue — the difference between males and females. According to the USA Today
Ad Track Index, men liked the ads more than women. 'I'm not sure I can reconcile the gap,' he says. 'We intend for the ads to have universal appeal. We don't design ads to go male or female. We're just trying to depict honest situations.'The poll
found 26% of respondents said they liked the ads a lot. The ads resounded most with viewers ages 30-39, who measured a 34% 'like it a lot' and 37% 'like somewhat' response. The appeal, as measured by 'like it a lot' and 'like somewhat,' trailed off with consumers older than 40.
Boston-based Hancock has toyed with a gay theme before – for the gay market. The 138-year-old company explored the idea of joining other financial services that pursued the gay dollar. In 1997, it had hired gay ad agency Mulryan/Nash Advertising (now-shuttered) to create an entire gay campaign, but two years and $500,000 later, when it was ready to launch, the agency was told the effort was torpedoed by Hancock's president, David D'Alessandro.