Just Born, the company that created marshmallow Peeps candies, has removed one in a series of promotional holiday-themed e-cards in response to a single consumer complaint, The New York Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliot reported Tuesday.
Apparently taking a cue from the popular e-card site www.someecards.com, the e-cards in the “Peeps Offering” campaign -- which encourages participants to reach out “to those you have wronged this year" -- offer pseudo-apologetic messages alongside the image of a Peeps Candy Cane Flavored Dipped Marshmallow Chick in various character dress. In the offending e-card, the chick wears a yarmulke and the message reads: “I’m sorry for bringing a shiksa to your Hanukkah party.”
“Shiksa” is the Yiddish word for a non-Jewish female, and is widely considered to be a pejorative term both in and outside of the Jewish community.
In a statement to the Times, a spokesperson for Just Born explained the company's intent behind the ad campaign and their decision to remove the Hanukkah-themed e-card (the only one in the series) from the promotion. Other e-cards in the campaign include messaged such as “I'm sorry I sneezed in your eggnog,” and “I'm sorry for using mistletoe as an excuse to kiss your Mom.” Some cards include apology messages that have nothing explicitly to do with the winter holidays.
“At a time when holidays can be stressful, the Peeps e-cards were designed to offer a bit of fun and comic relief,” Matt Pryce, a vice president at Just Born, said in the statement. “We are sensitive to the concern any consumer may share and will not include this e-card” in the campaign, he continued.
Elliot's story did not provide any specifics of the initial complaint, but quoted the consumer who voiced the objection as praising Just Born (also the creator of “Mike and Ike” and “Teenie Weenie” candies, among others) for responding so swiftly to her feedback.
The Times story was picked up by Jewlicious, a Jewish community blog. The blog post's author did not indicate any serious objections to the e-card; but pointed out that “peeps naturally have a flat hooked nose," as the character in the e-card does.
“Neither the peep, Mike, Ike, nor the Shiksa are MOT,” the author joked. (MOT stands for “member of the tribe.”) “But the creators of the e-card campaign are Terri Meyer and Sandy Greenberg of Terry and Sandy Solution.”
While the Jewlicious post and several comments posted in response to Tuesday's story on the Times website suggest that many do not find the e-card particularly offensive, a close look does reveal something troubling about the subtext of the e-card's message: That it's socially and politically acceptable for Jews to discriminate against non-Jews. This assumption that can certainly be considered equally offensive to so-called 'shiksas' as well as Jews who are happy to share in holiday merriment with members of any tribe. Giving implicit permission to one ethnic, cultural or religious group to discriminate against those outside of the group is discriminatory on its face.
There is no evidence to indicate that Just Born created the "shiksa" e-card in a conscious attempt to court controversy, but its haste to pull the e-card and release a press statement after a single customer complaint suggests that Just Born may have jumped at the chance to call attention to its winter holiday rebranding -- a strategy clearly aimed at creating new consumer associations with marshmallow Peeps, which are a staple of the Easter holiday. As the campaign does not appear to have gained much traction before this week, it is easy to estimate that a story in the New York Times, which presents Just Born in a largely favorable light, is worth more than its weight in promotional marshmallows.
Elliot had previously mentioned the Peeps holiday e-card campaign in his Nov. 28 Times story about seasonal marketing and advertising strategies. While the story does not specifically mention the Hanukkah party apology message, an image of the since discontinued e-card accompanies the article. And as far as we can tell, no one made a peep about the shiksa.