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Advertising comes out of the closet, into mainstream with gay themes

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

NEW YORK — A recent TV commercial features a good-looking young woman on a beach vacation lounging next to a good-looking young man. He bemoans the glare on his iPad and she fills him in on the Kindle Paperwhite’s sun-friendly screen.

He clicks to buy one himself and suggests they celebrate with a drink.

“My husband’s bringing me a drink right now,” chirps she.

“So is mine,” smiles he as they turn and wave at their male loved ones sitting together at a tiki bar.


Welcome to the latest in gay imagery in mainstream advertising, where LGBT people have been waiting for a larger helping of fairness, or at least something other than punchlines and cliches.

While there are still plenty of those, something has happened in advertising over the last two or three years, nearly two decades after Ikea broke ground in the U.S. with a TV spot featuring a gay couple shopping for a dining room table – a spot that ran only once in New York and Washington, D.C., and was pulled after bomb threats to Ikea stores.

Today, gay and lesbian parents and their kids are featured – along with pitchwoman Ellen DeGeneres – in J.C. Penney ads. Same-sex couples have their own, advertised wedding registries at Macy’s and elsewhere and President Barack Obama offered his seal of approval by evolving into a supporter of gay marriage.

Crate & Barrel

Two happy young men sit together eating at a dining table, with wine and romantic candlelight, in a section of a Crate & Barrel catalog marked “Us & Always.” And we made it through a Super Bowl without any gay jokes at commercial breaks – like the Snickers ad of several years ago featuring two men freaking out after kissing by accident while eating one of the candy bars.

Traditionally lagging behind TV and film content in terms of LGBT inclusion, advertisers in this country are facing considerably less trouble than they used to when taking on gay themes, observers said. Penney’s rebuffed critics and launched a lesbian-focused catalog ad for Mother’s Day that the company followed with a two-dads family – a real family – for Father’s Day.

DeGeneres, who married Portia de Rossi in 2008, continues as a CoverGirl in magazines. Also recently? A lesbian couple was treated to fireworks in a commercial – real ones flash on screen – for K-Y Intense, a personal lubricant that makes their moment or two more memorable. They’re shown spent and satisfied in bed, hair tussled. “Good purchase,” one says to the other.

Though Crate & Barrel declined comment for this story and Amazon didn’t respond to email requests for the same about the Kindle ad, LGBT-focused marketers and monitors think the Mad Men and Women of today’s Madison Avenue and the companies that employ them might finally be getting it. Now, they hope, a greater degree of diversity in skin tone and ethnicity will follow.

“They’re no longer just targeting gay and lesbian people. They’re targeting people like my mom, who want to know that a company embraces and accepts their gay and lesbian family members, friends and neighbors,” said Rich Ferraro, a spokesman for the media watchdog group the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

Others, too, are celebrating the newfound bump in ad visibility, a mirror of cultural gains overall. It’s a boost that comes as the U.S. Supreme Court takes up oral arguments later this month in key challenges that could lead to further recognition of same-sex marriage and spousal benefits.

Bob Witeck, who consults for Fortune 100 companies on LGBT marketing and communications strategies, put the buying power of U.S. lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults at $790 billion last year. He estimated, roughly, the U.S. LGBT adult population at 16 million, though others say their ranks could be as many as 25 million.

There’s no demographic evidence or social science that points to the LGBT segment as notably higher earning or wealthier than anybody else, though they’re often louder in protesting offensive ad messaging and loyal to brands and companies that support them.

“Things have changed significantly in terms of risk and reward,” Witeck said. “Businesses don’t view this as a risk model any longer.”

Particularly, he said, when it comes to portraying marriage.

“Marriage, at one time, was the third rail,” Witeck said. “That terrified companies. Most of this happened when the president said he supported marriage equality.”

A consumer lust for “truth-telling” isn’t lost on major advertisers, including those that once restricted themselves to trotting out gay-friendly fodder as one-offs when Pride Month and its multicolored flag flies freely each June. One recent pride standout in advertising, restricted to digital markets, is an Oreo cookie with a mountain of multicolored filling.

The company fielded queries from consumers who thought it was available for purchase in stores. It wasn’t.

American Airlines

American Airlines, in 2010, ran outdoor advertising at bus stops and subway stations in New York showing two men on a beach with the slogan: “Here’s to his and his beach towels.Proud to support the community that supports us.”

Generally, Witeck said, putting a human face on gay couples and families in advertising is where much of the effort lands today.

“For the gay consumer and their families and friends, and lots and lots and lots of Americans, they expect to see those couples appear everywhere, but they don’t want them trotted out with a pride flag,” Witeck said. “Amazon didn’t ballyhoo the message. They just landed it.”

Mark Elderkin, CEO of the Gay Ad Network, which focuses on the LGBT niche market, said mainstream gay messaging has “passed the tipping point, where there’s more to gain than there is to lose” for advertisers.

While there are groups of “vocal antagonists,” he said more advertisers bolstered by broader media exposure for gay characters and storylines in non-ad content – “The New Normal,” “Modern Family,” “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” CNN’s out-of-the-closet anchor Anderson Cooper – have explored non-traditional families and included LGBT imagery in “normal” settings.

“It seems to be moving quickly forward. It’s companies that want to be more on the leading edge, more for the next generation of this country,” Elderkin said. “It’s not your parents’ brand anymore. It’s your brand and your kids’ brand.”

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29 more reader comments:

  1. When i first saw this commercial i was all “gaaaaaaaaay!” haha. But i liked it.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:21pm
  2. Yayyyy!!!!

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:22pm
  3. Why not?

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:23pm
  4. I loved it the first time I saw it. It had a nice twist ending that was, honestly nice to see for once. It didn’t play it up or anything. It just was part of the world. Both couples just reacted to each other as if they were normal people. It was nice.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:24pm
  5. I love it! Gays have money too.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:24pm
  6. Oh good. :p Wouldn’t want corporate America to miss out on this market. I don’t consider being brainwashed by corporations to be a plus. I would rather see the gay community try less to assimilate into the mainstream and instead work toward creating a new society, one that is not based on the exploitation and oppression of *anyone,* regardless of species, race, religion, nationality, gender identity/expression, or income. Because you know all that shit made in China at Crate and Barrel is not made by happy, well-paid, skilled artisans, and that shit that DeGeneres peddles is violently tested on nonhuman animals. Yay. I’m so. Thrilled.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:25pm
  7. just was this while watching Modern Family. <3'd it!

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:26pm
  8. the corporate geniuses and states and governments seem to forget that gays and lesbians have jobs too and we buy their products and services so its about time they started to acknowledge us in their adverts… our money is as good as the heterosexuals money

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:30pm
  9. Yep it’s the 21st century. Are black people in commercials? Yes. Are Hispanic people in commercials? Yes. Are females in commercials? Yes. You get what I’m getting to. So why aren’t gay people in commercials?? We need to be recognised that hey “we’re queer and we are here!”

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:30pm
  10. LOVED this when i saw it!!!

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:34pm
  11. It is quite funny how all the religious leaders and churchess and red necks homophobics think We do this as a life choice!! I never realised there were over 25 million Gay people in the States What about Canada?? we still have a long way to go….

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:34pm
  12. Another step in the right direction

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:36pm
  13. DINKS-Double Income No Kids.! Poiifect to exploit!

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:38pm
  14. just saw it during Modern Family….

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:39pm
  15. OK America, feel good being inclusive and then please do actually legally include us in SSI benefits when our spouses die. If you could also alter the US tax codes to fully recognize us, it would be most helpful. And lastly maybe some compensation for our brothers and sisters with AIDs whom although they do now receive disability, have had a hard fought battle against many institutions in our time of need. Some of us have not forgotten in the current joyous celebratory and inclusive national mood.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:44pm
  16. I remember the first black people on TV and the uproar over that and how long it took for it to become normal. Thank God today everyone is represented. Why are humans so prejudice?

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:46pm
  17. Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 8:18pm
  18. Just saw this tonight and loved it

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 8:36pm
  19. The fact that we can still recognize racial equality or inequality in advertisements says we still have a long way to go before even racial equality is considered normal.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 8:37pm
  20. OMG, gay themes!!!!! …Still don’t want it…

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 9:03pm
  21. It, being whatever they’re advertising, :P

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 9:05pm
  22. I went hysterical when he said so is mine. Thank you amazon.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 9:12pm

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 9:24pm
  24. Thank you, Amazon.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 9:25pm
  25. saw it the other cute!

    Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 10:41pm
  26. i always fast forward commercials but i read this commercial had a gay twist, so i watched it. i look forward to more LGBT mainstream commercials in the future.

    Posted on Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 6:10am
  27. I love this commercial…if I hadn’t already gone Nook, I would be a Kindle owner now….

    Posted on Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 7:09am
  28. Love this commercial

    Posted on Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 9:05am
  29. It’s about time! Anyone else notice that the Starbucks ad with the lesbian in it has been replaced by one with a (I assume) straight man in it? Disappointing.

    Posted on Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 11:58am