To view the commercials referenced below, visit
Advertising seeks to sell, not offend. Over the years, hundreds of commercials
have referred to GLBT people, yet companies rarely consider what messages
they send. While it may seem difficult today not to upset someone, few
groups are ridiculed as often and openly as gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgender (GLBT) people. Today, "diversity" and "multicultural"
mean more than just ethnicity and gender -- they include "sexual
orientation" and "gender expression." But corporations
have not adapted to keep general marketing communications in line with
rapidly changing social attitudes of Consumers, Businesses, Investors
-The general population and media are increasingly
aware of diversity and uncomfortable with messages lacking sensitivity.
Over 90% of Americans know someone gay, and 42% of heterosexuals would
be less likely to buy a product advertised on an anti-gay program. Viacom/MTV
will launch a 24-hour gay channel in 2005, primetime TV has featured up
to 30 gay characters, the Supreme Court confirmed gay protections, and
same-sex marriage is law in Massachusetts, Canada and overseas.
-Big business increasingly protects its
gay employees from discrimination (80% of Fortune 500), offers equal benefits
(25% of Fortune 500), and explores gay marketing (33% of Fortune 100).
-Friends, family, and colleagues of GLBT people are vocal and sensitive
to diversity issues.
-GLBT people represent 4%-10% of the population
(8.4 million to 21 million American adults), and belong to every family
and work for every company. Such individuals vary in color, age, religion,
national origin, gender expression, ability, politics, profession, and
class. About 1.2 million reported to the 2000 U.S. Census they are partnered
in rural areas, suburbs and cities, and 1 in 5 have children.
This document is a tool to assist executives (gay and straight) to create
effective, inclusive mainstream and business-to-business advertising that
is respectful of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people,
while promoting creativity, sales and image goals. Drawing upon reporting
observations, trial, and analysis from industry leaders, Commercial Closet
Association recommends the following five points:
1.) Be inclusive and diverse. Whenever
people are shown, include GLBT individuals/family members/friends/couples,
reflecting varied ages, races, genders, etc. Language references to family,
relationships or gender should not be hetero-centric.
POSITIVE EXAMPLES: Class reunion mentions
people who 'came out' (John Hancock, 2001). Men and women want M&M
girl (Mars, 1999). Three couples (gay, lesbian, straight) fight and make
up (MTV, 2000). Gay youth talks about being disliked (Levi, 1998). Gay
couples as business partners (American Express, 1999. IBM, 1998).
2.) Be sensitive to gay, lesbian, bisexual,
and transgender stereotypes and avoid positioning homosexuality/transgender
as a perceived threat for humor. Advertising often stereotypes, but beware
of complications. Feminine gay men and deceitful/scary transgender people
are old ideas that alienate many. Straight-male-fantasy "lipstick
lesbians" are narrow clichés.
NEGATIVE EXAMPLES: A spokesman in a jail jokes about not bending
over or being left alone in a cell with a man. (7UP, 2002) A cable TV
installer is slapped on the rear by a football player, then dashes for
the front door. (DirecTV, 2001) A taxi drops a man off in the wrong place,
a threatening transsexual approaches. (Adidas, 1999)
3.) Do good research. When conducting general
research or forming new mainstream campaigns, GLBT perspectives should
be considered and included as often as possible. Don't limit their input
only to gay-targeted messages.
POSITIVE EXAMPLES: Subaru surveyed its consumers and found a strong
lesbian base. Miller Brewing finds what distinguishes its consumers is
open-mindedness to diversity. A 2000 Heineken commercial referring to
homosexuality is tested with gays.
4.) Go national. Consumers outside of major
coastal cities are often improperly considered lacking sophistication
to handle GLBT themes.
POSITIVE EXAMPLES: Women flirt with a gay
man, aired on network sports (Miller Lite, 2001). Two women adopt a baby,
aired on Olympics and World Series (John Hancock, 2000). Gay worker featured
in industry trade magazine (Ford Motor, 2001).
5.) Be consistent and confident. Modifying
or withdrawing ads suggests waffling and creates further trouble. Respond
to criticism with business rationales, like diversity and the bottom line.
Avoid time-restricted airings of material unless ads legitimately deal
with sexual situations inappropriate to youth.
NEGATIVE EXAMPLES: John Hancock ad edited
to obscure female couple (2000). McCormick Grill Mates male-male kiss
removed (2000). IKEA male couple that does not touch aired only after
9:30 p.m. (1994).
FACING CREATIVE CHALLENGES:
Gays & Lesbians: how do you represent
them without stereotypes or clichés? Try using:
a.) Real gay or lesbian individuals. Authenticity goes a long way.
b.) Openly gay celebrities or athletes.
c.) Same-sex pairings in everyday situations, such as at home, driving,
d.) Same-sex pairings with physical affection.
e.) Sexuality can be referenced through verbal, text, graphical, or anthropomorphic
f.) Unexpected twists, counter time-worn clichés, and add other
g.) A mix of masculine/feminine pairings for men or women as couples or
friends: butch-femme (men or women), femme-femme (men), butch-butch (women).
Positive Examples: A.) Nike features an
openly gay HIV-positive runner. (1995) American Express pictures a female
couple on the beach, and a male couple who own a small dog biscuit business.
(1998, 1999) IBM presents a male business couple in its "Mom &
Pop" ad, Barney's gay designer Simon Doonan, and pictures some of
its gay employees. (1998, 2003) (see True Stories)
B.) Martina Navratilova represents Subaru. (2000) Cartier celebrates the
commitment ceremony of openly gay rock star Melissa Etheridge and her
partner with a $4,000 bracelet. (2003) Chili's restaurants features retired
openly gay football star Esera Tuaolo. (2003) Pier 1 Imports signs up
"Queer Eye" star Thom Filicia as a spokesman. (2003) (see Famous
Faces, Sports Stars)
C.) The ACLU shows a military man getting ready for work, with his male
partner in the background. (2001-02) Two men drive together for Avis Rent-A-Car.
(2002-03) Two boys ride on a Ferris wheel together for Diet Vanilla Coke.
(2003) (see Couples, Gay Families/Kids)
D.) A model and body builder male couple, posed as sailors, kiss passionately
in front of a battle ship for Diesel. (1994) Several same-sex couples
kiss and embrace at home, wearing Dolce & Gabbana. (1999) A female
couple sit at home, one is pregnant for Fleet Bank. (1999) A male couple
marries for DuPont's Sustiva. (2001) Bristol-Myers Squibb depicts two
men moving into a new home. (2003) (see Affectionate Displays, Male Kisses/Female
E.) Holiday Inn pictures two pairs of men's shoes below a bed. (2002)
Sundance Channel shows paper dolls, boy-boy and girl-girl. (2003) (see
F.) A transgender woman with a secret reveals she has astigmatism for
Focus/Novartis contact lenses (1996) Two macho young men use power tools
to make a skate half-pipe then kiss for MTV (2001) (see Stereotype Twists)
G.) Two women with shaved heads rub noses for Mercedes. (2001)
Bisexuals are rarely shown at all,
but when they are it is usually as duplicitous cheaters. How do you avoid
that problem? Try using:
a.) Depictions without a defined relationship to another person, keep
b.) References through verbal, text, graphical, or anthropomorphic mentions.
Positive Examples: A.) Banana Republic pictures
a man embraced by a man and woman, each with their hands on his chest.
(1993) Amstel Light shows a woman's knees caressed by a man and woman
on either side of her. (2002)
B.) Pepsi features a man announce to a crowd that he is bisexual. (2001)
Airbus has classic pairs, like Romeo & Juliet, split by a third name,
to promote two-seat-wide rows. (2003) With two flavors, Altoids asks readers
if they're "Bi-Curious." (2003)
Transgender is an umbrella term
covering a range of identities: female-to-males/M2F, female-to-males/F2M,
drag queens, "bad drag," transsexuals, transvestites and androgyny.
Most common in advertising are male-to-females, who typically show up
as "deceptive" if they pass as women, or "frightening"
if they do not. "Bad drag" refers to intentionally unconvincing
straight men half-dressed as women, for example wearing wigs and mustaches
simultaneously, as a joke or with a mock-subversive motive like spying.
Transvestites are depicted as heterosexual men "caught" cross-dressing
in women's undergarments. Drag queens are portrayed as campy men impersonating
women. Transsexuals have had a sex-change operation. Female-to-males and
androgyny are rarely depicted in advertising.
Why not try:
a.) Incorporating transgender people in everyday situations, not as a
punch line, but with acceptance as a twist.
b. ) Using a real transgender person, or real female impersonator. Seek
c.) Depicting male-to-females/F2M individuals, masculine/butch women and
Positive Examples: A.) IKEA depicts a transitioning woman in the
hospital, she later goes shopping. (1999) Prudential features a drag performer
in a nightclub. (2001) Calvin Klein shows a shirtless man wearing a long
wig. (2001) McDonald's includes a man donning drag. (2003)
B.) Fox Broadcasting uses Los Angeles drag queen Karen Dior to promote
Fox Sports West. (1996) Baileys Irish Cream, MAC cosmetics, and Virgin
Cola feature RuPaul. (both 1995, 1998) Palgantong Fania cosmetics in Korea
widely feature M2F transgender model Harisu. (2001-02)
C.) Kenar supermodel Linda Evangelista "kisses" herself dressed
in male drag. (1997)
EXECUTION OF BEST PRACTICES:
1.) Senior executives should visibly endorse and disseminate the Best
Practices to all appropriate internal marketing and supporting ad agency
2.) Because of the diversity of the GLBT community, GLBT focus groups
are encouraged for guidance -- avoid limiting to just one or two GLBT
individuals. Gay consultants and agencies are recommended for in-depth
feedback and targeted efforts.
3.) Prepare consistent responses to media and consumer inquiries about
4.) Schedule professional, annual sensitivity and awareness training about
GLBT issues for general advertising and marketing staffs.
DOES IT WORK?
Specific data is difficult to come by, as companies rarely share proprietary
information. But many marketers have repeatedly incorporated GLBT themes
into mainstream ads: Viacom (48), Unilever (21), IKEA (14), Levi Strauss
(14), Volkswagen (14), Virgin Group (10), Coca-Cola Co. (9), Heineken
(8), Polaroid (4), Hyundai (3), Hancock (2), Visa (2).
Closet is a resource compendium of years of reporting on approaches
that have and haven't worked, research, consumer feedback and input from
marketing, advertising, media and education leaders, and 2,000 video and
print ad samples.
The project is led by a board of marketing, media and advertising professionals.
Project founder-veteran journalist Michael Wilke began covering gay marketing
at its nascence over a decade ago. He has written for Advertising Age,
Brandweek, along with The New York Times, The Advocate and other publications.
He has appeared extensively on network TV.
Michael Wilke, Commercial Closet Association
Copyright © 2004. All rights reserved.