March 6, 2013

Ads with gay themes enter mainstream

Advertisers face much less controversy in the last few years when they show same-sex couples.

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — A new 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.

click image to enlarge

A Kindle Paperwhite commercial features a vacationing man and woman both waiting for their husbands, shown in the background at a bar. Gay people are increasingly part of screen and print advertising.

The Associated Press/Amazon

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," he smiles 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.

Advertised wedding registries at Macy's and elsewhere target same-sex couples.

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.

"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.

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 it could be as many as 25 million.

"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."

Mark Elderkin, CEO of the Gay Ad Network, which focuses on the LGBT 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 are bolstered by broader media exposure for gay characters and storylines on television.

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