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Gay men are still shown as a predatory, buggering lot in new commercials.

Related Gully Coverage

Complete Coverage Gay Mundo




The Commercial Closet

Yahoo and Virgin Mobile
Like Predatory Gays for Ads

by Michael Wilke

NEW YORK, DECEMBER 12, 2002. Gays have made much social progress in the UK over the last several years, but gay men are still shown as a predatory, buggering lot in new commercials from Yahoo, and, of all brands, Virgin Mobile.

A TV spot for Yahoo shows a disheveled young man waking up as the voiceover says, "You can't trust late nights." This bridegroom-to-be, who has been the object of a practical joke, is shown tied, naked, to a tree, as the voiceover continues, "You can't trust your mates." An older man wearing a purple hat and scarf, and walking a tiny dog, grins with interest at the man's derriere. The groom nervously smiles, then cringes in fear. The ad closes by saying, "You can only trust yourself. Rely on you. Visit Yahoo Personal Finance." The scene recalls the 1977 Robert Aldrich movie, "The Choirboys."

The ad, created by Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, London, was pulled following protests by high-profile members of the gay community, including openly gay talk host Graham Norton, to the Independent Television Commission, a British regulatory group.

Yahoo UK spokeswoman Georga Douglas says, "The advert was intended as a light hearted insight into a stereotypical British stag night prank and was certainly not meant to cause offense; however, we take customer feedback very seriously." Yahoo has since edited out the leering man and is airing the new version.

Virgin Mobile soap-dropping-in-prison ad
The same week, a commercial began airing for three-year-old cell phone brand Virgin Mobile in which Haitian-American musician Wyclef Jean is arrested by a Southern U.S. sheriff and thrown into prison. As the inmates shower together, an enormous prisoner tells Jean to pick up a bar of soap from the floor, a reference to prison rape.

Just a few weeks old, the ad has registered a few negative comments to the ITC, something a Virgin Mobile spokesman jokingly refers to as "poor performance." The spot, from Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, London, may come to the U.S. early next year.

Other references to predatory gay men and male rape have already made appearances this year in the U.S. in ads for 7Up, Saturn and IKEA.

Virgin spokesman Steven Day dismisses the soap joke as just a "nominal gay reference" and isn't worried about gay backlash. "We've used a fair amount of overt gay imagery. We're generally well received in the gay community and we don't treat minorities as minorities." He says the ad was put through focus groups that included gay people "to make sure the sensitivities were okay. And we had some gay people working on it too."

Day explains, "A lot of our ads are edgy and follow in the tradition of Virgin. The Virgin brand is about humor. But our aim is not to shock, it is to get a smile."

With its phone service introduced to the U.S. over the summer, Virgin Mobile is running yet another gay-themed commercial. This one on MTV from Leagas Delaney, San Francisco, parodies 1950s-era instructional films and shows how not to react when someone gives you a phone: two men hug and one grabs the other's rear, then a shrill buzzer sounds and a red "No!" appears on screen.

'Special preference' for gay-baiting ads?
Virgin Mobile also recently carried a billboard ad in the UK featuring two soldiers holding hands, around the time England began allowing openly gay soldiers to serve.

"We would argue that the debate about homosexuality [in advertising] has moved on," says Day at Virgin Mobile. In fact, he adds, "We agree with Yahoo and to not allow a homosexual reference for humor is giving it special preference. We think people are grown enough to see it as a joke and not homophobic or racist."

As the three Virgin Mobile ads indicate, the Virgin Group brand empire has a long history of leveraging gay themes in ads as well as seeking the gay market. Directed by brash British billionaire Richard Branson, Virgin Atlantic Airways was the first airline to target gays in the U.S. [in 1994], and Virgin Cola brought the first same-sex kiss commercial to America in 1998.

Unlike Yahoo, Virgin is one of a handful of companies who might have enough standing with the gay community to get by with a questionable commercial that would otherwise offend. Yet, while few could ever imagine ads making light of female rape, somehow male rape — and the predatory gay man — remains a subject that advertisers are willing to play for laughs. Are advertisers buggering themselves with such sophomoric humor?

Mike Wilke's Commercial Closet column covers gay issues in advertising, marketing and media. For 85 years of gay images worldwide see www.CommercialCloset.org.

Related links:

From The Commercial Closet
For more on Yahoo ad.
For more on Virgin ad.

From The Web
For a brief, sanitized synopsis of The Choirboys.

For Over The Rainbow, about how prison rape in the US is a gay issue, no joke.

For Study Asks: 'Are Advertisers Missing Out on the Diverse Gay and Lesbian Market?' at GLAAD's site.

For Complete Coverage Gay Mundo

Gay Mundo
gay pride The Gully's ultragay coverage. Includes musings on activism, info on queers from Puerto Rico to Taiwan and more.


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