Viacom's MTV network is music to the ears of gay youth.
Related Gully Coverage
From neatnik bikers to pop crooner Enrique Iglesias, Michael Wilke reviews the ad world's gay-friendly highlights and homophobic lowlights.
The Commercial Closet
by Michael Wilke
NEW YORK, JANUARY 22, 2003. It was a year when gays and lesbians were portrayed as sexual predators in prisons and parks. A year when Enrique Iglesias loved a man holding potato chips, a friendly giraffe was comfortable with his feminine side, and MTV continued to set the standard for everyone. It was the Year in Gay Ads for 2002.
Worst Taste - Bud Light, IKEA, Saturn, 7Up, Virgin Mobile, Yahoo
Though it had rarely popped up before, male rape was suddenly a popular concept for humor in several gay-themed spots. A Virgin Mobile ad featured Haitian-American musician Wycleff Jean showering in prison when a larger man asks him to pick up the soap -- a reference to male rape. (Agency is Young & Rubicam.) Cadbury Schweppes ran a spot for 7Up that featured its spokesman in a prison with a similarly tasteless joke about bending over. (Y&R)
Not all the buggering took place behind bars. A General Motors' commercial for Saturn Vue recalled the 1972 movie "Deliverance," where a group of guys on a camping trip are raped at gunpoint by hillbillies. When the film's infamous "Dueling Banjos" themesong plays, the four men in the ad scramble from their campground. (Goodby Silverstein & Partners) In England, Yahoo ran a spot where a naked man, who is tied to a tree in a park, is given a leering once-over by an older man in a purple hat and scarf. (Euro RSCG)
Prison jokes were not solely men's territory. IKEA ran a print ad in Los Angeles called "Tax Evasion Day," which featured a jailed woman aggressively making the moves on her unhappy cellmate (Crispin Porter + Bogusky).
Virgin Mobile chose to perpetuate the urban myth about gay men's alleged sexual interest in cuddly rodents with an ad starring a hamster -- but, thankfully, with no reference to Richard Gere (Y&R).
In perhaps the most bizarre sexual reference, Anheuser-Busch ran a Bud Light commercial called "Opener" about a man hiding under a bar. As a triumphant softball team orders 30 beers, the bartender "confuses" the man's protruding rear end with a bottle opener, assuring him a brutal anal assault. (DDB Needham)
Most Clichéd Stereotypes - Budget, IKEA
Budget Rent A Car's ongoing campaign about rejected commercial ideas outfitted a crew of movers with roller skates -- transforming them into a troupe of overweight, effeminate, 70s-era disco dancers. (Cliff Freeman)
A European ad for IKEA, called "A Woman or Nearly," stars an attractive woman putting on makeup. When she hits her crotch on a table, her hypermasculine yelp reveals "her" as a man. (Leagas-Delaney)
Most in Denial - Doritos, Baileys
The gay content in a seemingly inspired Doritos commercial was later downplayed by parent company Pepsi. In the ad, pop megastar Enrique Iglesias says he searches the audience when he sings for someone with "something that makes me fall in love." As he performs, his eyes lock on the only man in the crowd -- who's incidentally holding a bag of chips. (BBDO) A corporate spokeswoman denied the humor was intended to be about Iglesias falling for a man.
In Australia, Pepsi ran into trouble with an ad about a wrestler who tries to kiss his opponent and is offered a head butt in return. (BBDO) The gay community opposed the violence, but Pepsi refused to withdraw the ad.
A Baileys ad features a woman playing pool with three guys, one of whom secretly empties her drink. At the end, she hugs one of the men and the other two men hug each other. (J. Walter Thompson) Bailey's parent company Diageo says that the U.S. ad's gay reading was not intended. Despite three current gay-themed ads (two more run in Europe) and years spent marketing to gay consumers, Diageo awkwardly refused to discuss its commercials.
Most Gay Vague - Volkswagen, Bissell
Remember the gay vague "Da Da Da" commercial during the coming out episode of "Ellen"? Volkswagen has done it again with two new ads. (Arnold Communications) One featured a mock marriage with two men, and another called "Roasted" depicted two young guys looking at each other romantically as they get out of their Jetta. (The intended joke is each has just half a tan.) This past year VW finally initiated gay marketing as well, running mainstream ads in gay media.
Meanwhile in Brazil, an ad for the VW Gol (Golf in America), which angered the gay community, was pulled. The resulting uproar led VW to offer equal benefits to gay employees. In the commercial, a masculine man who approaches a woman is suddenly revealed as a queen when he asks about her lipstick. She turns away disgusted. (BBDO)
Meanwhile, Bissell vacuums featurd a popular biker hunk leading a club of stereotype-breaking buddies who arrange flowers, needlepoint and cheer for figure skating. (Campbell-Ewald)
Most Comfortable - Toys 'R' Us, Heineken, Claxson
The Toys 'R' Us mascot, Geoffrey the giraffe, shows three girls around a redesigned store and tells them about the new Barbie section. When one girl crosses her arms with a frown and says with implication, "You sure know a lot about Barbie!" Geoffrey simply replies, "I'm perfectly comfortable with that." (Leo Burnett)
Heineken featured an unusual look at bisexuality in an ad, where a woman seated between a man and a woman smiles at her fortune when she finds that both her companions are fondling her legs under the table -- and . (DMB&B)
A satellite TV service in Argentina, i.sat features five men watching a soccer match and jumping for joy at a goal. The macho celebration turns into simulated sex. (In Jaus)
Leader of the Year - MTV
Viacom's MTV network is music to the ears of gay youth. With 25 gay-inclusive promotional ads aired since 1996, and no signs of slowing, MTV is the all-time champion of queer advertising.
Many of the network's ads, which were created in-house, fearlessly included same-sex kisses. Through partnerships with GLSEN and Black Entertainment Television, MTV offered education about homophobia and the impact of HIV/AIDS, drugs and violence on gay men and gays of color. Over the years, the progressive network, has aired numerous programs that include gays and has run countless gay-themed commercials from other advertisers.
Michael Wilke's Commercial Closet column covers gay issues in advertising, marketing and media. For 85 years of gay images worldwide see www.CommercialCloset.org.
From The Commercial Closet
For a version of this article with links to all the mentioned ads.
For a report on how the lagging US economy has effected gay marketing efforts.
For Mike Wilke's Best/Worst of 2001.
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