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Diet Pepsi, Subway Go Gay
After Janet, a kinder, gentler approach at Super Bowl.
By Michael Wilke


Janet Jackson's revealing "wardrobe malfunction."

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FEB. 19, 2005. Gay-themed ads were back in the kinder, gentler Super Bowl this year after a brief absence in 2004. The chilling effect of outrage over the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" last year when her breast was briefly exposed, led most advertisers, along with halftime show planners, to take a softer approach during the football game this year. This apparently included a mandate for fewer homophobic high jinks.

On the contrary, Diet Pepsi and Subway spent $2.4 million each for 30-second gay-friendly ads during Super Bowl XXXIX.

Pepsi featured a hunky man walking down the street to the Bee Gees song, "Staying Alive." Clueless, he attracts women everywhere, including supermodel Cindy Crawford — and "Queer Eye" designer Carson Kressley, whose head swivels and jaw drops.

Later in the football game, Subway showed two cops driving up behind a steamed up, parked vehicle. "Looks like we've got a couple of lovebirds," one officer says with amusement to his partner. As the cop approaches the car, music is heard from the inside, and a guy in the car softly says, "Mmm, that's nice."

The officer taps on the window. The surprised driver rolls it down, holding a sandwich, not a woman, as a ballad belts out, "I need you now..." However, behind him in the car is another man, who looks down at his sandwich, perhaps ashamed at the predicament.

The Subway spot from ad agency Fallon has a less judgmental tone than one they ran late last year in which a husband dons a cheerleader's drag to wash his car, causing a passing vehicle to crash. The narrator comments, "Subway — good, so you don't always have to be."

Diet Pepsi Ad Gets High Marks
The Diet Pepsi commercial, from DDB Needham, was rated fourth by TiVo watchers, tenth by AOL members, and also got high ratings according to Intelliseek, a Cincinnati based research firm that tracked 40 consumer blogs online. Pepsi also ranked 14th in the most popular spots of the night in USA Today's widely read Ad Meter poll.

Subway's ad was not mentioned among top spots, but ranked 24th on the USA Today list.

Despite the mass audience and high prices of being on the Super Bowl, such purchases can be good targeting for advertisers. According to a study by Carat Insight, 45 percent of Subway eaters and 38.7 percent of Pepsi drinkers would be tuned into the game, compared to 35 percent of all adults in general.

Separately last year, Pepsi began reaching out directly to the gay and lesbian market, though Subway has not, and more gay media presence is expected in 2005.

Altogether, the combined ads of Pepsi's brands made it the second largest advertiser in the game, after Anheuser-Busch for Bud Light. Its nine ads made it the most visible company at the Super Bowl for the eighth straight year.

Gay Ads in Super Bowls Past
Gay invisibility at the 2004 Super Bowl was an exception, considering how many prior Super Bowls carried ads with gay, lesbian and transgender themes.

In 2003, Bud Light featured a tasteless spot featuring a guy in an upside-down clown suit drinking beer through the clown's "rear," who then asked for a hotdog.

Diageo carried an ad for Smirnoff Triple Black Ice, where a beautiful woman named Alex meets a blind date, but introduces herself to the wrong fellow. When she steps away and the right guy shows up, the first man introduces himself as Alex to scare the man off with the threat of boy-on-boy action. It works.

Saving a couple million dollars, advertisers in 2003 also ran stealth ads with gay themes before and after the Super Bowl. Miller Brewing Company caused a media sensation with its "Catfight" ad, in which two women tore each other's clothes off in a battle over the old "Tastes great/Less filling" debate. At the end, the two wound up in a pool of wet cement, where one said, "Let's make out."

Mobile phone company Nextel also ran a commercial featuring TV personality, George Lopez, who had to drive his daughter's pink Volkswagen Bug bearing the license plate "Boycrazy." He was eyeballed by others.

A year earlier in 2002, Levi Strauss carried an ad for Dockers where men all wore black dresses at a party. One man arrived in Dockers and the announcer said, "Finally guys have an answer to the little black dress." And, as a sponsor of the halftime show, E*TRADE offered an offbeat spot featuring football players acting flamboyant and dressed as cats and fairies.

In the 1997 Super Bowl, Holiday Inn carried a spot that only ran once. It was set at a high school reunion where a man returned as a sexy woman, horrifying someone who recognized the former "Bob Johnson."

The Commercial Closet — bringing lesbian, gay, bi and trans sensitivity to corporate advertising.



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