One of my favorite tv shows is Mad Men. The series about an advertising agency on Madison Avenue (hence the name) is set in the 1960s, and besides having art direction and wardrobe that takes attention to detail to a whole new level, it also explored such universal themes as secrets and re-invention with its storytelling.
One of the characters, Salvatore Romano (played by Bryan Batt), was a closeted gay man working as the art director for the ad agency who sometimes would plant suggestive but very subtle gay themes into his print ads — think “Tom of Finland” meets “Disney” in a “Lucky Strikes” cigarette ad, and you get the idea. The whole series was pure genius, and it got me wondering as to what was the first gay ad?
Today it is estimated that the buying power of the LGBTQ+ community is almost $1 trillion ($917 billion per a study by Witeck Communications in 2016), which is why this month you see corporate America flooding every imaginable product and brand logo with rainbows, trying to get our attention and our hard earned gay dollars.
But back in the 1960s, and before, we were largely invisible and so was any representation of us in advertising. Arguably most ads featuring homo-erotic depictions of the male physique were created and geared towards this closeted gay consumer. The male camaraderie found within the armed services during World War Two became a common element in these early depictions of corporate ads that began appearing in mainstream magazines.
By the late 1950s and into the 1960s more “tongue in cheek” ad copy began appearing, where the line between suggestive and explicit was stretched so that only the most naive would not be aware of the connotations.
My word, that station wagon! But I digress…
By the 1980s the AIDS crisis and the gay liberation movement post-Stonewall had pushed gay men out of the closet and into the popular culture, and corporate America was waking up to the potential of less campy appeals to the gay dollar and more respectful approaches. As Adweek pointed out in a recent article:
“Absolut Vodka…was one of these first movers, taking out full-page ads in queer-focused publications like After Dark and The Advocate. But in mainstream publications, the brand employed much more subtle tactics, especially as the AIDS epidemic took hold.
Take, for example, this Absolut ad featuring artwork from Keith Haring. To the unaware, it’s simply a fun elevation of the brand through art. But to the LGBTQ+ consumer, it was a sign of solidarity with a gay artist, one who was a vocal advocate during the AIDS epidemic.”
Today’s ads don’t have to feature rainbows or campy winks to the consumer about male “bonding,” instead they can show the wide range of same-sex attraction in a favorable manner that accentuates both their product and our community. Take a look at these two ads from around the world, the first is from my home in France and is by fast-food giant McDonald’s, and the second is from Thailand and is for a fragrance company.
What are your favorite gay themed ads? Let us know in the comments!
This post is solely the opinion of this contributing writer and may not reflect the opinion of other writers, staff, or owners of Instinct Magazine.