Commentary

Brands Showing Gay Couples Face Perils

With most periods dedicated to minorities—like Black History Month (February), Women’s History Month (March), Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month (May)—marketers can release ads celebrating each group, but with Gay Pride Month (June), things are a bit different.

That’s because there isn’t universal acceptance of gay rights. A recent Gallup poll showed 70% of Americans support same-sex marriage. That’s a historic high and up from just 27% in 1997, but a brand supporting gay rights is apt to get some criticism.

For instance, in April, Oreo released a short film about coming out. Predictably, the film got both praise and condemnation from critics. Most notably, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro vowed to boycott “gay cookies” after Oreo released the film.

Newsmax host Greg Kelly blasted Oreo on Twitter for bringing sexual orientation into the discussion.

Ikea is credited with running the first ad that supported the gay lifestyle. That ad, which featured a gay couple shopping at Ikea, ran in three markets and led to calls for boycotts of Ikea. Eventually, other brands, including Honey Maid, DirecTV and Cheerios, followed suit.

That was far from the end of it. As the opposition to the Oreo ad shows, gay Americans are a different kind of minority, one which provokes ire in about a third of the population. In the past six months or so, here are some of other backlashes that brands supporting gay rights have received:

Sephora: When Sephora included a gay couple in its 2021 holiday ad, it evoked the opposition of One Million Moms, which urged its followers to “take action” against the brand.

eHarmony: eHarmony’s ad in Australia featuring a gay couple, also evoked the opposition of One Million Moms. Supporters of the ad dismissed One Million Moms as a “fringe group.”

Doritos: In Israel, a Doritos ad featuring a gay couple brought on a boycott from conservative religious Israeli Jews.

Kay Jewelers: One Million Moms targeted Kay Jewelers for featuring a gay couple in an ad.

Over time, such instances may become rarer as the public reacts to the sensitivities of the market, but for now, it looks like referencing gays in marketing will always be a somewhat risky strategy.

9 comments about "Brands Showing Gay Couples Face Perils".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, June 10, 2022 at 8:34 a.m.

    If nothing else, the ads do a service in exposing the closeted bigots among us. WTF is a gay cookie anyway? 

  2. Artie White from Zoom Media Corp, June 10, 2022 at 10:45 a.m.

    What is missing from this article is the efficacy of these "boycotts." Probably because there is none - Oreos, Doritos, eHarmony, etc. don't seem to be struggling.

    It's not "somewhat risky" at all for brands to feature gay couples if the only people who react negtively are a handful of fringe bigots like Ben Shapiro and, uh, One Million Moms (which is actually just one mom - Monica Cole.)

    Is the pushback truly coming from "about a third of the population" or is it just a handful of jerks on Twitter? Show your math, Todd.

  3. Kenny Kurtz from Persuasion Marketing And Media replied, June 10, 2022 at 1:26 p.m.

    Just as Chik-Fil-A has never struggled from offended boycotters. Every flap, paradoxically, and we do live in a paradoxical world, seems to grow their business after people declare boycotts of the chicken company. There's not more outrage than there has been in the past, just more outlets that attract eyeballs with outrage over outrage.

  4. Chris Johnson from BDi LLC Broadcast-Digital-Integrated, June 10, 2022 at 6:25 p.m.

    This is more a matter of proportionality. When just about every brand out there jumps on the latest cause bandwagon, consumers quickly reach a point of tolerance saturation. It’s Okay not to disagree with someone’s lifestyle (as long as you respect their right to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness and peace) it’s another thing to have that lifestyle promoted/celebrated in 90% of the advertising you are exposed to. Yes, sometimes intolerance and/or (in exceptional cases) hate play a factor in the negative reaction. Most of the time it is the majority, and I stress majority, of consumers who just get plain tired of hearing it. We are talking branding, marketing, and advertising here. A more measure approach by brands would be welcome and would garner a less negative reaction to cause messaging.

  5. Bob Witeck from Witeck Communications, Inc., June 12, 2022 at 12:50 p.m.

    Thank you, Todd, for your research and reporting. Most brands today remain risk-takers, even recognizing the historic patterns you uncovered. There always has been instigated blowback to depictions of same-sex couples and LGBTQ+ imagery.

    Two points you overlook, however. First, the opposition you described is entirely politically motivated and instigated. It is neither authentic nor organic. Does that mean that some households are perfectly comfortable with their favorite cookie or jeweler depicting same-sex couples? Comfort is different from engineered noise. Most brands today recognize that, and push on.

    Keep in mind there is sometimes loud blowback against other depictions, such as interracial couples or even individuals with disabilities. Advertisers know what all of us know. There remain deep veins of cultural and ugly bias against marginalized communities and individuals. Racism is sadly alive and well, along with homophobia and other forms of bias and cruelty.

    Let's keep in mind, however, that younger generations of consumers are helping change society's norms and acceptance. These consumers look around and see a world vastly changed and far more diverse, far more accepting. Their reality is the one that many advertisers hope to capture - even imperfectly - to reflect today (and tomorrow's) perceptions.

    Taking risks is part of this challenge, but opening up doors, minds and marketing opportunities is how our economy grows along with our open-mindedness. LGBTQ+ people have always been on the crest of that change, and always will be.


  6. Artie White from Zoom Media Corp replied, June 12, 2022 at 1:03 p.m.

    @Chris Johnson- it's less "cause messaging" than it is "representation." There are plenty of gay consumers out there who will buy products if they see themselves reflected in the advertising. And others who may not fit the profile but respect the efforts of the brands to include other profiles alongside (not instead of) the "standard" hetero-white consumer base.

    Not long ago featuring minorities and interracial couples in ads was seen in the way you describe - annoying, over-promoted, insincere, etc. That sentiment faded then and will fade again as people who are "different" become more normalized- in part thanks to advertising. 

  7. Chris Johnson from BDi LLC Broadcast-Digital-Integrated, June 12, 2022 at 2:20 p.m.

    @Artie White - I never used the words "annoying, over-promoted, insincere" and would appreciate you not putting words in my mouth.  This is a good example of the "respect", or lack there of, I was expressing.  

  8. Artie White from Zoom Media Corp replied, June 12, 2022 at 2:36 p.m.

    Chris - I wasn't quoting you. I was interpreting your "plain tired of hearing it" comment. What words would you use instead? That lack of tolerance seems to be on your end; why else would you get "tired" of seeing person x in an ad vs. person y? Because you don't indentify with person x and so their recurring presence bothers you? That's how I read what you wrote. If I'm wrong, clarify. 

  9. Artie White from Zoom Media Corp replied, June 12, 2022 at 2:37 p.m.

    *Identify (typo, sorry)

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