The Gays Celebrate Advertising Progress

Still Have Trouble With the Auction, Though

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It's been a decent year for the gays when it comes to advertising. For every embarrassing Snickers Super Bowl ad there've been marketers like Levi's who've stepped up their efforts to be inclusive. The Commercial Closet, an LGBT advertising advocacy group, held its third annual Corporate AdRespect Honors last night to give props to two more companies, Absolut Vodka and American Express, who've made the gay community a significant part of their media strategies.

Absolut was recognized by Michael Phelps, publisher of The Advocate, for the 20-plus years they've spent finding creative new ways to make a vodka bottle emblematic of gay culture and acceptance (these have included the lace of a drag queen's bodice in an Absolut Kurant ad and broken pieces being juggled by pop artist David Spada over the years.) Phelps noted that during the last three decades, Absolut has been a frequent sponsor of the magazine's back page, sending a loud-and-clear message of support to the community where others have since followed.

American Express, meanwhile, was singled out for its recent series of print ads featuring card members in the gay community – not to mention making Ellen DeGeneres its most prominent spokesperson in its TV ads this past year. Heck, they even won an Emmy for that admittedly adorable animals ad.

But the undisputed highlight of the evening was the auction, hosted by the Commercial Closet's Ben Grill, who came dressed in a hula skirt with a rainbow-colored bra and matching lei and headdress. Having witnessed the underwhelming response to last year's auction, which at one point prompted special guest Cyndi Lauper to bid on one of the pricier prizes due to lack of outside interest, we can attest that this year's needed to be kicked up a notch. Unfortunately, even the sight of a well-toned auctioneer wearing nothing but papier-mache and fake grass could make the crowd put up even half the value of a $17,000 cruise in Tahiti with Kathy Griffin (perhaps because someone mistakenly billed it as a trip with "Kathy Lee Griffin" in the program?)

The event was hosted by The New York Times in their brand-spankin' new "Times Center" in Times Square, which officially opens to the public on Monday. And as the web site says, it's taking reservations for anyone who wants to book their next corporate function in their brightly colored, modern auditorium. Just don't invite any hula dancers – you might not make your money back.