Recognizing advancements in the fair representation of the gay community in advertising, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation hosted its inaugural Media Awards in Advertising last night in New York. Host Alan Cumming and a slew of presenters, including AAAAs President Nancy Hill, gathered to recognize the work of 10 brands that have made strides to increase the size, diversity and accuracy of LGBT-related images in advertising.
The awards show is the work of GLAAD's Advertising Media Program, launched in May to carry on the watchdog duties of the now-defunct Commercial Closet Association. In his opening remarks, GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios explained the media program's mission to "give advertisers the resources and incentives to include the [gay] community in its advertising." He also praised CCA founder Michael Wilke for his efforts to hold agencies and marketers accountable for inclusion of the LGBT community in their campaigns. (Mr. Wilke's position as executive director of CCA was eliminated when GLAAD merged with that organization a year ago.)
Alan Cumming kicked off the evening with a pitch for a new TV series about gays in the ad industry called, naturally, "GLAAD Men" -- an homage made all the more appropriate by the presence of real-life "Man Men" star Bryan Bratt, who plays a closeted gay on the show and was in-house to host the night's live auction.
Toyota Scion, Kenneth Cole, Absolut Vodka and Levi's got nods for achievement in digital. Winners for TV and print work were divided into LGBT and mainstream markets, suggesting that while gay advertising has made progress in traditional channels -- mostly on account of marketers who've owned up to their pocket of gay brand loyalists -- it's a far cry from reaching households nationwide. Case in point: In the Outstanding TV category, Bertolli's cheeky "Oven Baked Meals" spot beat out four nominees in the LGBT market. Orbitz, with nary a competitor in the mainstream market, took home a trophy for its "Golfers" spot by default.
Furniture designers Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams accepted their Public Visibility Award for service to the community along with a standing ovation, but it's hard to tell whether the mostly gay, mostly male audience was going wild for Mitchell and Bob or Judith Light (of "Who's the Boss?" and "Ugly Betty" fame), who made a surprise appearance to present the award.
Perhaps the most poignant moment of the evening came when Subaru CMO Tim Mahoney accepted his company's Corporate Responsibility Award. Subaru was the first national automaker to extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners. And for more than 15 years, it's been a respected example of brand building by a marketer that chose to tap a growing consumer niche despite obvious corporate hurdles and cultural taboos. "I remember thinking, I could get fired for this," Mr. Mahoney said of his decision to present gay-specific research findings to Subaru's execs back in the early '90s. The most common soundbite from focus groups at the time was, "All my friends who have Subarus are lesbians."
Subaru's embrace of the gay community in the '90s coincided with its decision to equip its vehicles with all-wheel drive. The brand's definitive slogan from the decade -- "It's not a choice. It's the way we're built" -- clearly spoke to more than transmission.
Mr. Mahoney also credited the brand's success in a recession -- Subaru sales are up 10% in 2009, he said -- to its share of LGBT buyers.
Lisa Sherman, general manager of Logo, presented Subaru with its award. Her advice for marketers debating whether to build gay-targeted advertising into their budgets was the evening's most memorable: "Not only is it good business, but it's the right thing to do."