UNILEVER MARKS FIRST IN U.K. WITH GAY COUPLE IN AD: IMPULSE SPOT IS A NEW TWIST ON ORIGINAL IDEA

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[london] Unilever has become the first major advertiser in the U.K. to break a commercial featuring an overtly gay couple, with a new TV and cinema spot for Elida Faberge's Impulse body spray.

The commercial also is likely to air elsewhere in Europe, and in Australia and Latin America.

Impulse ads traditionally focus on the romantic cliche of a guy offering a young woman flowers after catching a whiff of her irresistible fragrance. Impulse has used the flower theme for much of the brand's 20-year life.

A CHANCE ENCOUNTER

The new commercial, by Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, London, follows that traditional formula of a chance encounter between a man and a woman, but with a twist. The two bump into each other, accidentally scattering her shopping bags. The man is attracted by the woman's fragrance, and she is obviously attracted to the guy.

After an exchange of flirty glances as the two pick up the groceries, however, the man's boyfriend appears. The hero shrugs good-naturedly and the two men walk off arm in arm, leaving the woman to laugh at the situation.

Lesley Lucas, European brand manager at Unilever's fragrance innovation center in Kingston, England, said the appearance of a gay couple brings the brand communication up to date.

"The flirtation and thrill of anticipation have replaced the cliches that have long been associated with romance," Ms. Lucas said. "Young women have a realistic view on life and understand that not all chance encounters will lead to a lifelong romance. It's also a great, entertaining ad."

BASED ON RESEARCH

The decision to add a gay twist was made after extensive research among the core Impulse target market of 16-to-22-year-old women; they were asked about their feelings toward the Impulse brand, relationships and romance.

A Unilever spokesman said company Chairman Niall FitzGerald has been "very supportive" of the ad. The commercial started running May 18 during mainstream programming on several U.K. networks and doesn't appear to have sparked any controversy or complaints.

The original ad concept was created by former Impulse agency Ammirati Puris Lintas and has been ideal for global advertising because the spots can easily be given a local feel by using a local setting and actors of different nationalities.

UP TO LOCAL MANAGERS

A decision on running the new commercial in other countries will be made by Elida Faberge managers in individual markets. The Unilever body spray is not sold under the Impulse brand name in North America.

The new commercial is part of an $11 million budget for Impulse this year in the U.K.

The Impulse account moved to O&M two years ago.

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