Virgin Cola redefines cutting edge with ads showing gay wedding

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In its latest in-your-face marketing move, London-based Virgin Group of Cos. is set to launch an edgy flight of ads for its U.S. cola introduction, including a spot showing a male couple kissing after exchanging wedding vows.

The $10 million to $15 million campaign, from Ground Zero, Santa Monica, Calif., is scheduled to run in about 10 markets on late-night TV starting July 20, and is being sent to stations for review this week.

If aired, the gay marriage spot will be the latest in a handful of commercials to deal with homosexuality but the first to show a same-sex kiss.

In 1994, Swedish furniture maker Ikea received worldwide attention when it ran an ad from Deutsch, New York, showing a gay couple shopping for furniture. But another spot from Deutsch, for Mistic Beverages, got little attention last year. It featured a young woman who proclaims she's found a person she wants to spend her life with--another woman.


The pool of 28 Virgin Cola spots shows real people--Hare Krishnas, a cursing elderly librarian and the son of a prisoner of war--standing on a red soap box and delivering mostly unscripted commentary. Some spots feature celebrities such as drag supermodel RuPaul. The boxes bear the Virgin logo and the directive, "Say something."

One spot Virgin may not air features a burly Joey Buttafucco, who dominated New York tabloids in the early 1990s, declaring, "I'm famous because some girl decided to shoot my wife in the head."

The goal of the ads is to break through the gloss of typical soft-drink advertising from giants Coca-Cola Co. and Pepsi-Cola Co.

"The whole point of the campaign is that it's not a corporate message being sent to the population, or [featuring] the most attractive 1% of the population," said Alexis Dormady, exec VP-Virgin Cola USA. "Our belief is that the consumer is not as stupid as everyone else tries to treat them."


The marriage of the gay couple, in an actual ceremony, is performed by a female minister as the men stand on the Virgin box on a beach in Santa Monica, Calif. Mr. Dormady said it's not intended as a publicity stunt, and added he hopes stations won't refuse to air it.

"Hopefully they'll say yes to all of them. If they have problems, that is one they will balk at for all the wrong reasons," he said.

Virgin Cola was launched in the U.S. in May, and is available in six major markets, including Baltimore, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington. The spots are intended for those markets and neighboring ones such as Sacramento and San Diego, Calif., and Providence, R.I. The company's ad spending will rise as distribution expands, Mr. Dormady said.

Virgin created another ad shot in a gay bar for its U.K. vodka brand, but the commercial never aired.

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo.

Copyright July 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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