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The coming-out episode of ABC's "Ellen" was groundbreaking in more ways than just programming-it was the first time advertisers used prime-time network TV to reach gay and lesbian viewers.

Several advertisers decided to target the sizable gay and gay-friendly audience, including lesbian travel group Olivia Cruises, gay advocacy organization Human Rights Campaign and Home Access Health, maker of an HIV home-test kit.

"It provided an avenue that wasn't there before," said Judy Werle, director of marketing for Olivia, whose spot was rejected by the network but did run via spot buys.


Previously, such efforts have been mostly constrained to print because few options exist in TV. Local cable-access channels in several markets carry programming blocks from Gay USA and Dyke TV, but those have low budgets with inconsistent program schedules and attract small audiences.

A funding effort is under way for Acme Television; the company was set to launch programming in June but now hopes for a fall start.

While some regular "Ellen" advertisers bowed out, others paid a premium-up to $350,000 from an original $170,000-to get time on the April 30 episode. Home Access raced to put together a commercial from Arian, Lowe & Travis, Chicago, with wordplay that said, "We came out this year, too."

Volkswagen of America, which hasn't advertised in gay media, broke on the show a spot from Arnold Communications, Boston, about two hip, young men who try to salvage a discarded chair and end up carrying it around in their car. VW denied the spot reflected a gay relationship, though many gay viewers thought otherwise.

The Human Rights Campaign job-discrimination spot, also rejected by ABC, ran on 33 ABC affiliates and is said to have been the most broadly aired advocacy ad on the subject.


Cruise operator Olivia spent its entire annual ad budget on its 30-second spot, and that just bought it five cities, including Winston-Salem, N.C., along with Los Angeles, New York, Tampa, Fla., and Washington.

"It wasn't as effective for us to advertise locally" vs. a network buy, said Ms. Werle. "It's an audience Olivia has tried to reach for 11 years-lesbians are tough to reach."

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