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Mainstream advertisers are approaching gay consumers in record numbers, yet many remain closeted on the subject. More than two-thirds of gay-market advertisers contacted chose not to comment for our article last week on marketing to gays.

Such public squeamishness may be the result of fear of reprisals from conservative groups-like the American Family Association-that oppose homosexuality, or it may stem from a lack of full commitment to such a marketing initiative.

Advertisers may choose where to spend their money, but once the decision is made to benefit from the market and target lesbians and gays, responsibility dictates that they be willing to stand by such a choice.

Some marketers have initiated efforts but fail to acknowledge their ongoing intent, while others have quickly pulled back. But the word is out: Since gay consumers consider themselves historically ignored, corporate wishy-washiness causes resentment and defeats the purpose of appealing to this often affluent and influential segment of the public.

Many advertisers that fled the "Ellen" coming-out episode on ABC didn't take responsibility with their rationale. Chrysler Corp. made much ado about its withdrawal from the controversial program, but unceremoniously reappeared in the next episode and remained.

The price of attracting the gay market is fairness-and honesty.

Dr. Outrage

There were no tears shed here when R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. gave up the

fight for Joe Camel and adopted an adult-oriented campaign for its popular cigarette brand. We had decided long ago that the ad industry should draw its line in the sand on advertising principles and tactics truly worth fighting for, and that cigarette creative with an obvious appeal to youngsters had left our battle line on its own.

Back when he was the U.S. Food & Drug Administration commissioner, David Kessler led the Clinton administration's mission against teen-age smoking, and the issues/proposals left on the table when he joined academia are being debated today, even with the voluntary exit of cartoon Joe.

With the historic tobacco industry settlement, everyone more or less got their way on this subject, with initiatives that might just help keep the nation's young from buying and smoking cigarettes. So we're somewhat surprised to see Dr. Kessler take a new leap on the subject of tobacco creative.

But there he was, at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing-and at a subsequent press conference-criticizing new Camel ads geared to those well over 18 years of age. He exclaimed: "Look at this ad. . . . Where is the moral outrage?"

The outrage is that when FDA originally unveiled its rules on tobacco, Dr. Kessler denied the government was trying to ban tobacco or tobacco ads aimed at adults; his and President Clinton's concerns were underage smokers and illegal attempts to sell to them or persuade them.

Thankfully, Sen. Wendell Ford of Kentucky also understands the problem here. "I submit that [smoking in] your own back yard could be off limits," he said at the hearing, warning that if the "delicate balancing" of the tobacco deal is ignored and other ad restrictions take hold, "crocodiles and frogs [Budweiser ad characters] will be next."

Dr. Kessler is treading dangerous waters.

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