The Mysteriously Missing Big Gay Ad

Why No Gay-Targeted Ads on Mainstream TV—Ever?

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Jonathon Feit Jonathon Feit
I've been thinking a lot about the Super Bowl lately (probably because we're a Patriots household and have spent the past week in mourning), and in particular, the diversity -- or lack thereof -- among the advertisements.

And then I think of stereotypes, and how they're usually grounded at least somewhat in reality.

I realize that Super Bowl advertising is about hitting the largest possible swath of relevant audience within an exorbitantly expensive short time frame. So perhaps it makes sense that the Super Bowl -- the ultimate macho sporting event -- is bereft of gay-focused advertising. And when a now-infamous television ad featuring two men "kissing" is actually aired, it does so in a mocking way. This country -- ever enamored of bully culture -- still sees gay men and women as an easy target at which to poke fun.

Leaving aside for the moment assumptions about the personalities of GLBT men and women, the size of the gay audience that is watching the Super Bowl is going to be smaller than the audience of straight viewers (just as a function of populations), and again, Super Bowl advertising is about impressions.

What makes infinitely less sense, however, is why GLBT-friendly (not just audience-neutral, but audience-courting) advertising fails to appear on any mainstream, non-GLBT TV channel in this country. Ever. Even Bravo ( doesn't air gay-focused advertising.

There is, of course, an easy explanation – even if I think it's an insufficient one. Groups such as the Parents Television Council hold major sway over conservative parts of the country, and (much like Ann Coulter) get more than their fair share of talking-head time because their opinions are radical and sensationalist.

I'd wager, however, that most high-level TV executives don't sit up at night biting their fingernails and trembling about the PTC's next exclamation. They do, however, stay up concerned about advertising revenue, so opening up the airwaves to the greatest possible number of (reputable) advertisers just makes sense.

Most of our blog posts in this space make statements about what the media, marketing and advertising industries should do to counter specific problems with regard to diversity. But I'm not convinced that we're even aware of the root of this underexposure problem. Is there a general industry-wide discomfort with the political footballs (pun intended, thank you!) swirling around the gay community? Is there a perception that gay consumers don't have money, or don't spend it? Are there not enough gay folks in positions to buy advertising media with sensitivity to their own identifications?

In an e-mail earlier this week, George Sansoucy--a key member of my advisory board who has been senior VP at two IPG agencies had this to say:
The main reason we do not see GLBT-targeted ads on prime time television is because the medium is a BROAD-reach media vehicle and the GLBT target is a NICHE market...using NICHE market media vehicles to reach NICHE target objectives is the most efficient and cost effective way to advertise. That said, broad or general-market marketers -- like those who might advertise during the Super Bowl -- should strive to have their creative reflect diversity (i.e., African-American, Hispanic and, yes, gay).
If you're reading this post, you're likely an executive already concerned with maximizing diversity within your organization. You're the choir, and we're the preacher. We need to figure out ways to end discrimination across social boundaries -- but to do that we need to get to the root of the problem. I propose an experiment: Use the comments section of this post like a giant digital conference room to brainstorm reasons and solutions for the disconnect.

"Bigotry" just doesn't seem to cut it; there's ignorance somewhere, because media organizations are profit-hounds who will bend their ideologies and ignore their critics -- and rightly so, from some considered perspectives -- if a new controversial initiative provides a windfall.

But the data is getting corrupted. Otherwise, why on Earth would the gay community, which commands a buying power of $690 BILLION (according to the 2007 estimate of GLBT marketing consultant Wes Combs) be undertargeted? I'm willing to grant that perhaps the Super Bowl isn't the ideal venue to reach such an audience (for a host of reasons), but how about the rest of the day?

Gay men and woman watch television as much as other Americans do -- even if you measure stereotypes like how much time per capita is spent at the gym.
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