Tuesday, December 08, 2015
The ad above is for the upscale department store chain, Nordstrom. The ad is simple, clear and direct—and just matter-of-fact. It’s the sort of portrayal of gay people that more advertisers should be doing.
The ad has no spoken dialogue, just three words imposed over the pictures: Heart, Home, and Holiday. As the two men kiss in the final scene, the ad dissolves to the advertising tagline, “where the gifts are”. In the YouTube description, they say: “Home is the heart of the holiday season”, which is a sentiment that most people can relate to.
This sort of ad matters because LGBT people were never depicted in mainstream advertising until relatively recently. Back in the 1980s, I worked part-time in the production area of Chicago’s weekly LGBT newspaper, one of the largest in the country. Even in the LGBT Pride edition—of a gay newspaper, remember—mainstream advertisers used generic ads that could have run in any publication.
In the late 1980s, major companies started advertising directly TO LGBT people, not just AT us, beginning at first with adding congratulations for Pride. In the 1990s, they started to depict LGBT people in their ads. But this was all within the context of LGBT publications, and mainstream society never saw those ads in mainstream publications.
In 1994, Ikea aired the first-ever TV commercial in the USA to depict a gay couple just living their lives (below), but even then the only one very brief sign of any affection between the couple is when one guy briefly places his hand on the other guy’s shoulder blade. That’s not just chaste, it’s positively antiseptic.
The Ikea ad aired only once, and only in two TV markets, but despite that (and its timidity), it was widely talked about because, at the time, it was seen as “revolutionary”. Yeah, well, all revolutions have to start somewhere. This was 25 years after the Stonewall Riots that began the modern LGBT rights movement, so clearly that “revolution” was taking awhile to heat up.
Not much happened in the years immediately following the Ikea ad, and when gay people started showing up on mainstream TV shows, advertisers sometimes threatened to walk (and certainly the rightwing pressured them to do so).
More recently, as the momentum for marriage equality grew and strengthened, advertisers finally started moving to include at least some gay people in their ads, and I’ve shared many of those on this blog. These days, LGBT kids growing up have a reasonable chance of seeing themselves reflected in pop culture—music, TV, movies, AND advertising. That’s a good thing.
Advertising is by its very nature conservative in the non-political sense: It doesn’t change very quickly at all. This is why it was well over 4 decades after the Stonewall Riots before advertisers began to regularly include gay people in their advertising. We see the culture around us reflected by advertising, it seldom has any role creating it, and so it’s just now catching up with the rest of us.
And, how great is it that now people can complain about what is depicted, rather than that we aren’t depicted at all? I know some LGBT folks will complain that this ad features a white, male couple who appear to be relatively well off, and, I agree: We do need diversity of LGBT depictions in advertising, too. But, like I said, advertising is conservative, and it will take them awhile to catch up with us. But, they will.
In the meantime, the Nordstom ad is a very good for what it is, and lightyears ahead of our portrayal in the Ikea ad two decades ago. Progress, however slow or imperfect, is a good thing.