From Pickups … To Suvs – advertising to gay and lesbian market – Brief Article
Bruce C. Steele
WINKING ADS THAT APPEALED TO GAY MEN AS EARLY AS THE 1950’s LEAD THE WAY FOR TODAY’S BOLD APPEALS TO LESBIAN AND GAY CONSUMERS
In a scene that might have come from Being Joseph Cotten, the dapper star of Citizen Kane and The Third Man is both seated and standing beside himself, one hand on the back of his other self’s chair, looking as if he’s about to utter the most sophisticated pickup line imaginable. Both Cottens in the photograph have a drink in hand, and the caption reads, “Mixed or straight–it leaves you breathless.”
The photo is an advertisement for Smirnoff vodka, from the December 1958 issue of Esquire–a far cry from recent liquor company ads created for the gay press that wave rainbow flags and depict smiling, handsome gay couples in bars or on bicycle trips. But the Joseph Cotten ad, with its clear-as-vodka subtext, is but one sample from several decades of wink-wink, nudge-nudge, buy-buy advertising that tapped into a gay (usually male) sensibility without any explicit gay content. To place such an ad in an upscale men’s magazine (such as Esquire, Truman Capote’s midlife literary home, or After Dark) was to hope that the unacknowledged gay readership would pick up on and appreciate the nod in their direction–and then buy the damned vodka.
Forty years later a thriving gay press and a focus-group–empowered lesbian and gay market demand more direct pitches. Liquor companies, among the first to court and support gay consumers directly, have been joined by car manufacturers (particularly the lesbian-loving Subaru) and fashion design houses. Indeed, Dolce & Gabbana even went so far as to portray physical intimacy between same-sex couples in ads that ran in the mainstream media, such as Interview magazine.
In 1958 we could smile wanly at a sexually ambiguous Joseph Cotten; by 1998 it was almost commonplace to see openly gay celebrities posed for eyewear and fashion ads or lesbian and gay artists recruited to shoot wild gay scenes for Diesel Jeans or to paint the Absolut bottle just one more time.
–Bruce C. Steele, with reporting by Mike Wilke
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