Advertising is supposed to reflect the world around us or at least paint a picture of what the world could be, but it’s always dragged its feet when it comes to adapting to society’s progressive attitudes, values and cultural touchpoints. So, when it comes to love and relationships, it comes as no surprise that the ad world has been a little slow to cotton on to the fact that heterosexual love is not the only kind that exists.
Before the 90s, attitudes were slowly starting to shift and become more liberal, but if you looked at just UK and US TV advertisements alone you’d think same-sex couples just weren’t a thing. The first time ad audiences were treated to a same sex couple wasn’t until 1994 when Ikea ran a spot in the US created by Deutsch, which featured two gay men shopping for a dining table.
Val DiFebo, CEO of Deutsch NY has said of the ad: “Love is love is love. And this goes back to 1994, well before being openly gay was commonplace. One of my favourite marketing moments of all time was so simple, yet so controversial and groundbreaking.” The advert was praised by many, however others were outraged, and Ikea was flooded with complaints and calls to boycott the company.
But there were some commentators who were aware from the off that being seen as an ally to the LGBT+ community could potentially be lucrative for advertisers. Reporting on protests at Ikea’s east coast stores, Bruce Horovitz of the LA Times wrote: “If it becomes clear to other major marketers that Ikea’s business is not harmed, and perhaps even helped, by the ad, it could profoundly affect the way major advertisers speak to gays and lesbians.”
Across the pond in the UK, the first on-screen same-sex kiss took place in 1974 in the half-hour BBC drama Girl, which told the story of an affair between two female army officers and starred Alison Steadman. However, it wouldn’t be until the mid-90s that advertisers thought we could handle such scenes, and even then it was a bit of a false start. In 1995, Guinness had planned to run an ad directed by Tony Kaye featuring two men kissing accompanied by the song Stand By Your Man by Tammy Wynette. Due to a flurry of hostile press stories and pressure from anti-gay groups, the ad was never released and only YouTube can now provide us of a glimpse of what could have been.
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