15 Ads That Changed The Way We Think About Gays And Lesbians

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Thursday, October 11, was National Coming-Out Day. The holiday celebrates the first coming-out day, back in 1988, when 500,000 people participated in a march on Washington, D.C. for gay rights. Participants marched for legal recognition of their relationships, an end to discrimination, and reproductive freedom.

We decided to investigate how advertisers have featured LGBT people in their ads over the years. How do ads illustrate a shift in society’s perspective over time?

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Well, there were some shockers. Like the 1950’s ad warning children of the sick homosexuals wondering the streets, or the classy Guinness ad from 1995 that was never aired because it was considered too shocking at the time.

But, we have come a long way since those days. Ads today are both inclusive and respectful, and often boldly targeting the LGBT community directly. And, as Adweek reported, the LGBT community is currently estimated to represent a $743 billion market. That makes it is a seriously important market for advertisers to watch.

Homosexuality wasn't a part of mainstream media, so potentially homoerotic scenes were published in entirely innocent contexts.

Homosexuality was only referred to in the context of anti-gay public service announcements. This PSA warned, 'be careful when you meet a stranger, one never knows when the homosexual is about.' Gay men were said to be sick, and stereotyped with creepy facial hair.

1989: The gay community was essentially ignored by Madison Avenue for decades. Absolut made headlines when it began advertising in gay magazines The Advocate and After Dark.

Society was certainly evolving around the issues of gay rights, but we still had a long way to go. Guinness made an ad featuring a co-habitating gay couple, via agency Ogilvy & Mather. Even though it only showed a small peck on the cheek, the ad was never aired as a result of an aggressive backlash by anti-gay groups.

1995: Solo orange juice.

In Norway, audiences were a bit easier going. This ad for an orange juice company, created by JBW, shows a woman and man in a restaurant making eye-contact from across the room. Oops! The woman is disappointed when the man's boyfriend shows up.

Things seemed to be looking up. This ad for Johnny Walker, by Leo Burnett, first appears to be a quiet montage of a man and woman on their wedding day, but turns out to be a father happily taking his daughter to marry her girlfriend.

2004: Virgin Atlantic.

There were a couple bumps along the way. While Virgin Atlantic is known as supporter of the LGBT community, this hilarious ad for Virgin Atlantic, created by BBDO South Africa, seems to have a bit of a homophobic undertone.

The positive dialogue continued into 2006 with this ad, created by Saatchi & Saatchi. A father begrudgingly waits to meet his daughter's date, asking 'Is this one like all the others?' Her response is a knowing, 'not exactly.' Once he sees the Toyota park in front, he is satisfied enough to walk back inside, at which point the daughter leaps into the car to kiss her new girlfriend.

By 2010, pro-gay rights ads were common on primetime television and across the internet. Justin Long starred in this cheeky ad, created by Saatchi & Saatchi, to support the overturn of California's Prop 8, a ballot proposition that made same-sex marriage are illegal.

In the same year, McDonald's ran this ad in France, in which a teenager struggles to come out to his father. The company declined to run the ad in the U.S. Why? Because the company's COO, Don Thompson is a Christian, reported CBS News, noting he only allowed it to air in France because homosexuality is a 'cultural norm' there.

How have ads changed our thinking about gender?

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