World: Stuart Elliott in America

By Stuart Elliott, the advertising columnist at The New York Times, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 11 June 2004 12:00AM

The media behemoth Viacom is turning a straight eye on the queer guy, and gal, moving ahead with long-delayed plans to launch an advertising-supported cable television network aimed at gay men and lesbians.

The announcement of the network, named Logo, comes amid a flurry of sorts on American TV of programming for and about homosexuals, from Queer As Folk and The L Word on Showtime to Will & Grace on the broadcast network NBC to, of course, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on the cable network Bravo.

At the same time, Madison Avenue has been creating campaigns for scores of mainstream marketers designed to entice dollars from pink purses and wallets. Some ads even speak directly to the intended audience with tailored content, ranging from obvious imagery, such as rainbow flags, to subtle signals, such as travellers' cheques signed with a pair of male (or female) names.

Almost all gay-targeted ads until now have been in print, direct mail or promotional, given that it was so inefficient to try to reach gay men and lesbians through TV - not only expensive, but difficult to determine audience composition. With the arrival of Queer Eye last summer, advertisers began asking agencies to produce commercials with complementary content.

Among the first was the online travel agency Orbitz, which has been running spots with a nudge-nudge, wink-wink attitude, talking up destinations.

The introduction of Logo, scheduled for 17 February, is sure to stimulate additional requests for TV campaigns from mainstream marketers. Straw in the wind: after running print ads to encourage gay visitors, the organisation that markets Philadelphia as a tourist destination introduced a commercial last week that takes literally its reputation as "the city of brotherly love".

Logo already has commitments from advertisers including Orbitz and is in discussions with others such as Avis, IBM, General Motors and Pfizer.

To calm concerns over salacious content, Viacom says programmes will observe strictures on language and sexual imagery.

News of Logo set off the predictable hysteria among the so-called traditional-values crowd, railing against "moral anarchy for a very seriously dysfunctional lifestyle", in the words of one self-appointed would-be censor. That was followed by the predictable hand-wringing in some mainline media circles about the financial losses and failure Viacom would face if the conservatives call for a boycott of Logo's sponsors.

Puh-leeze, that's so 1992. For one thing, no boycott of a major advertiser for sponsoring gay-themed programming has ever worked. For another, the success stories actually have run in the other direction, when gay-rights organisations asked, and received, pledges from marketers such as Procter & Gamble to boycott TV shows with hosts deemed homophobic.

Some in the gay community worry that Logo will encourage separatism or consumerism. For the former, the network's slogan, "Different. Together", signals Viacom's interest in reaching viewers of various orientations, the better to sell to all of them. As for the latter, well, recognition can bring validation, and being targeted by marketers is a peculiarly American form of recognition.

So, expect millions of viewers to start chanting: "We're here, we're queer, get used to it - and pass the remote."

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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