CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/ALTERNATIVE ADVERTISING - Mainstream advertisers embrace camp culture. Alternative lifestyles have become a staple of FMCG campaigns

Washing powder, biscuits, supermarkets and airlines are not known for taking risks with their advertising. Such blue-chip clients historically seek out a happy housewife to promote their products. They nestle safely in their middle-England heartland and leave the daring stuff to niche brands targeting young folk.

Washing powder, biscuits, supermarkets and airlines are not known

for taking risks with their advertising. Such blue-chip clients

historically seek out a happy housewife to promote their products. They

nestle safely in their middle-England heartland and leave the daring

stuff to niche brands targeting young folk.



But middle-England’s tastes are changing. The suburbs may not be ready

to embrace cross-dressers as sons-in-laws or neighbours but, with the

safe barrier of a television screen between them, Mr and Mrs Average are

happy to commune with ’alternative’ lifestyles.



Gay icons are no longer confined to gay audiences. They appeal to the

mainstream.



Enter Boy George, Julian Clary, Michael Barrymore, Eddie Izzard and Dale

Winton. These men - among others - have captured the hearts of

mainstream television viewers and blue-chip advertisers are eager to

capitalise on the warmth of feeling they generate.



It is even acceptable to make a direct reference to their sexuality.

Graham Norton is on our screens in a pounds 5 million campaign to

advertise McVitie’s biscuits which are now available in a cardboard

tube. In three different scenarios, Norton catches members of the public

indulging in mindless activities and tells them that they should ’get

out more’.



Using a similar pun, a new Aer Lingus poster campaign, created by Abbott

Mead Vickers BBDO, uses the image of Boy George next to the words: ’Be

the first to come out.’ The ad is promoting the airline’s new fast-track

security clearance service.



Not all advertisers who use gays as spokespeople feel they have to lean

so heavily on innuendo. Michael Barrymore’s catchline for the budget

retailer Kwik Save was ’because we’re cheap, you’re cheerful’.



He was hired for his straightforward popularity rather than his saucy

predilections.



The same goes for Eddie Izzard, a renowned cross-dresser, who was hired

by the Government to promote its Gift Aid 2000 charity donation scheme

in a high-profile campaign devised by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe.



And when BMP DDB was looking for a cast of well-known and loved

characters for the 1998 launch of the TV channel ONdigital, Julian Clary

and Dale Winton slipped in neatly alongside other mainstream

personalities such as Richard Attenborough, Ulrika Jonsson and Jonathan

Ross.



Philippa Roberts, the account director on the business at BMP, says: ’We

were looking to portray the face of popular TV. Winton and Clary were

not chosen to represent anything in particular.’



However, the appearance of the gay celebrities in the ad was startling

enough to interest Gay TV, which invited Mark Sands, the ONdigital

marketing director, to discuss the issue on air.



ONdigital has since moved away from the use of celebrities and has

chosen to feature real people for its latest ’video diaries’ campaign.

This has resulted in homosexuals being dropped from the advertising.



’In the new campaign, we have not gone for a perfect, politically

correct cross section,’ an ONdigital spokeswoman says. ’Our brand

appeals to everyone. We don’t discriminate.’



While an overtly gay lifestyle is still swept under the carpet by major

TV advertisers, familiar faces such as Norton and Winton are decidedly

safe and mainstream.



Gerry Moira, the executive creative director of Publicis, the agency

responsible for the McVitie’s campaign, says: ’If you’re looking for

unused stars, there aren’t that many left. I don’t know if Norton’s

gayness has kept him out of other ads but his sexual inclination wasn’t

a factor in our choice - it was his cheeky personality. The endline came

later.’



Stephen Meade, the client services director at Publicis, says: ’Five

years ago HHCL & Partners launched a Bhs campaign that used Julian Clary

because of the impact it had on audiences. The campaign used obvious

innuendo and lots of ’fnar fnar’ jokes. But gays are now totally

normalised so there is no shock value left.’



Lilly Savage starred in an Ogilvy & Mather commercial for the Ford

Escort ’What do you do in yours?’ campaign. Patrick Collister, who was

the agency’s creative director at the time, says that Ford, despite

being a traditional advertiser, had no problems with the casting and its

mainstream appeal.



’Ford has a convincing handle on its target group,’ Collister says.



Moira adds: ’Cross-dressing is a great British tradition. There is still

a difference in the mind of the British public between being a queen and

being a gay activist.’



Remember the Saatchi & Saatchi National Lottery ad featuring the man

caught out wearing a little black dress? And the Levi’s spot with the

beautiful transvestite using an electric razor in the back of a

taxi?



Both ads captured the imagination of the public in a way that was

beneficial to the brand.



And by featuring a gay couple in a recent TV commercial, the

Unilever-owned Impulse brand went where, only a few years previously,

Guinness had so famously feared to tread.



The fashion world is well ahead of the pack when it comes to

advertising.



Christian Dior’s current press campaign, for example, is oozing with

subtle but undisguised erotic encounters between two women.



We are still a long way off from seeing such images used in mainstream

advertising. For now, the UK public is unlikely to embrace anything more

extreme than the acceptable face of ’alternative’ lifestyles.



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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).