Did you hear the one about the no-nonsense client who congratulated
an agency on winning his business, only to insist that the appointment
would be revoked if the "poof" who had been an integral part of the
agency's pitch team was ever introduced to him again? And so he
Almost unbelievably (but only almost) this is a true story. Wild horses
will not drag the name of the client concerned out of me, but the reason
for my reticence has nothing to do with sparing client embarrassment and
everything to do with sparing the agency staffer further punishment.
The lessons to be extrapolated from this story are not only that some
clients and agency managers are bigots who don't deserve to have anyone
working for them, but also that advertising itself has created a culture
which is, if not openly homophobic, then certainly discreetly so.
The irony is that advertising, like other creative industries, attracts
a high proportion of gay employees. Its young, informal and relaxed
atmosphere might seem a natural backdrop for gay people to express
themselves in a work context. As gay influences are increasingly
prevalent in general culture, agencies have been keen to seek the views
and experiences of as many homosexual men and lesbians as possible.
Occasionally these influences find their way into ads: O&M's Impulse
spot, HHCL's Britvic poster. The very notion of the "pink pound" even
posits the gay community as a discreet target audience, sufficiently
rich and distinct to merit its own magazines, media plans and creative
A new magazine from Queercompany, reported opposite, carries Lever
Faberge's first ad in a gay and lesbian magazine.
With all these factors working in favour of the gay viewpoint, the
outlook would seem to be positive. But talking to gay people who work in
agencies, the picture would seem to be a grim one. Media buying agencies
are off the scale, but even creative agencies have a macho, Loaded
culture where it would be very difficult to come out as gay - even for
people who are comfortable enough with their sexual orientation to risk
the treatment that can unfortunately follow.
The truth is that advertising, for all its talk of creativity, is of
necessity a sales-focused business that buys into archetypal macho
behaviour and only accepts certain types of personalities and attitudes.
That explains why gay people who work in advertising tell me that they
have been the targets of openly homophobic remarks and judgments.
It is a sobering thought that many of the key people who should comment
on this issue - the homosexuals and lesbians who work in advertising -
were, when approached by Campaign, unwilling to take part for fear of
provoking adverse reaction.
With clients of the type referred to at the beginning of this column on
the loose, can anyone blame them for wanting to remain invisible?