PERSPECTIVE: The contradiction of a creative business ruled by machismo

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?


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