The latest instalment of the current industry obsession with social
context in advertising comes in the shape of two tasty gay men who
appear in Ogilvy & Mather’s new Impulse commercial. As you wiggle your
buns in anticipation of this entertaining Jeff Stark-directed spot,
allow me to note the significance of the ad for the client,
Unilever-owned Elida Faberge, and its agency, O&M.
This commercial features a young woman who believes she is making Mr
Right act on Impulse until he walks away with his own Mr Right. She
doesn’t quite understand why, until a series of visual clues - including
a delightful cameo from Quentin Crisp - helps the penny to drop.
The ad was conceived after Elida Faberge commissioned ’extensive
research into young women’s views on romance and relationships in the
90s’. From this came the blinding truth that ’not all chance encounters
will lead to life-long romance’ and the idea that hearts-and-flowers
cliches are a turn-off. (Although whether being accosted in the street
by a flower-wielding stranger, as Still Price Lintas’s original Impulse
ads showed, is romantic or really rather scary in a axe-murderer sort of
way is another matter altogether.)
There is, of course, nothing new in gay imagery in advertising. Britvic
had pretty boys in posing pouches and the endline, ’Somehow we manage to
cram in 12 oranges’, on posters five years ago. It’s an easy way for a
brand to attract some welcome notoriety and free newspaper column
What is truly noteworthy is the mass-market nature of the brand. Elida
Faberge has taken the plunge on behalf, as it were, of all other
mainstream advertisers. It hasn’t just slipped it out during Channel 4
pink triangle programming either; it’s on ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and
O&M deserves a hearty ’well done’ for managing to make the first
mainstream gay commercial. It may contain only personable and
squeaky-clean gay characters. It may be more ’gay lite’ than
full-strength gay. It may even be a tad reminiscent of the Norwegian
Solo soft drink commercial which did so well at Cannes three years ago,
but it’s still an achievement.
Three years ago, it was cries of ’poor bastards’ as we watched O&M
flailing around amid the Guinness gay ad fiasco. (You may remember Rob
MacNevin, Guinness’s then marketing director, denying the existence of
the ’gay kiss’ script, shortly before Campaign obtained a copy of the
But the achievement lies not merely in getting a gay ad on air. It’s
filmed with a lightness of touch and is bang on Impulse’s strategy. So
much so that if you were unaware of its iconoclastic status you would
just think ’what a nice Impulse ad’.
And surely that is the real point.