Turkey Of The Week? Rowse ad was more like a Big Gay Thanksgiving
A view from Phil Clements

Turkey Of The Week? Rowse ad was more like a Big Gay Thanksgiving

The tone of these Rowse Honey ads is (like the fairy tale porridge) just right, argues the ad industry's LGBT+ organisation PrideAM.

Sweeping across the internet like so much delicious honey covering your breakfast porridge, you may have noticed Rowse's "The three bears" by BMB taking over your feeds and the cover of Stylist last week. 

Ask Wikipedia (or indeed any LGBT+ person) and you will learn that a "bear" is a larger, hairier man who projects an image of ruggedness, but there is no Goldilocks to be found in the house dreamt up for this sumptuous advertising campaign.

What the audience does get is a cute and amusing insight into a rarely depicted gay subculture that just happens to share its name with the ursine homeowners of the 19th century fairy tale.

However, no sooner was Episode 1 of the series available to view than Campaign awarded it its "Turkey of the Week".

"The juxtaposition of honey, three bears, cooking and hirsute gay men seemed like such an incredible opportunity for fun. But the result is oddly dull and not even in a homey, cosy, fuzzy way," the reviewer argued. "Dull in a disconnected, no eye contact, poor dialogue way. Alas."

But here at Pride AM, the world’s first LGBT+ organisation for people working in the advertising and marketing industry, we beg to differ.

Firstly, there’s definitely eye contact, not least in the picture chosen to illustrate the article. Jovial bonhomie is very much the order of the day.

But one of our biggest concerns with the criticisms regards what the expectation of these three gay men actually is.

Openly gay men in the media spotlight will tell you that for decades they’ve experienced pressure to put on a "gay performance", to be outrageously camp, flaming. And if they refused to play up to that expectation, they ran the risk of having their careers sidelined.

Fair enough, for some people this is a default setting – a natural disposition – but what about the many gay men whose style of behaviour doesn’t fulfil the stereotypes nurtured in the minds of a straight audience? Is a gay presence in the public eye to be limited only to heterosexual misconceptions?

Of course not.

We are moving way beyond that. And there is room in modern advertising for all sorts of LGBT+ representation.

The tone of these Rowse Honey ads is, like the fairy tale porridge – just right.  

So it was with some surprise that we noted the article "Why we’re uncomfortable with the Rowse Three Bears ad" in Campaign on 3 November. Written by two guys in the ad industry who by their own definition "just happen to be gay", this piece levelled an accusation at the campaign that it had resorted to a caricature of gay men that somehow lacked authenticity.

With a criticism as sensitive as that, it’s important to provide the evidence to back your claim. You have to convincingly ascertain what constitutes a caricature or stereotype. If it’s certain behaviours or certain lines of dialogue that sit uncomfortably, you need to provide some analysis and make a case for why they don’t ring true. And that was lacking in this instance.

But the big question for the writers is, did they find themselves laughing with the Three Bears, or at them?At Pride AM, we’re definitely laughing with them.

There’s a key point to raise about the authenticity of expression in this ad series: it was originally intended to be scripted, but the lines were discarded in favour of the on-set improvisations provided by the cast.
"Top five berries?" asks the first bear.
"Mary," replies the second.
Everyone agrees.

What’s not to love?

While we would certainly encourage advertisers and marketers to think about the broader questions raised in the article, we can see no discernible negative depiction in BMB’s campaign – just gentle good humour.
You can count on one hand the amount of ads that were brave enough to include Bears, so Rowse definitely isn't just playing to straight expectations.

I’d personally argue that the comical behaviour of the Three Bears in this ad rings very true.  And trust me when I tell you I’ve known many Bears. No, not all of them in the biblical sense. Hush your mouth.

But the proof, as they say, is in the honey-coated pudding. If a brand wants to know if it got its representation right, the best people to ask are those in the demographic being represented. And those lovable gay Bears and the wider LGBT+ community have welcomed this ad campaign with open arms.

On social media, we’ve seen it shared time and time again, in Facebook groups, between friends, across continents. The campaign has received a very positive response from Gay Times and Attitude.

BearWorldMagazine.com is excitedly announcing the advent of each new episode on its big, furry pages.

On the JoeMyGod, a website of LGBT+ news and political opinion, it elicited a thread of praising conversation. One commenter posted: "If we had Rowse Honey available here I would be running out the door right now to get some. That ad is so cool," while another posted: "Did that ever put a smile on my face… thank you Rowse Honey."

As Jules Chalkley, creative director of BMB explained: "It was important to find the characters that would make it feel authentic and genuine, who we could trust to accurately represent the gay bear community."

Evidence suggests that their conscientious attention to detail has paid off, not least because Rowse Honey is apparently hoping that the success of the series will lead to an expansion of the programme. So maybe Campaign should have kept their turkey tucked away until Christmas.

Prematurely condemning this widely shared and lovingly received campaign demonstrates the kind of breakdown in communication between the marketing and advertising industry and the LGBT+ community that Pride AM aims to bridge.

Phil Clements is a member and spokesman for PrideAM