I have just passed through Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport for the first time. Regrettably, I was forced to eat my faithful sherpa, who died from exposure, in the course of the 8-day journey from Terminal A to the baggage claim. That I had to sleep inside a Tauntaun carcass seems almost pleasant in comparison to the fate which befell that poor sherpa.
God help me, I learned something thanks to NASCAR.
Many years ago I was living with my dad in a small town near Joliet, IL. Joliet is known for its prison, its considerable urban blight (which was "remedied" with riverboat casinos, at least until one of them burned down), and a gigantic concrete oval which hosts NASCAR races and other even-lower-brow events. Trust me, if you think a NASCAR crowd is bad you should see the tidal wave of human detritus that washes up for the NASCAR Truck Series or NHRA Drag Racing. Many area residents have found that the best way to handle race weekends is to get as far away as possible. Thus one year I departed for some entertainment (the specifics of which escape me) in Chicago. Thoroughly unaware, I happened to drive through the neighborhood lovingly referred to as Boys' Town on the day of the Pride Parade.
Aside from the annoyance that I had traded one massive crowd for another, one thing struck me: the dominant presence of beer advertising. Specifically, Miller Lite appeared to be a major sponsor of both events. This isn't surprising. Miller wants to sell beer, and thus it advertises at well-attended public spectacles. What struck (redacted) year-old Ed was the range of advertising for the same products. To appeal to the slack-jawed NASCAR partisans Miller Lite was depicted being drunk by hillbilly stereotypes, lauded by impressively hatted country music superstars, held by Men doing Manly Things, and present in various other settings common to rural America. Up in Boys' Town Miller had an equally impressive range of ads that were…well, they were pretty gay. Rainbows, unisex groups of dancing men or women, and slogans (which I had not previously seen in any ads) exhorting everyone to "Be Yourself!" while chugging Miller. It turns out that Scientists at the Institute of Science figured out that $1 from a hillbilly is worth $1, while $1 from a gay dude is worth $1.
I suppose this shouldn't have surprised me; after all, I've long enjoyed watching Telemundo and Univision to enjoy the exotic other-ness of the same damn commercials I always see only in Spanish and with Latino actors. For my money, the Five Dollar Footlong song sounds way better en Espanol:
But as obvious as the economics were (gay people buy things, hence ads) I was surprised. Advertising to The Gays is "controversial." I certainly was pleased to learn that there was an entire alternative universe of marketing strategies and ad campaigns directed at people who were not me, but it had (and still retains) the feeling of something the advertisers and corporate sponsors were trying to keep on the down-low. They weren't hiding it, per se, but they seemed content to have the majority of consumers remain unaware that Parallel Gay Universe gets its own beer and car commercials. The NASCAR fans in Joliet might somehow have felt betrayed to learn that Miller Lite was trying really hard to appeal to The Fags just a few miles to the north of where Toby Keith and Dale Earnhardt were hawking the same product.
Americans are taught to identify with brands and see our faceless corporate producers as being well-attuned to our interests. But getting 300 million people to think "Miller Brewing Company is speaking to me" requires a lot of different marketing approaches. Twenty and perhaps even ten years ago Corporate America would have considered targeting the gay market too exotic, too likely to bring about a consumer backlash. Today, despite pockets of social resistance to things like gay marriage, red-faced threats and hysterical warnings from Focus on the Family don't elicit much of a response (if any) from advertisers. Remember their big boycott of Proctor & Gamble for supporting "the gay agenda"? The only group that cared less than P&G was the rest of us consumers. There is money to be made, and as long as there is money to be made corporations will extend the same ham-handed marketing techniques to gays and lesbians as to the rest of us…complete with woefully unsubtle puns indicating their intended audience:
Would it make the rest of America mad to know that GM produces ads about "versatile tops" because "not all roads are straight"? Maybe. But while the speed with which social attitudes are changing is no doubt too slow for people most directly affected by them, it won't be more than a few years until we see these "themes" (as advertisers euphemestically refer to the social attitudes subtly incorporated into ads) start leaking into mainstream advertising. As restaurant chains would not dare to run ads featuring an interracial couple in 1960, the continued inability to justify the economics of excluding gay "themes" from advertising means that we'll be seeing male couples dining in Olive Garden commercials before long. The extent to which major advertisers are willing to create entire gay-oriented marketing campaigns indicates that whatever backlash Dobson & Co. are hoping for isn't affecting the bottom line. And corporations are essentially strippers, putting on an act and saying whatever needs to be said to separate the customer from his money.