NEW YORK — A new TV commercial features a good-looking young woman on a beach vacation lounging next to a good-looking young man. He bemoans the glare on his iPad, and she fills him in on the Kindle Paperwhite’s sun-friendly screen.
He clicks to buy one himself, then suggests they celebrate with a drink.
“My husband’s bringing me a drink right now,” she says.
“So is mine,” he replies as they turn and wave at their male loved ones sitting together at a tiki bar.
Welcome to the latest in gay imagery in mainstream advertising, where LGBT people have been waiting for a larger helping of fairness, or at least something other than punchlines and cliches.
While there are still plenty of those, something has happened in advertising over the last two or three years, nearly two decades after Ikea broke ground in the U.S. with a TV spot featuring a gay couple shopping for a dining room table, a spot that ran only once in New York and Washington, D.C., and was pulled after bomb threats to Ikea stores.
Today, gay and lesbian parents and their kids are featured, along with gay pitchwoman Ellen DeGeneres, in J.C. Penney ads. Same-sex couples have their own, advertised wedding registries at Macy’s and elsewhere. Two happy young men sit together eating at a dining table, with wine and romantic candlelight, in a section of a Crate & Barrel catalog marked “Us & Always.”
Traditionally lagging behind TV and film content in terms of LGBT inclusion, advertisers in this country are facing considerably less trouble than they used to when taking on gay themes, observers said.
Penney’s rebuffed critics and launched a lesbian-focused catalog ad for Mother’s Day that the company followed with a two-dads family for Father’s Day.
Though Crate & Barrel declined comment and Amazon didn’t respond to email requests for the same about the Kindle ad, LGBT-focused marketers and monitors think ad agency executives and the companies that employ them might finally be getting it. Now, they hope, a greater degree of diversity in skin tone and ethnicity will follow.
“They’re no longer just targeting gay and lesbian people. They’re targeting people like my mom, who want to know that a company embraces and accepts their gay and lesbian family members, friends and neighbors,” said Rich Ferraro, a spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Others also are celebrating the newfound bump in ad visibility, a mirror of cultural gains overall. It’s a boost that comes as the U.S. Supreme Court takes up arguments this month in key challenges that could lead to further recognition of same-sex marriage and spousal benefits.
Bob Witeck, who consults for Fortune 100 companies on LGBT marketing and communications strategies, put the buying power of U.S. lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults at $790 billion last year. He estimated the U.S. LGBT adult population at 16 million, though others say their ranks could be as many as 25 million.
There’s no demographic evidence or social science that points to the LGBT segment as notably higher earning or wealthier than anybody else, though they often are louder in protesting offensive ad messaging and are loyal to brands and companies that support them.
“Things have changed significantly in terms of risk and reward,” Witeck said. “Businesses don’t view this as a risk model any longer.”