Not that long ago I questioned whether we’ve ever seen openly gay couple feature in an advert. Oh, sure, there’s campery and queening but I cannot recall a single instance of a clearly homosexual couple being the stars of an advert. Everyday people who just happen to be same-sex couples. Until this Natwest advert.
“I love my girlfriend Kate,” says a lady who also loathes swimming, is superstitious and prefers espressos. She is seen lovey-doveying with Kate so I don’t think there’s much doubt as to whether we’re talking about a girlfriend or a girl-friend here.
This shouldn’t really be a big deal. Especially given Anna Friel and the other one from Brookside fisted one another live on the Channel 4 soap in 1983, that bloke in Eastenders and when TV went all queer in the 90s. While dramatic hyperbole is a bit of a stock-in-trade here it’s hardly unusual to see people on television or film – or hear them on the radio – playing parts where they just happen to be gay: so why has it taken advertising so long to catch up?
This is a very interesting question and it’s also worth pondering why few ethnic minorities are featured as the main focus of adverts. A BT or Oxo family, one of the price-comparison mascots? Advertisers could just about get away with a kind of don’t-ask-don’t-tell defence – how do you if they’re gay or not? – but we all know that homosexuality has been woefully under-represented in advertising. Why? I’ll tell you.
I have no doubt that the people producing adverts are fairly broad-minded – they’re very busy shoving ginger up each others’ rectums, having threesomes at business breakfasts and snorting coke off malnourished children for a start – but advertisers fear that the people who buy the products or services they’re shilling, quite simply, are homophobes.
Perhaps not the spitting, seething fire-and-brimstone lunatics that inhabit Daily Mail letters pages, but people gently – even subconsciously – a little bit uncomfortable with the gays. On a not-unrelated note if you are, for example, M+S then your target market is largely well-to-do Surrey commuter-belt female WASPs with a yen for cashmere. Why bother – apart from some box-ticking PR – to go for broke with a non-native burka-clad Pakistani lady fronting your new Autumn season campaign? In that respect it’s terrible targeting, in the case of homosexuality you might actually risk driving away customers.
This kind of demographic profiling and risk aversion is the bedrock of industries such as insurance and finance, so it’s logical that advertising follows the same rules. And this is why advertising has, comparably, remained in the dark ages for so long. It’s a game of percentages and value for money. So UK advertising remains astonishingly homogenous (and conservative since the bemusing rules dictate that in the middle of watching Sharon Stone flashing her pussy in Basic Instinct on Channel 5 you’re not allowed to watch an advert where anyone uses a word any stronger that ‘bum’) and tries not to frighten anyone, all the while waving hands at inclusivity and ticking those demographic boxes.
So, well done to Natwest I guess. I’m glad this hasn’t been trumpeted or promoted because it really shouldn’t be a big deal. But I genuinely can’t remember another advert that has matter-of-factly referenced a gay couple. There are two thing worth pointing out here though. The first is that this lady banker and her girlfriend appear in a kind of Sliding Doors-style parallel universe which, somehow, vaguely negates it a little for me. It’s a little have-cake-eat-cake. The second is that, if you want to watch the ad on Natwest’s Youtube channel, you get served an Adsense contextual pop-up advert.
The fact that a banking outfit as vast as Natwest tries to make a few pitiful pennies through online advertising is rather amusing but it should serve as a valuable reminder that – gay, bi or straight – banks just want your money. At the end of the day, regardless of which set of sexual organs we prefer, we’re just numbers to the people who run them.