Exploring LGBT Issues in Strategic Communication with Theory and Research
Chapter 5: Sexual Minorities as Advertising Gatekeepers: Inside an Industry
Few forms of communication are more strategic than advertising, and few programs represent the changing landscape of gay and lesbian marketing more than a reality show about drag queens. RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered on Logo, MTV Networks’ niche gay and lesbian channel, in 2009. This campy parody of reality television features a group of contestants competing for the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar,” and combines elements from mainstream reality programs, including America’s Next Top Model and American Idol, into a bricolage of reality competition conventions. The program, while clearly in the reality competition genre, is still distinctive because of its gay sensibilities. RuPaul appears out of drag to guide contestants through their various challenges, and reappears at the program’s end, in drag, as a judge of the catwalk challenge. Each episode ends with the bottom two contestants being asked to “lipsync for your lives,” and the series has contributed numerous expressions, including “Condragulations,” to the urban gay lexicon (Caulfield, 2011).
The program has proven to be the tiny cable network’s breakout hit, being repurposed on VH1 and delivering solid ratings and online impressions. Like other reality competitions, RuPaul’s Drag Race is packed with product placement and sponsored messaging (Deery, 2004). Absolut Vodka, a brand that entered the LGBT market in 1981 with print advertisements in The Advocate, has been a show sponsor since its inception.
Communicating with gay and lesbian consumers today is not simply about placing advertisements in gay-focused magazines,...
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