Exploring LGBT Issues in Strategic Communication with Theory and Research
Chapter 6: Mis(sed) Representations: LGBT Imagery in Mainstream Advertising
In 2011, pedestrians walking through some of the most historic cities in Europe and the United States found, among the sights, images of U.S. President Barack Obama kissing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, President Obama kissing Chinese President Hu Jintao, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas kissing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Pope embracing Imam Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb. The images were part of clothing brand Benetton’s “Unhate” campaign, running on billboards, in newspapers, magazines, and on websites around the world.
Intended to highlight political hate and fear of other cultures, and to promote closeness between all people and faiths (Duncan, 2011), the discourse surrounding the campaign has instead focused on the homosexual nature of the imagery. Even though the images are clearly digitally manipulated, they still sparked outrage (Hutchinson, 2011), and serve as a reminder of just how powerfully mainstream audiences can respond when it comes to same-sex imagery. While the provocative and overt nature of the Benetton images is extreme, they serve as a warning to advertisers: knowing when enough is enough is a delicate balance.
These ads were intended to be controversial even though mainstream advertisers largely seek the opposite, operating in fear of backlash from mainstream audiences. As a result, they either choose to avoid LGBT imagery in their mainstream executions or highly embed those cues so that they resonate with LGBT segments of the audience but go overlooked by the larger, heterosexual base. The former is becoming an...
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