Exploring LGBT Issues in Strategic Communication with Theory and Research
Chapter 7: Symbolic Interactions in Sexual Scripts: Improvisation and Male Consumer Responses to Gay-Vague Advertising
Jacqueline Lambiase, Glenn Griffin, and Kartik Pashupati
In the mid-1990s, advertisers began using gay-vague images, in which mainstream scripts of a heteronormative world were subverted. Simply, gay-vague advertising may appeal to both gay and straight target markets by using coded visual messages for gay audiences that may not be noticed by straight people. Using multiple appeals contained in one image, brands exploit the excess of meaning in advertising to reach more people, a strategy that maintains a balance “between brand strategy—what the marketer intends—and brand community—the free appropriation of meaning by the market” (Schroeder & Zwick, 2004, p. 45). Lambiase and Reichert (2003) asserted that consumer researchers and visual rhetoricians should work broadly “to trace the discourse communities surrounding sexually oriented ads and their varieties of meanings” (p. 264). Contemporary masculine images are open to multiple interpretations because encoding images with gay “window dressing” provides crossover potential and shows the “flexibility inherent in marketspace bodily representations” (Schroeder & Zwick, 2004, p. 43).
T. Miller (2001) wrote that gay-vague advertisements “are designed to make queers feel special for being ‘in the know’ while not offending straights who are unable to read the codes” (p. 299). Advertising creators, however, downplay this intent. While Sam Shahid, the creative mind behind campaigns for Calvin Klein and Abercrombie & Fitch, admitted creating homoerotic advertising, he denied familiarity with the phrase, “gay vague,” and attributed its creation to gay journalists. Shahid believed that “each person sees (homoeroticism) in a...
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