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The McCann Time Capsule: Our LGBTQ Ad History

The McCann Time Capsule: Our LGBTQ Ad History

With its win last week of an AICP Next award, our MGM Resorts “Universal Love” work is continuing in its second year as a solid award-winner. The album, in which standard love songs were re-recorded with the pronouns changed to be more LGBTQ inclusive, racked up almost 30 creative awards last year, including Gold at Cannes, Cresta, Cristal and both the Clios and the LIA. This year it’s added another 16 awards, including four Golds at the One Show. And over the course of the two years it has also been recognized specifically for its LGBTQ content at the New York Festivals, the Shorty Awards, at D&AD Impact and in Campaign Magazine U.S.’s inaugural “Power of Purpose Awards.”

With these results, McCann New York’s “Universal Love” might be emerging as one of the most creatively awarded LGBTQ campaigns. That is, if such an official historical tally of this sort existed. 

The history of LGBTQ advertising itself, of relatively recent vintage, is still being written. As Campaign magazine has noted, the beginnings of TV commercials featuring same-sex couples goes back 25 years to the 1994 spot Deutsch created that featured two gay men shopping at Ikea. But the topic was still considered controversial enough that when Guinness planned to have two men kissing in a 1995 UK commercial, the negative reaction to the prospect of this ad was enough to scare Guinness off from even running the TV spot.

By the time two decades later when there was a next written-about wave in LGBTQ advertising, McCann was already in the mix. New York Times ad columnist Stuart Elliott in 2013 noted at that time “a significant change in how marketers are disseminating” this advertising. He said: 

“For the last two or three decades, such ads were usually aimed at L.G.B.T. consumers, placed in media those consumers watch and read, and then supplemented with tactics that included event marketing like floats in Pride Month parades. 

“Recently, however, L.G.B.T. ads have been getting broader exposure. While targeted media and events remain part of the game plan, they are also running in mainstream media that, in addition to general cable channels, include magazines like Family Circle, newspapers like The New York Times and social media like Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and YouTube.”

McCann New York’s #LuckyToBe 100% Me campaign was mentioned in that article as part of that trend. That 2013 campaign for General Mills’s Lucky Charms cereal included both social media and event marketing. Along with a 2012 McCann Canada Mastercard ad (both are pictured on the TruthWellBrewed home page accompanying this story), they are among the 63 featured on Clio’s Ads of the World’s “Highlighted LGBTQ Advertising” website that “takes a look at how agencies are recognizing the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer community through dramatic, heartfelt and thought-provoking advertisements.” McCann New York’s recently released Verizon “Love Calls Back” work has also just been added to this website pride compendium.

But while the 1994 Ikea TV spot and a 1989 Absolut Vodka ad that ran in The Advocate and After Dark are often cited as the origins of LGBTQ advertising, a pre-history has also been increasingly cited. And all point to the famous 1920s-1930s illustrator J.C. Leyendecker. He figures into a 2013 Brandweek story with the headline “Same-sex imagery is much older than you think,” in a 2013 Adweek article on “16 of the Gayest Ads in History,” and in the gay social network Hornet.com’s 2017 “A Brief History of Gay Advertising.”

As the Brandweek story notes:

“Take the work of commercial artist J.C. Leyendecker, whose illustrations for brands like Arrow shirts and Interwoven socks in the ’20s and ’30s influenced the sartorial tastes of millions of American men—few of whom knew Leyendecker was gay. In retrospect, he hardly seems to have hidden the fact. His work represents a stereotypically homoerotic world of crew teams, lifeguards and hunky playboys, many of them modeled after Leyendecker’s young lover, Charles Beach. The ads drip with equal parts sweat and sexual innuendo.”

And given Leyendecker’s commercial artistic prominence in the early 20thcentury (he was also famous for his Saturday Evening Post covers), he figures into McCann’s pre-history as well. As the 1923 “Annual of Advertising and Editorial Art and Design” establishes, Leyendecker’s Interwoven socks ads at that time were handled by The Erickson Co., the agency that would merge with The H. K. McCann Co. in1930 to form McCann-Erickson.

McCann Pride Portrait Series with Denis Mahon

McCann Pride Portrait Series with Denis Mahon

McCann Pride Portrait Series with Mariano Pintor

McCann Pride Portrait Series with Mariano Pintor