Pride’s sexualized ads spark debate: Are they problematic or should critics “get over it”?

Recently, amid a flurry of rainbow-toned ads featuring same-sex couples kissing, food delivery service Postmates launched its Pride Month advertising campaign, leaning on the aspect of gay sex.

The company, which is owned by ride-hailing service Uber, released a “user-friendly” food menu for consumers in New York and Los Angeles. An advertisement for the menu described an eggplant wearing a harness as a “top” and a peach wearing jockstrap underwear as a “bottom”. Throughout the commented video, the couple discuss various foods, some of which are easily digestible for people preparing for anal sex, while others are not.

“If you’re a top, it looks like you can eat whatever you want,” said the ad’s narrator, social media influencer Rob Anderson. “But if you’re a bottom, you’re expected to starve?” Not that pride.

Postmates isn’t alone in producing sexualized imagery to market to LGBTQ consumers during Pride Month. Burger King, Dr Pepper, and even toilet paper brand Cottonelle have run ads making oblique references to anal sex. But LGBTQ marketers and LGBTQ communications experts are divided on whether sexualized ads are an unintended tool to discriminate against queer gender and sexuality or a sign of progress.

Bob Witeck, president of Witeck Communications, a company specializing in LGBTQ marketing, called the trend “unusual” and “problematic”.

“Sexualizing any marketing campaign in this way is a risk,” he said. “But doing it to target LGBTQ consumers is more risky because it overly sexualizes same-sex attraction in a way that we’ve tried to normalize in many ways.”

In a statement, Postmates defended its Pride ad, saying the ad instead “de-stigmatizes” gay sex.

“The video comically showcases the diversity of the LGBTQIA+ community while sharing information often omitted from mainstream sex education,” the company said in an email. “Sex education, and specifically queer sex education, should not be stigmatized.”

The company also told NBC News that it does not have a “sex-friendly” menu targeting heterosexuals, but may create one in the future.

Postmates wasn’t the only company to come under fire for references to gay sex this year. Fast food giant Burger King has launched a “Pride Whopper” in its Austrian stores with “two equal buns”, giving consumers the option of buying burgers with two top buns or two bottom buns.

The ad went viral on gay Twitter, with some accusing the company of “flatterto the LGBTQ community. The agency behind it, Jung von Matt Donau, issued an apology last week, acknowledging that it did not consult with LGBTQ people “well enough” before running the ad.

“Sexuality is a gift to everyone,” Witeck added, “but it’s not limited to one demographic and it can be used to exploit and demean a community as a stereotype.”

Matt Wagner, vice president of customer relations at Target 10, an LGBTQ marketing company, agrees, adding that gay people aren’t the only ones having anal sex.

“It’s just another kind of weird angle for me that kind of puts us in this weird box in the corner that looks like we’ve been trying to get out of it for so long,” said Wagner, who is gay. , said.

This year’s ads build on a continuing trend. In 2018, Dr Pepper released a Pride ad with three images of its iconic can, playing on the sexual preferences of gay and bisexual men: one image showing the top of the can, labeled “Top”, another of the bottom of the can , labeled “Bottom” and another from the front box, labeled “Verse”.

The following year, Cottonelle released a a d for its flushable wipes with the image of a clean “eggplant” emoji – which many consider a symbol for a penis – saying, “Happy Pride. Our flushable wipes will give you that shower feeling just so you can continue the love.

Wagner argued that the ads could “create an opportunity” to exacerbate “an already incendiary and specious kind of narrative about” LGBTQ issues.

In recent months, conservative lawmakers, television pundits and other public figures have accused opponents of a new Florida education law, which critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, of trying to “prepare” or “indoctrinate” children. The word “grooming” has long been used to mislabel LGBTQ people, especially gay men and transgender women, as child sex abusers.

“We are called ‘trainers’ and ‘paedophiles’ and you are going to create a top and bottom campaign?” asked Wagner. “Read the play.”

Katherine Sender, a professor of communication and the feminist, gender and sexuality studies program at Cornell University, called the sexualized ads bizarre, but said they also demonstrated a positive step forward. She added that the new ads show that companies are willing to present “much more complex representations” of LGBTQ people, compared to ads from the 90s and early 2000s, when many companies started making advertising to LGBTQ consumers.

“If you’ve seen gay men, they’ve never had a relationship, they’ve never had sex,” she said, referring to ads from decades past. “Or they had to be some kind of saints – the valedictorian, the captain of the football team – to have space on TV.”

In 1994, furniture giant Ikea released the first mainstream television commercial in the United States featuring a gay couple. The advertisement showed the two men choosing a dining table, looking like a married couple and emphasizing monogamy.

“This table included a sheet,” exclaims the couple. “A leaf is to stay together, to commit.”

Larry Gross, a communications professor at the University of Southern California who helped found the field of LGBTQ studies, acknowledged that the recent ads are “more distant” than any Pride campaigns he’s seen before. But, like Sender, he felt they demonstrated how the marketing industry “reads the current moment.”

“What they’re signaling there is ‘We’re hip like you,’ which of course is what a lot of ads always say,” he said. “Obviously they think they can get away with it and benefit from something that would have been considered too risky in the past.”

As for LGBTQ people who might be offended by the ads’ explicit references, Gross says, “Get over it.”

“It’s kind of emotional to suddenly notice that public gay culture is being sexualized,” he continued. “It’s not all ‘Thank you for your service, gays in the military.'”

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