In advertisements and popular culture today, gay dads are being featured more and more often. We are seeing them on prime time TV, television and internet commercials, periodicals and other publications. As a gay dad going on 23 years, this recent turn of events has been fascinating to me. I’ve been around for quite a while, as I’m sure others have. So why now is this, all of the sudden, important in popular culture? Even more important, do they get it right? Through this course, I have learned new ways of seeing, found new tools to analyze and interpret information, and use a critical eye. I invite you to join me on a journey through these ads to search for some of these answers and perhaps a glimpse of my reflection in this pop culture mirror.
Let’s take a look at a recent ad for Star Wars themed Campbell’s soup. Featured here specifically are real gay dads with their real life son. This melts my heart as two obviously doting fathers feed their son soup while pretending to be Star Wars characters. Reaction to this ad has been mixed. Some people are seeing this as an advancement in society as we grow more comfortable with non traditional families. “This campaign holds a mirror up to the modern American family, because we know that people respond to brands that understand them and show life how it is, in all its glorious and joyous imperfections.” (Huffington Post) Others have met this with opposition and protest as seen with the group One Million Moms who view this as a degradation of society and the traditional American family. They currently have a campaign to entice Campbell’s to remove the ad.
Campbell’s Soup is glorifying this unnatural marriage. One Million Moms believes family is based on love, but this does not justify normalizing sin. 1MM does not agree with the need for Campbell’s to support same sex marriages or couples. (onemillionmoms.com)
Despite some negative response, seeing this ad in popular culture fills me with pride. When large companies use gay dads in their advertisements it shows that they are open to marketing their products to all Americans. By marketing this way, Campbell’s soup expands its target demographic to include non traditional families. They create feelings of good will with more Americans and may enhance their sales by opening up marketing for their soup in this way. They are also taking a risk by alienating conservatively minded Americans who see gay parents as a threat to American society. One could argue that their position here is a bet that the collective minds of Americans have changed to be more accepting towards gay dads. This may be one of the reasons why we are seeing more ads like this recently. The imagery used in this ad as it is very powerful. Showing gay dads in traditional settings caring for a child while feeding him not only supports the brand but it makes a statement about, in Campbell’s words, what “real families” look like. Its what my family looked like. I also find it very brave that they show one dad with a wedding band on his left hand ring finger. This very small detail sheds some light on the possibility that the advertiser may support gay marriage as well.
In Coca Cola’s “America Is Beautiful” advertisement, Coke makes a statement that cultural diversity is part of what makes America beautiful. They use the powerful anthem “America the Beautiful” sung in several different languages to help convey this message. This song invokes feelings of pride and patriotism for Americans, yet some were offended by its inclusion of multiple languages. (USA Today) Interestingly, Coke positions a pair of gay dads in this cultural diversity themed ad, combining the topics of sexual identity with ethnic and cultural identity. While sexuality and ethnicity are two different issues, they do belong together in this ad. Racism and homophobia are, unfortunately, alive and well in America today. Coke’s ad serves us well as it helps to be reminded that inclusion and diversity inspire growth and understanding.
Coke positions its product elegantly and effectively in a variety of the warm moments created in the advertisement. Take for example the two gay dads with their daughter. They are seen roller-skating; the dads are hand in hand with the daughter in tow. This is an experience I’ve shared with my kids. We flash to them sitting down smiling and as the daughter affectionately places her head against her dads while he’s holding a Coca Cola. It’s no accident that the product is featured in this “magic moment” with the dads and their daughter. From this effective placement Coca Cola tells a great story. We see that Coke products belong in the special moments of all types of families in America. It may even suggest that it makes those moments more enjoyable. I commend Coke’s brave stance on diversity and inclusion especially since this ad was shown during the 2014 Super Bowl.
Chevrolet’s position in its Traverse Ad is most succinctly summed up in this quote taken from the Ad. “What it means to be a family hasn’t changed, what it looks like has.” In Chevy’s ad we are taken through various 3 to 4 second shots of different types of families while a narrator tells us a story ultimately leading us to the reason why a Chevy Traverse belongs in your family’s garage. We are told of the Chevrolet Traverse’s stellar safety rating to appeal to our desire to keep our family safe and this gives us a compelling reason to consider their car. Even more effective is Chevrolet’s inclusion of all types of American families. In this ad we come across two gay dads with their children in the family kitchen preparing pizza. It is evident that every detail in this segment of the ad was scrutinized. From the background of an upscale kitchen, to preparing pizza and the traditional framing of the subjects in family portrait sale, we are reminded how wonderfully normal and ordinary this different type of American family is. Not only does it serve to tell Chevrolet’s prospective customers that they value customers from all different backgrounds, they want to keep you safe in their vehicles.
Each of these companies takes a unique approach on showing gay dads in their advertisements. Whether it’s through narrative, vignette based or a primary focus. We are shown how important it is to these producers to market their products to all types of families, specifically for this reflection, gay dads. We are reminded that these types of moments aren’t reserved just for the traditional nuclear American family. We may also be lead to believe that these companies are taking a brave stance by showing that they are inclusive of gay dads in their advertising. While I don’t believe their motives are completely altruistic; they do help move inclusion and diversity in America forward. Let’s also not forget these companies will lose business if they don’t change to reflect their markets. This could be one of the biggest reasons why we are seeing gay dads more and more in popular culture and advertising. I believe these corporations did a good job at reflecting me in their advertisements. I certainly fed my son’s nourishing food, I entertained them with roller skating trips and protected them by buying safer cars. I’m encouraged by seeing families that look like mine appear more often in the media and its clear that as America becomes more diverse, popular culture will follow right along and in many ways it may lead the way.
Working though this project I took a deep dive into several resources that show gay dads. In looking deeper I learned more about how the portrayal of gay dads is evolving in popular culture today. It’s good to know that America appears to be warming up to non traditional families. Surprisingly, I was delighted to find so many artifacts that featured gay dads and other non traditional families. It was unfortunately reaffirming to find multitudes of opposing ads that feature non traditional families. I’m aware that many in the world today view gay families as strange, however the vitriol and blatant bigotry of groups like One Million Moms was disheartening to read. What I’ve concluded is that families are important no matter what shape they take, and its as equally important that we as a society tolerate and embrace non traditional families. It builds a stronger community and a stronger country. I’m taking away from this experience a new understanding of my role as a gay parent, in that, I need to do more to show others just how normal we are. Additionally, I truly enjoyed learning new ways of discovering, scrutinizing and seeing things through the lens of research and analysis. The tools I will continue to reference and use throughout my life include the book “Ways of Seeing” and the Analysis tools from the Writing Center. These two things opened my eyes and improved my analysis and understanding.
Campbell’s Soup Advertisement – Star Wars Campbell’s Soup
Coca Cola 2014 Super Bowl Ad – America is Beautiful
Chevrolet: The New Us – Chevrolet Traverse
Gay Parents as Good AS Straight Ones, Rich Barlow, Boston University Today, April 11, 2013
The Modern Family Effect: Pop Culture’s Role in the Gay-Marriage Revolution, Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, June 26, 2015
“Glorifying Unnatural Marriage”: One Million Moms Steaming Hot Over Campbell’s Soup Ad with Gay Dads, David Badash, The New Civil Rights Movement, October 9, 2015