Advertisers Strategies to Target Gay Audiences in Attitude and Gay Times

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I have decided to spilt the following essay into 4 sections, the first three concern different adverts and the final one is a discussion of gay advertising in general.

The first advert I shall be looking at is "Couvette Duvet Cover" from Gay Times, Issue March 2000, page 67. This is a written text, as far as the author is aware this text does not appear in any other medium. The text was found whilst looking for adverts specifically aimed at gay men. I decided to analyse this text as it appears to be unusual in that no people appear in the advert, usually in gay advertising as with other genres at least one person or maybe more are used.

The advert that the author is undertaking analysis of is one among many copies that are distributed in magazines (specifically gay) and may well appear in poster form as well. This influences my interpretation as the advertisers aim to reach a wide audience, not only those who are reading the magazine. The advert is indexical in representation. The important signifiers in the text are the colours of the Duvet, they are the colours of ‘gay pride’, this is not usually known by people outside of the genre. Therefore the advertiser has placed in the corner the text "100% Gay", so that there can be no doubt as to whom the text is aimed at. The Duvet is also for a double bed, this is important as it implies a couple. As does the fact there are ‘littered’ around the small section of room we see a selection of items in pairs. Examples are, the two pairs of trousers, the two organisers, two tables and two ‘bent’ lamps on the table on the right hand side of the picture.

An important point to consider is also the lack of a carpet, the implication here is the floor being easier to keep clean than a carpet, although there is a corner of a reed mat showing. The picture gives a impression of a room that is serene, peaceful, secure and relaxed, the person who inhabits the room is relaxed about being Gay (shown by the Duvet cover). The advertiser is trying to sell this image to the consumer. Although the signs are primarily directed at people who are gay and ‘on the scene’ it is possible that the signs will also make sense to other readers who are not connected to it (although perhaps not the significance of the colours).

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The reality claims that are made by the text are distinct ‘relaxation’ and ‘togetherness’, shown by the ‘couples’ of items on the floor and tables. This is in the author’s opinion alluding to fiction, not fact. It is unusual for example, to have two lamps at such odd angles on the same table so close together, there is no practical reason for doing this. The text is 3D in appearance and is in full colour. References that are made to an everyday experimental world are no carpet (men are thought by society to not be very good at cleaning) and everything ‘accidentally’ being in pairs.

The obvious markers in this text are the gay pride colours and the statement "100% Gay" (top right corner), this appears almost as an insurance against anyone who might misunderstand the meaning or the genre that it is aimed at. The other markers that are in the text are the two pairs of trousers (both of which on careful examination are male), the furry photograph frame positioned on the left table and the two organisers on the floor all appear as such markers.

The text does, the author believes, operate within the realist representational code, that is the reality it represents, has been distorted by the media and it represents no part in the construction of the world, as suggested in the definition of realism offered by Chandler (‘Modality’:2). The author believes that this could, however, be interpreted as reality by someone who is unaware of what the reality is, e.g. the world it represents. The text belongs to the artificial medium and the gay genre class of paradigms. This covers the whole text. If the medium that is currently being used, that of artificial was to be changed to mechanical (e.g. Television) then the meanings generated, particularly as there is nothing ‘alive’ or ‘moving’ in the advert would be lost. If the advert were to change, the addition of people would I believe be a necessity.

Out of the many possible e.g. chosen, the author believes that each sign within the same paradigm set for example the adverts usage of trousers (male) on the floor is particularly significant, as this implies the owners could well be otherwise ‘engaged’, this could not be signified so effectively by another piece of clothing, for example, a shirt. The significance of using a double bed as opposed to a single bed is again seen as a signifier of a couple.

The significance of the bright orange fluffy photograph frame is it draws the attention of the reader to the fact that a percentage of the sales of the item goes towards an AIDS charity. If a plain standard picture frame were used then the attention of the reader would not be ‘grabbed’ quite so easily. The significant point if the percentage going to an AIDS charity is the effect AIDS has had on the gay community, therefore, giving the charity name is although unlikely to make people buy the item, it will make them feel they have done some good by doing so. The signifier that is most notably missing is people. It is very unusual for gay adverts or those outside the genre to not include people.

The author does not believe there is a syntagmatic structure such as narrative in this advert as there is no ‘story’ as such being told in the sense suggested by Ashley (1984:11, cited in Danesi 1984:129). In regard to argument the advert appears to be defying ‘traditional’ adverts by a lack of people. The advert is a montage, it is a picture that contains many different parts and signs. Many of the signifiers in this advert interrelate, they all set a scene that gives an impression of togetherness and serenity. The most predominant sign is that of the Duvet cover, next comes the photograph frame as that directs the readers attention to the charity information and then the pairing of items that gives the advert a ‘feeling’ of stability and commitment (particularly the two organisers on the floor).

The spatial arrangement of the items is reflected in then meaning, the items placed closer to the bed (e.g. trousers, table with photograph frame) are of a secondary importance. Identifying the paradigms and syntagms has aided me in the identification of the text as particular parts the author would have missed were it not for these important areas. An example would be the significance of the fluffy orange photograph frame. The metaphors that are used during this advert are the bright colours (symbolic of gay pride) and items being placed in pairs. The metonyms used in this advert are the two organisers together and trousers together that are signifiers of a male couple. The use of the trousers also adds a sexual element. These influence the meaning by their position.

The advert can also be used to target other genres, in fact very little change would be required, the statement ‘100% Gay’ would require changing and the removal of the items around the bed as they would be unecessary. The colours of the bed spread may well appeal to other people, albeit for different reasons than gay pride. If the advert were to be shown with the cover on a plain bed then it would probably allude to a housewife’s way of thinking, with perhaps only one table and one lamp that is not bent.

The semiotic codes that are used in this advert are bright colours and the grouping of items that are commodity codes. The code that is the most obvious is the bright colouring of the Duvet cover and the photograph frame. The positioning of items would be specific to the medium and could be shared with a medium such as television, although it would be much less effective. The words positioned above the text refer directly to the image of the Duvet, ignoring (or appearing to) the other items, they help the reader pinpoint what is being said. Cultural assumptions are that you are gay and can understand the meaning of the many colours (and also the assumption that you can see the colours and are not colourblind) that are not necessarily recognised by people outside the scene. This advert reflects the cultural values as well, it would appeal to both scene and non-scene men. The sign is very open to interpretation, there are many signs and codes present.

A purely structural analysis of the advert ignores the lack of people and the sense of togetherness (e.g. a couple sharing the room) can be missed. The sign was created by the public relations people in the company who produce the duvet, the author suspects that market research may have been conducted as well, hence it being so different from other adverts in the genre. The advert represents the realities of a rich non-stereotypical (non-scene) proud gay man. This is shown by the expensive looking headboard and stylish lamps. The advert was intended for gay men, although it may appeal to Lesbians as well (particularly as ‘gay pride’ is not only constricted to gay men) The author does not think it will appeal greatly to many people outside of the genre. Interpretation of the advert would depend on an ability to look outside of the single advert and compare it with others in the same genre and within the same area. In this case bedroom fabrics. Due to a lack of time the author has been unable to discuss the interpretation of this advert with other people.

The insights that undertaking a in-depth analysis of this text are that pairs of items are usually symbolic of a couple. Another is the use of colour, especially that of the picture frame being used to ‘grab’ the readers attention briefly and direct it to the box regarding the charity donation. If the author were to undertake analysis of this advert again then it would ensured that time would be made available to discuss the analysis with other people. It would also be interesting and useful to ask both gay and straight people their interpretation of the advert.

The second advert I have chosen is advertising a gay men’s chat line. The title of the advert is ‘man-on-man’ and was taken from Attitude, March 2000 Issue, page 134, bottom right hand corner of the page, a copy appears in Appendix 1. As this advert does not contain as many physical or metaphysical signs as the previous one did it shall be discussed how this type of advert is effective. The advert shows a youngish looking man who is looking at the camera with a sidelong glance. The advert also shows writing stating the name of the service, two telephone numbers and the address of the advertiser.

This advert is not typical of its type, in that the pose assumed by the model is unusual, there are adverts that show several men where one may have their attention on the other model in the picture with them. However, the other is staring ‘out’ of the advert at the viewer, known as averted gaze. This advert shows a model in a direct (or extra-diegetic) address. The direct gaze address as shown in the advert I am analysing represents a demand ‘made’ by the text for the viewer to enter into a relationship with the man shown. This may remind the reader that they are a viewer into the life of the person shown or a spectator being given a unique view of the model’s life. In this advert the attention of the man is focused on the viewer/camera. However, from the angle of the head and the way he is touching his forehead it suggests that his attention has been caught by the viewer whilst about to do something else. It is not possible to tell if the models’ pupils are dilated owing to the angle of the head and pose assumed. Dilated pupils particularly in adverts aimed at selling chat lines are known to have people who have pupil dilation. As this is a well known sign of sexual attraction. The form of the gaze is such that the model is staring into the reader's eyes, the angle of the head means that even if a side view of the advert is taken then it still appears the model is looking at you. The face of the man in this advert appears to be ‘invitational’, that is the emphasis is on the eyes (done by the position of the hand on the forehead) with the head to one side that projects a hint of contact potential rather than sexual contact which, is unusual for this type of advert. The advert could loosely be connected with a ‘sexual’ gaze as well, the smile and the lack of a shirt could allude to this, however, it is the authors opinion that the advert alludes more to the ‘invitational’. This may be broken down further to include carefree and could be seen as seductive as well. The model provides a ‘hard-man’/’macho’ male image that shows confidence. People who phone this chat line will be hoping to talk to a man who is friendly in appearance, fun to be with and ‘macho’. Like the model that has been used.

The third advert I have looked at is also for a chat line, this advert appears in the magazine Attitude, March 2000 Issue on page 136, a copy has not been included. The advert shows two men in an embrace, there is also writing on the advert. The writing across the top says "Mantalk". There is also writing stating the cost of telephoning, a statement saying who the advert is aimed at (people looking for gay chat and dating) and two telephone numbers, one for people who are willing to use their credit cards to pay for the calls and another for people who are not (which is apparently more expensive).

The advert shows two men, both of whom are staring at the viewer (reader), having a direct address to the viewer. However, there is also the fact that they have averted their gaze from each other and are looking at the viewer instead of each other. One man, the one on the left appears to be embracing ‘camp’ (shown by wearing a light purple top and looped earrings), whereas the other man is wearing blue and appears more dominant, despite being the smaller of the two. The use of the two men in this advert could be interpreted in different ways. The first as a sign of friendship (not necessarily a sexual relationship), the second as a happy, secure, positive relationship and thirdly it could be viewed as an invitation to a sexual threesome, which interpretation is made by a viewer is dependant on what they bring to their interpretation of the text. By using two men in the advert the company owners are appealing to more gay men than say the second advert the author analysed. According to Messaris (1997) there tends to be a lack of men who look at the camera in adverts, although he does later also discuss how the acknowledgement of the existence of gay men by heterosexual society has altered this view vastly, this has been of aid to advertisers.

Advertisers are currently attempting to find an ideal way of advertising that applies to both gay and straight men, this can be illustrated by an advert shown for Calvin Klien Jeans. One advert featured ‘a young, shirtless blond man lying on his stomach’ and a second featured ‘a young, shirtless blond man lying on his side, holding a blue-jeans [denim] jacket’, owing to the iconographic resemblance to gay pornography this advert appealed to gay men. Interestingly when the advertisers were asked to comment they stated the following "We do not try to appeal to gays. We try to appeal, period" (Clark) which is interesting as it has sparked what is now known as ‘gay window advertising’, adverts that are not only for gay men but for straight men as well, whether the adverts are interpreted as being ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ is purely down to the reader. Straight men are now becoming more comfortable about seeing men advertising [products aimed at them than they were previously.

With gay advertising there is a question of whether the adverts are directed in a positive light to the right people. In the National Gay and Lesbian Survey conducted in 1987 there were a lot of comments made in regard to a lack of positive gay icons and that was considered a cause of depression in a lot of gay men. Although this survey was carried out a considerable time ago when there was a definite lack of gay icons the situation does not seem to have changed a lot. Yes, there are gay characters on television usually badly stereotyped, not necessarily shown in a good light and rarely in a programme as a main character for very long, although Emmerdale would be seen as an exception here. The advertisements that are aimed at gay men do not appear on street corners.

Gay adverts usually appear in magazines that are mainstream gay (Gay Times or Attitude) or in areas where predominantly gay people live with a disregard for the people who live elsewhere or do not have the courage to go out and buy these magazines, thus this also does not help the feeling of being isolated or lack of acceptance. Of course if adverts were placed in other magazines they would in the case of some require a small amount of editing (e.g. those that are explicit). Another point that feel needs addressing in gay advertising is the men shown in the adverts are 99% of the time very young. This in a sense reinforces the homosexual stereotype of gay men as predators as voiced by many homophobic heterosexuals, may be if this was an area that was addressed then adverts would be available in other areas and there would be less chance of vandalism.


Bibliography


*     Ashley L.R.N (1984) The History of the Short Story. Washington DC: US Information Agency.
*     Chandler D "Notes on the Gaze" [WWW Document] URL: http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/gaze/gaze.html
*     Chandler D "Semiotics for Beginners" [WWW Document] URL: http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/
*     Clark D (1995) in Gender, Race and Class in Media: A Text Reader. Ed. Dines G, Humez J, Sage.
*     Courtney A & Whipple W (1983) Sex Stereotyping in Advertising. Lexington.
*     Danesi M (1994) Messages and Meanings: An Introduction to Semiotics. Canada Scholars’ Press.
*     Leiss W, Kline S & Jhally S (1990) Social Communication in Advertising 2nd Edition. Nelson.
*     Messaris P (1997) Visual Persuasion: The Role of Images in Advertising. Sage.



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