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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  Gay Tv Provides Fizz For Pepsi

Gay Tv Provides Fizz For Pepsi

Posted on October 24, 2002 and read 10,049 times

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The Pepsi-Cola Company could become the choice of a gay generation as it eases into the new world of gay TV, making it the first soft drink brand ever to target the gay market.

One of the first major sponsors of PrideVision, the 24-hour gay TV network launched last fall in Canada, Pepsi is putting its support behind the “Urban Fitness” show with Pepsi and Diet Pepsi commercials. “Urban Fitness” began in January and Richard Burjaw, Pepsi-Cola Canada’s director of marketing, says it “has all the energy and youthful spirit of the brand. Attitudinally, it’s a good fit.”

While its start is modest, Burjaw says Pepsi may add support to other PrideVision programs, and though he has decided to use mainstream commercials now, it’s “absolutely a possibility” that gay-specific commercials could appear later.

The company has also been broadly eyeing the U.S. gay market since 1997, when it was advised by a gay marketing agency to expand its policies for gay employees first. It added an inclusive non-discrimination policy then but has not yet made any corporate marketing moves here, though an independent Pepsi bottler is said to be interested in supporting a Pride parade in California this summer. (In Colorado Springs, an area bottler has supported Pride events since 1999.)

Gay TV Race to the U.S.

As reported by the Commercial Closet column last September, PrideVision has plans to expand its viewership into the U.S. by fall 2002, and Viacom’s Showtime and MTV also intend to launch their own American gay network soon, once enough local cable carriers are committed.

With neither network available yet in the U.S., it looks to be a race to launch. Showtime/MTV’s still-unnamed gay network was tested among gay focus groups in Houston, Boston and Miami and Showtime researcher Kim Lemmon says, “This (gay-themed) concept has done incredibly well, perhaps better than any others.” But before it gets off the ground, local cable companies must be convinced to pick up the offering and it is taking some convincing. “The trick is getting distribution, which will determine a lot about the future of this channel,” says Gene Falk, senior vice president of digital media at Showtime.

In Canada, PrideVision is doing well as a premium choice on cable channels nationally, and interest from American audiences has been strong too. According to Michael Serapio, a program producer for PrideVision, over 40% of its web site visitors are from the U.S.

Both are to offer a dual-revenue plan between viewer subscription and sponsorship or advertising. Matt Farber, who is leading up the Showtime/MTV effort with Falk, says “you can’t rely on advertising alone to reach the gay and lesbian community in this day and age.” Farber referred to magazines, which have a combination of subscriptions with advertising, and web sites like, which have turned to paid personal ads and online retail for alternative revenues.

But with no precedent for any gay network — let alone two — some worry if there’s room for both. MTV’s Farber simply offers that “competition makes things move faster,” and Showtime’s Falk adds, “Competition is a great thing.”

Pepsi Trouble Down Under

But even as things get started in Canada, Pepsi has run into a snag with a mainstream commercial airing in Australia since February that has offended some. It features a wrestler who tries to kiss a female fairy. Their lips almost touch but, as he comes out of his dream, she disappears and turns into his real male opponent, who he then violently head-butts. Complaints from Victoria’s gay community resulted in an investigation by the country’s Advertising Standards Bureau.

The ASB has asked for a copy of the ad and Pepsi’s comments, but no action has yet been taken. Michael Barnett, who registered the complaint, told the Melbourne Star the commercial “conveys a somewhat unsubtle message that it’s okay to be violent if a guy tries to kiss you if you’re male. The message it is giving is none too subtle and reinforces homophobic attitudes.”

Darren Borg, marketing director of Pepsi Australia, defends the ad as “less gender-specific and not about that at all – it’s a competition between two wrestlers.” Borg notes that independent local bottlers in Australia have been supportive of the gay community as sponsors of gay events — but not corporate Pepsi, and the commercial in question will continue to run for now.

This inconsistent result – initiating outreach to the gay community while offending it elsewhere – is reminiscent of United Airlines’ launch into the U.S. gay market in 1999, when it simultaneously challenged a San Francisco law that requires corporations to offer domestic partnership benefits to employees. The importance of coordinating interest in the gay market, along with treatment of gay employees and larger mainstream moves by the company, cannot be underestimated, a lesson quickly learned by United.

Invariably, companies today are compelled to think about all their marketing messages and employee policies more closely when approaching the gay community. Sensitivity can dictate the difference between fizz and fizzle.

The Commercial Closet project is a unique, non-profit education and journalism organization dedicated to charting the evolving worldwide portrayals of the gay community in mainstream advertising.

Its goal is to educate advertising agencies, marketers and the world-at-large as an ongoing journalistic effort and through sharing its collection and observations on how gays are represented as a minority group in commercials worldwide.

Michael Wilke is the Director of The Commercial Closet The World’s Largest Collection of Gay Advertising. A former AdvertisingAge reporter, he has charted the emergence of gay marketing and advertising since 1992




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