I still remember the argument. I stood in the front entrance of my mother’s house, jacket still on, barely settled when my stepfather started in on me. We weren’t nearly as close then–he was older, grumpy and closed-minded; I was young, brash and closed-minded. Two Virgos. What a surprise.
The accusation had to do with my profession of choice. Two years out of college, evidently working my way up the corporate ladder wasn’t noble enough. Not like teaching. Not like clearing brush and chopping wood and working the land and eating fish you caught. Not like what he did. I think his line was “How do you sleep at night?”
“I sleep fine,” I groused.
There was the assumption that if I wrote commercials for a living, I could not possibly be living my values. Or more accurately, I could not possibly have any values.
(You know, ad people. We all just spend our days with our Gucci shoes up on mahogany conference room tables, wondering how to make people feel bad about themselves so they can buy things they don’t need. Things that destroy the rain forest and kill baby seals. All at once. If we’re lucky. )
It wasn’t for another few years that he sat me down, pressed his thick hands firmly on my shoulders, and with teary eyes, whispered “I understand now. I’m sorry.”
That was the week I won an award for a commercial I wrote. It was the first to depict a lesbian couple openly proclaiming their relationship.
(And yes, that’s Julie Bowen in the ad. And yes, she’s as cool as you think she is.)
Clutching the award, I remember floating through the crowd at the GLAAD Awards, while cast members and producers of Spin City and Mad About You and Ellen thanked me. It was wholly surreal. When they announced our name as the winners, in a slightly unorthodox move, our account director bounded to the stage to make the acceptance speech instead of me and my creative partner. It was the right thing to do. It may have been the highlight of my career at the time, but as an openly gay man, I got the distinct feeling that addressing that crowd was the highlight of his life.
I wondered how often he had to justify to his family and friends that he, too, could live his values through his profession.
At that awards dinner, I realized just how much one 15-second ad could mean to people. One 15-second ad that only ran on one network after 10:00 at night. Because in that ballroom, they knew. They knew that it wasn’t just about advertising.
Now funny enough, a lot of people not in advertising would conclude the opposite: That Mistic Beverages just wanted publicity.
That’s some of the criticism I’m hearing now about the Old Navy Gay Pride tees that launched in 26 stores this week.
And it’s making me crazy.
Let’s for one moment discount the asshats who are saying bigotted or stupid things. Let’s ignore the commenter who thinks that same-sex families are somehow furthering a political agenda by putting their kid in a t-shirt that declares he loves his two mommies. Or the person who said that “tolerance should be taught at home and not marketed.” (Because uh…okay. That makes no sense.) There are always going to be intolerant people who, under the guise of religious dogma, ignorance, or personal discomfort, don’t support love, dignity and the rights of same-sex couples. I’m never going to change their minds.
There are also those who don’t feel comfortable with cause-related shirts on children in general or imposing their political values on their children. And I get that. Although I would argue that my lesbian friends don’t see their family as a cause. And that an I love my mommies onesie is no more political than an I love my mommy and daddy onesie. (Although for some reason, the latter makes me want to gag a little bit more.)
Instead, I’ve been mostly surprised and annoyed by those who support the notion of gay pride, but are still giving Old Navy a hard time.
I see statements like “they just want to sell t-shirts” or “it’s just a marketing hoax because it’s only in 26 stores” (thanks for that link Jenna though it’s now down) and I want to scream.
Let me say as someone in marketing: No. Old Navy doesn’t just want to sell t-shirts.
If they did, they would stick with the vintage Disney tees. They’d sell tees with the Red Sox logo. They would sell tees with I SUPPORT AFRICA or I LOVE RECYCLING which I guarantee are “political agendas” that are more acceptable to more of America than LOVE PROUDLY/GAY PRIDE 2011.
Or you want a real marketing coup? Try vintage Mickey in a Red Sox cap saying I LOVE RECYCLING. Guaranteed best-seller.
I can tell you that when a huge company like The Gap Corporation makes a move like this, it is not without a lot of talking and thinking and hand-wringing and calls to shareholders. Our own clients faced plenty of internal pressure to pull the lesbian ad at one point. They even lost some distributors in…shall we say, less progressive states? They stood their ground and kept the ad on air. Not because “it will sell products.” They do it because our clients had cajones of steel. They do it because it’s in their corporate DNA.
Let’s just say, as popular as pride shirts get, I’m eagerly awaiting the day that Wal-Mart sells them.
Are the Old Navy tees a 100% altruistic move? Of course not. 10% of profits are going to the It Gets Better project which is awesome, and I bet it could be more. No doubt Old Navy could put them in 28 stores or 37 stores or 142 stores instead. While we’re at it, I’m sure Old Navy could also have better operations. They could open all fair trade factories, and reward their sales clerks Ben and Jerry’s style, and switch to solar power and do a hundred other things that would check off every corporate do-gooding box that would make me their #1 fan. But for now, on this one single issue, what I see is a huge company with a lot to lose over it, taking a stand anyway. A big stand.
And that is a very big start.
I am really hoping they are selling it in Brooklyn. My girls have always loved rainbows.
Update: The list of retailers is on the Old Navy Facebook page under the events tab. The Chelsea store tells me they should arrive by next Weds.