In addition to selling products and services, advertisements serve to communicate ideas and persuade audiences to certain actions and points of view. This Australian ad is part of a larger, ongoing campaign by the New South Wales Department of Health, which focuses exclusively on the dangers and consequences of binge drinking.
The ads for the “What are you doing to yourself?” campaign are an ironic play on the sexy, run-of-the-mill, “great time at a party” alcohol advertisements that saturate the media. The creative minds behind the campaign even designed a logo that looks as if it could be a label on a beer can. Through glossy art direction and attractive models, the ads tell tragic stories.
I found this ad particularly interesting. Though too small to read, embedded in the logo is the tagline, “Your night with your mates. Your sixth drink. Your temper. Your criminal record.” At first, I took the ad at face-value. This ad shows a sequence of events: a man drinks too much, he gets into a fight, he’s arrested, he reflects on his poor decisions. Taking a few moments to evaluate the ad, I realized there is at least one other way of reading this ad.
In her article “Selling Sexual Subjectivities: Audiences Respond to Gay Window Advertising,” Katherine Sender addresses advertising to gay and lesbian audiences in both gay and straight-oriented media. To support her article, Sender cites Kahn’s 1994 article which details “the specific ways advertisers consciously appeal to lesbian, gay, and bisexual consumers.” (Sender, 2) By focusing on the actions of a single male, and not an opposite-sexed couple, the ad is “coded gay.”
The advertisement’s two-scene plot revolves around the actions of one man. Reading this ad from left to right, the image calls to mind Sut Jhally’s commentary in “Killing Us Softly 3,” where he describes the gendered role of men in advertisements as “manipulators” of their environment. The first scene shows the man manipulating his environment and the person in it. Central to this reading is the fact that the person he is manipulating is another man.
This pairing begs the question: who is this man in relation to the primary male character? Is he a friend? A stranger? A lover? To straight audiences, this ad is a warning about the dangers of drinking past one’s limits. To gay audiences, this may be a subtly coded message about alcohol’s role in domestic abuse in the GLBTQ community.
A 2002 study published in the American Journal of Public Health concluded that the rate of battering victimization among gay men is substantially higher than among heterosexual men and also possibly higher than the rate for heterosexual women. The research found that (in the five most recent years of their lives) 39% of those interviewed reported at least one type of battering by a partner. It important to note, however, that gay domestic abuse extends beyond homosexual men.
Like heterosexuals, many gays and lesbians are exposed to physical, sexual, economic and emotional abuse, in addition to control tactics, by their partners. Alcohol and drug abuse often plays a role in the abuse.
A “straight” read of the second, and closing, scene of the ad shows the primary male character reflecting on his decision to drink. The “gay read” of this scene is deeper. In the second portion of the ad, the roles are reversed, now the primary male character is the figure being manipulated. Looking back on his actions, the primary male character regrets his decision to drink, as well as the abuse.
Personally, I think this is a cleverly coded example of gay window advertising. Would this ad be effective at persuading audiences – gay and straight – not to binge drink if the primary male character was shown beating a woman? I think it would. However, the intentional use of two men prompts the idea that this ad may be saying more that it initially lets on.