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No coming-out party for Super Bowl

Among this year's spots rejected by CBS are one for gay dating website and one from titled 'Lola.' The subtext in both may be that football itself is, well, kind of gay.

February 02, 2010|Dan Neil
  • An ad rejected by CBS for airtime during the Super Bowl from gay-dating website shows football game viewers enjoying more than the telecast.
An ad rejected by CBS for airtime during the Super Bowl from gay-dating website… ( )

As predicted here, a row over the Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad for the Christian advocacy group Focus on the Family blew up last week, with the National Organization for Women, among others, calling on CBS not to air the commercial, and right-to-lifers rallying on Facebook in support.

Insert strident churchy brouhaha here.

But the story at the crossroads of advertising and sexuality that got my attention last week was CBS' decision not to air a Super Bowl ad for gay dating service In doing so, CBS appeared to be choosing sides in the social values scrimmage, since Focus on the Family's leader, the Rev. James Dobson, is well known as an All-Pro gay hater.

"It's one thing for CBS to say they are not going to have any issue advertising on the Super Bowl," spokeswoman Elissa Buchter said. "But when they accept issue advertising on one side of the social agenda [the Tebow ad] while rejecting others, it looks like a double standard."

Right up front, you'd have to suspect that the bid is a hoax, designed to generate free publicity. For a company to come out of nowhere -- Buchter says the site has been in operation only since January -- and to expect to waltz into the Super Bowl lineup with its cheeky ad for a gay dating service seems pretty naive. I mean, how mangled does your cultural antenna have to be to think such an ad will fly?

But in a way, it almost doesn't matter whether the effort is genuine, since the issues its ad raises are. Maybe this is just one of those hypotheticals in marketing textbooks, but a good one.

Buchter said the Toronto-based service primarily caters to gay-curious men, which is to say, straight-identifying men who might be seeking their first homosexual encounter.

This led the company right to the Super Bowl, which represents not only the largest TV audience of the year but also a predominantly male one. "If we were aiming at established gays, there are certainly more targeted means of advertising," said Buchter, including the Bravo and Logo cable TV channels. "But since we're looking at men who are in search of a safe first gay encounter, we wanted to cast the net as wide as possible.

"I don't think we've really established who gay-secretive men are or what they watch," she continued. "As a demographic, they are not well understood. That makes this a unique marketing challenge."

Regardless of how it plays out, has gotten a huge, Flubber-like publicity bounce from having its Super Bowl ad shot down. As of Sunday, was mentioned in more than 2,000 Google news search results, which is a fair marketing return on zero investment. Last year, ads from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the adultery-themed hetero dating service were nixed, resulting in a tidy publicity windfall for them.

But the company that plays the banned-in-Boston game best is the Internet domain service, which has ritualized the process by each year making ridiculous T&A epics and then issuing news releases howling in mock outrage when the network declines to air them. Then the ads blow up online.

Mission accomplished.

Martin Franks, executive vice president of planning, policy and government affairs at CBS, told Reuters: "A whole cottage industry has grown up out of trying to make use of network turndowns. . . . They've found a loophole in an otherwise well-intentioned process."

This year's banned spot is a little different. Titled "Lola," it portrays an outrageous queenie character, depicted as a retired professional football player, who markets his own sexy lingerie company using Although there's plenty of female flesh in the ad, it's certainly not as risque as your average Victoria's Secret ad. That leaves the possibility that CBS found the mincing gay stereotype offensive. Whether it's offensive to gays or straights, or both, isn't clear.

Typically, CBS declines to elaborate on its reasons for refusing this or that ad, issuing only boilerplate to the effect that an ad is "not within the broadcast standards for Super Bowl Sunday."

There's another intriguing possibility that links "Lola" to the ad. The subtext in both is that football itself is, well, kind of gay.

I realize that what I'm about to say may ruin my chances of getting into Canton. But American football strikes me as a pretty homoerotic spectacle, beginning with the hypertrophic masculinity of the male form in tight pants and huge shoulder pads and ending with the most undignified gesture in all of sports, the hands-between-the-cheeks snap of the ball. Hike, indeed.

The pats on the fanny, the showering together, the endlessly rolling around in the dirt. All things considered, I think figure skating is more butch.

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