Philly Launches New Gay Advertising Campaign

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Philadelphia - it’s a city that’s lived up to its moniker, the City of Brotherly Love, and this November it’s celebrating a decade of gay travel advertising with a television spot with Miss Richfield 1981.

“Philly’s a city of firsts,” said Bruce Yelk, the director of public relations for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation. “We love being first at everything. It’s the first university, the first bank, first zoo, first hospital -- there's countless firsts in Philadelphia. I guess we want to be at the forefront of everything; it’s just in the DNA of Philadelphians to be that way.”

The city launched its first campaign, “Philadelphia: Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay” in 2003 with sassy images of Betsy Ross sewing the gay flag and Benjamin Franklin flying a rainbow kite. Then, the first television commercial by a U.S. destination for gay travelers hit the airwaves with a colonial man writing a letter to his beloved and meeting him at Independence Hall. The next wave of ads was “We Are People” of gay Philadelphians in their everyday lives at work and play.

With the anniversary of the first ads coming in November, the city has its newest television spot starring drag queen Miss Richfield. Dressed to the nines in a red, white and blue dress, she takes selfies all throughout historic Philadelphia, from “the Rocky steps” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to the cracked Liberty Bell -- which she cheekily points out “somebody should fix that!” -- then hits up the city’s dining and nightlife before crashing at her hotel room.

“She’s always championed Philadelphia along the way, so it just seemed like the right fit,” Yelk said of the city’s partnership with Miss Richfield 1981. “We just wanted something fun, fresh and something that was going to show our historic stuff and attractions, and more contemporary side with the nightlife but hopefully give the viewer a little chuckle at the same time.”

Numerous retail brands regularly feature gay couples in their print and television ads these days -- think J.C. Penney, Kindle, Ray Ban and more -- but looking back at advertising dating back to even the Roaring ‘20s, it was definitely there.

According to Ad Week, gay commercial artist J.C. Leyendecker sprinkled homosexual tones throughout his illustrations for menswear. Is it a bunch of all-American men at the beach or hunky muscle boys for gay fodder?

“It’s all in the eye of the beholder,” Professor Bruce H. Joffe told Ad Week. “A straight person who looked at these ads in Time or Life magazines would just turn the page and not think anything, but someone with a gay sensitivity would say, ‘Oh my God, look at that!’”

Joffe is a professor of communications at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va., and author of “A Hint of Homosexuality?: ‘Gay’ and Homoerotic Imagery in American Print Advertising.”

So while Philadelphia may be the first American city to gear advertising directly at gay travellers, it’s certainly not the first to advertise toward the LGBT community as a whole. However, in a time when gay advertising has never been so clear and “out of the closet,” the city has shown that it’s a place where LGBT travelers are welcome. It ranked number one on the Human Rights Coalition’s municipal equity index, and it consistently ranks high for gay friendly cities.

Also, in May, Philadelphia passed legislation requiring all new restrooms to include gender-neutral bathrooms to accommodate transgender people. Philadelphia, as well as the state of Pennsylvania, also grants domestic partnership benefits to state and city employees.

“We’re very progressive on city policies for the community, so we’re very proud of that. is just an extension of that,” Yelk said. “Our research has shown that it’s a very good investment for us to invest in the gay market -- it’s sort of a no brainer as to why we’re doing it again.”

Christiana Lilly

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