Last week, Amazon launched a new ad for their Kindle Paperwhite and proved "equality marketing" is very, very real. The scenario is simple -- a woman and a man lounge by the beach, banter about tablet technology (do people do that?) and seem to -- almost -- flirt. The catch, though, comes when they both wave to their husbands sitting by the bar. Surprise!
This kind of plot twist isn't unusual and, if the number of times I watched the "Call Me Maybe" music video is any indicator, I don't even find this concept upsetting. The advertising trend it exposes, though, is a little different. Merely placing a gay character in the spot is supposed to absolve all doubt that Amazon is less than progressive (they actually rank quite high in HRC's Corporate Equality Index anyway). It's hard to ignore, however, that the inclusion of two gay men doesn't have anything to do with the product itself. There's no joke, no real story at all besides... "gay".
And it worked. The LGBT blogs loved it, individual allies were promising all over social media to snap up a Kindle just to promote inclusivity.
Is this advertising truly inclusive? An inclusive ad is a diverse one, where all types of love are presented in a healthy light. Are we so desperate for LGBT people next to popular products that we'll accept anything at all?
Some companies do it right, truly scripting a story that inspires us. Last year's "Never Hide" campaign from Ray Bans showed two suited men looking straight out of Mad Men in their signature glasses, holding hands on a busy city street. It was brave and beautiful and nearly made me tear up at work.
Forays into the world of "equality marketing" are not risk-free by any means. Both sides of the marriage equality debate exploded when JC Penney featured same-sex families in their magazine twice. But note the lack of "gotcha"s. And words like "expression" and the concept of "not hiding" drive their corporate message strategy -- and it's absolutely that -- home.
No matter how LGBT visibility is packaged, the message is a good one: people of all sexual orientations and gender identities are here and are only becoming more visible. They all chalk up to a net gain.
Still, it's up to consumers to not get lazy and let companies get lazy with them. With the corporate accountability to back them up, Amazon slides. But next time, ask yourself if those characters would make you feel as warm if they were straight, or simply didn't make their sexuality known. Are they gay for the sake of being gay and present for the sake of profit? Even scarier, when we begin to turn a blind eye to what makes true equality a reality -- the way an employer treats their workers and how far they'll go to stand up for love.