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Bathhouse ads on subway raise eyebrows

TTC has received 'two or three' complaints

VISIONS OF PUMPING IRON ON THE MORNING COMMUTE. New Steamworks ads focus on the gym equipment, not the darkroom. Credit: (James Burrell)

An ad for a bathhouse running in Toronto’s subway has attracted a couple of complaints, but mostly just the attention of gay transit riders.

The subway ad for Steamworks on Church St features a shirtless man lifting weights and photos of the bath’s gym and shower area with the discreet caption, “A Club With Benefits.” Rather than using the word bathhouse, the ad describes Steamworks as a “24/7 gym/sauna.”

“It’s probably one of the most commented on ads that we’ve ever done,” says Steamworks general manager Cam Lewis. “People are really surprised, and they say ‘Wow, way to go. That’s great that you’re on the TTC.'”

In the month or so it’s been running, the ad has received “two or three” complaints from TTC riders. Spokesperson Marilyn Bolton says the ad meets TTC standards.

“We do have 1.4-million riders daily. I don’t think that three complaints are a lot… but we understand that there may be some sensitivity to the topic,” says Bolton. “We have an advertising review committee which is made up of commissioners who are elected councillors. The councillors basically represent the public. And they approved it.”

If an ad receives a lot of complaints, it may be sent to a review committee. Bolton says queer content is not an issue “as long as they are within the confines of ‘good taste.'”

Other queer-oriented businesses are also pursuing more ad campaigns in the mainstream media, even if their message only applies to a small percentage of the eyeballs out there.

Entre-Nous Network, a high-end dating service for gay men, advertises on public transit and in mainstream media like The Globe And Mail, Metro and 24. Client services representative Patricia Ross says the public will never see nude men in Entre-Nous’s advertising.

“We define our ads as being tasteful and they reflect a lifestyle that our clients are looking for,” says Ross. “Our gentleman is not just looking for casual encounters and I think the ads show a part of the community that society might not be aware of.”

Despite the conservative campaign, Ross says the agency still runs up against what she considers to be discrimination.

“I would gladly say that we’ve had problems with the National Post,” says Ross. “At one point we had an ad running in the Post and they sent in a request that our ad be removed and relegated to the back of the classified section. And we had, through Zoom Media, ads in the dressing rooms of some gyms, and in some cases they were taken down because of complaints from some gentlemen who were not comfortable with them being there.”

Steve Donnon, sales manager for National Post classifieds, says it was not a case of discrimination. He says the Entre-Nous ad was mistakenly run for the wrong price, and the dating service was merely asked to pay the correct rate or have it moved to a less prominent place.

“They still have the option to and are more than welcome to run ads with us at any time, as long as they pay the rate that everyone else would pay for the same space in the paper,” says Donnon.

Peter Bartrem, Zoom Media’s director of sales, says Zoom would never take an ad out of an establishment without being asked to do so.

“It wouldn’t be anything on our part, for obvious reasons,” says Bartrem. “We stand to make revenue from having these ads in these venues. But we are somewhat at the mercy of individual venders. We may have contracts with them, but if they say, ‘We don’t want that ad,’ there’s not much we can do about it.”

Randy Otto, president of Pattison Outdoor, which places a big chunk of Toronto’s outdoor advertising, admits that his company is conservative in what kinds of gay and lesbian advertising it will run.

“We are very much aware that when we put an outdoor display on the street the total population can view it and in many cases they don’t have a choice like they do with other media,” says Otto.

Otto says Pattison frequently receives complaints for all kinds of ads.

“I’ve had negative feedback for The Little Mermaid from people who think that the ad is inappropriate, too suggestive, and that we should take it down,” says Otto.