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Ford U-turns on gay ads

Automotive giant gets pushed by both sides

Ford Motor Company was about to take the community on a bumpy ride.

The Dearborn, Michigan-based automotive giant announced Dec 5 that it had decided to pull all advertising for its Land Rover and Jaguar brands out of gay and lesbian publications in the US. But two weeks later, Ford reversed itself after a public outcry and a Dec 12 meeting with representatives from a coalition of gay and lesbian groups.

On Dec 14, Joe W Laymon, group vice president of corporate human resources, released a letter stating that the misperception that Ford had bowed to rightwing pressure was part of what led to the change of heart.

“As a result, we have decided to run corporate ads in these targeted publications that will include not only Jaguar/Land Rover but all eight of Ford’s vehicle brands,” Laymon stated. “The content will be appropriate and effective in connecting with the intended audience. It is my hope that this will remove any ambiguity about Ford’s desire to advertise to all important audiences and put this particular issue behind us.”

Ford’s initial decision would not have affected Ford brands outside the US, including Ford Motor Company Of Canada, based in Mississauga. Ford Canada advertised in Xtra in 2004.

Gina Gehlert, public affairs manager at Ford Canada, says that her company has no policy against advertising in gay and lesbian publications. “And we have no intention of changing that,” she says. “We look at advertising in gay and lesbian media on a case by case basis.”

Ford’s initial decision to end its four-year-old gay media campaign came soon after company executives met with representatives of the rightwing American Family Association and just a week after the group called off a planned Ford boycott. Ford also announced that it would no longer sponsor gay and lesbian events. The timing led some to conclude that Ford’s decision was the result of the AFA meeting. Ford officials continue to state that the move was solely a business decision and was not based, on the threat of a boycott. AFA says its considering restarting the boycott.

The same groups that lambasted Ford for dropping its gay media ad campaign praised the company for reversing its decision. A coalition of 25 groups put out a joint statement saying that they are “proud to be back in gear” with Ford.

“Ford did the right thing here, both for its brand and for its bottom line,” stated Neil G Giuliano, president of the US-based Gay And Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

Brian Rushfeldt, co-founder and executive director of the Calgary-based Canada Family Action Coalition, questioned why gay groups were upset in the first place.

“I don’t know why this was a story even,” he says. “As far as I know the US does not require advertisers to buy ads in homosexual publications, just like they do not require advertisers to buy ads in other magazines. This is what freedom and rights are about.”

Michael Wilke, founder and executive director The Commercial Closet, which works with marketers and ad agencies to improve inclusion of gay images in mainstream advertising, says he doesn’t buy Ford’s original claim that the decision was based solely on business. But the move was particularly puzzling, he added, since anti-gay boycotts have been proven not to work.

“Boycott threats by anti-gay groups have proven over the years to have no measurable or adverse sales impact on targeted companies, including years-long efforts against American Airlines and Disney,” says Wilke.