Rainbow-colored Oreo a harbinger of more gay advertising

June 27, 2012

The rainbow-colored Oreo graphic unveiled for LGBT Pride Month proves at least one thing: Gays are just as susceptible to clever marketing as straights. At long last! Equality under commercialization.

The graphic was posted Monday evening on Oreo’s Facebook page and drew more than 52,000 shares and 177,000 likes in 24 hours — a robust social-media response that amounts to free advertising for Oreo, which is made by Nabisco, which is a subsidiary of Kraft Foods, which, with annual revenue of $54.4 billion, is the planet’s second-largest food company and doesn’t really need your pro-bono assistance with brand expansion.

Nevertheless, the graphic, like all advertising, plays on consumers’ emotions. A rainbow Oreo endears itself to the LGBT community and its straight allies. Inclusion of demographics breeds profusion of message.

“We are excited to illustrate what is making history today in a fun and playful way,” says Basil T. Maglaris, associate director of corporate affairs for Kraft, in an e-mail that toes the company’s sunny line. “Kraft Foods has a proud history of celebrating diversity and inclusiveness. We feel the OREO ad is a fun reflection of our values. There has been a lot of buzz about the image, and it shows how relevant OREO is to people even after 100 years.”

A cultural moment — galvanized politically by President Obama’s May endorsement of same-sex marriage — is being validated and exploited economically by big business over and over again. Earlier this month J.C. Penney, after enduring fringe criticism for enlisting Ellen DeGeneres as a spokeswoman in February, doubled down with a Father’s Day advertisement featuring two fathers and their children dressed in sensible shorts and bright-colored polo shirts. Last month, Gap put two young gentlemen inside one snug gray T-shirt next to the words “Be One.” In March, Ben and Jerry’s released an ice cream pint called “Apple-y Ever After” whose container depicted a tuxedoed pair atop a rainbow-ribboned cake.

What’s next (besides eternal hellfire)?

Probably more gay advertising.

The risk-reward equation for corporate advocacy has changed over time, says Bob Witeck, president of the District-based Witeck Communications, which specializes in the gay and lesbian consumer markets.

What’s the worst thing that could happen to Kraft?

A denouncement from a special-interest group like One Million Moms, which recommended boycotting J.C. Penney for its “sinful nature.” (The company, undeterred and still solvent as of press time, retained DeGeneres as a spokeswoman.)

What’s the best thing?

An army of people sends your product around the Internet, and your century-old brand suddenly seems cutting-edge.

“Companies are looking at the reputation leaders of today, the Googles of the world,” Witeck says. “Google’s already changing their iconography constantly. They keep it relevant but update it to connect to different audiences. That intersection of fun and loyalty is important to get to.”

The post on Oreo’s Facebook page encouraged a high-volume debate rife with misspellings, indignation and hysterical punctuation.

One commenter: “this is absolutely disgusting!!! Vote with your dollar, I will NEVER buy anything Kraft Foods again.”

Another: “Don’t worry about them people boycotting you Oreo - I never bought a single cookie from you and now I will.”

Christians with no objection to same-sex marriage dunked the issue in Matthew 7:1 (“Judge not, that ye be not judged”). Christians opposing same-sex marriage cited Romans 1:27 (“Males committed indecent acts with males, and received within themselves the appropriate penalty for their perversion”).

And cookie fiends were more concerned with what the graphic means for their dessert options: “So, like, are we actually getting rainbow Oreos?”

The rainbow’s global status as a symbol of sexual equality comes in part from its embrace by corporations, says Gilbert Baker, the artist and vexillographer who created the rainbow flag in 1978.

“It’s basically the same message as always: that our sexuality in all its colors is a human right,” says Baker, who lives in New York. “That’s why it fits us and endures. . . . In the case of corporate appropriating — if they’re good to their employees and supportive of equal rights — that’s great because it sends the message farther out in the mainstream.”

And his thoughts on the rainbow Oreo in particular?

“I saw it,” Baker says. “Not sure I’d eat it.”

This Oreo, though, is not actually for sale and, according to a fine-print disclaimer, is “made with creme colors that do not exist.” So LGBT-friendly Oreo enthusiasts will have to make do with the standard black-and-white version, despite its tacit endorsement of biracial marriage.

Dan Zak is a feature writer and general assignment reporter based in the Style section. He joined the Post in 2005, after stints as an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a city-desk reporter and obituary writer at The Buffalo News.
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