Looking Back 2016

20 advertisers that made 2016 gayer than ever


Advertisers marketing to–and via–queer people in 2016 dropped the punchlines of the past and instead emphasized love and marriage equality, including major campaigns for Christmas and Valentine’s Day. The business community’s increasing embrace of all things LGBTQ, including diversity in marketing images, comes at an important time. With an antigay White House and Congress in 2017, corporate America’s support is increasingly vital.

A number of brands debuted their first positive LGBTQ-inclusive ads – including American Eagle Outfitters, Zales jewelry, Sabra Dipping Co. and Sweethearts candies — while others continued to do so. Overseas, American advertisers made first-time waves in other countries for being inclusive where it is less common, including Colgate in Mexico and eBay in India.

H&M and Diesel leveraged the attention increasingly paid to transgender issues, with H&M featuring Caitlyn Jenner in her first campaign and Diesel announcing “This ad is gender neutral.”



2. H&M



A teenager and his teammate discover their sexuality together and one confronts the coming out process with his father in this short film online from Eastman Kodak.


A female couple ride together on a scooter, while the driver precariously carries an oversized, mirrored disco ball preventing her from seeing where she’s going. They take a photo and post it on LetGo’s website to sell it, and then are pulled over by a cop from the Village People band.


American Eagle created its first inclusive campaign called #WeAllCan, featuring a number of millenials and including gay South African-born Australian singer, songwriter, actor, and YouTube personality Troye Sivan. In his spot, he discusses how he can sing, paint his nails, cry and not care, flirt with boys, and love who he wants.

Others appeared in NYC subway posters, including an unidentified same-sex couple, with one putting his hands inside the pockets of the other, and a female pair (Heather Kemesky and Dilone) straddling each other and rubbing noses.

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Playing on the presidential elections, “The Bud Light Party” series that spoofs the election season and features Amy Schemer and Seth Rogen in a series of situations, including attending a gay wedding and denouncing labels such as gender.


Typically, Valentine’s ads focus on couples but this year Honey Maid instead asked that viewers “think of love differently” in a series of self-shot webcam movies.

A gay teenager tearfully comes out to his mother in their kitchen, who immediately wraps him in a hug: “You gay? It’s OK hun, I knew you were. I knew you were, hun.”

Also including a transgender story, a young trans man thanks his mother on their couch for her understanding and says, “I think I’ve opened up to you and dad a lot more since I’ve transitioned.” His mom says, “You have to realize as a parent, there is nothing that I wouldn’t do for you.”

And a lesbian asks her grandmother, “You knew? The whole time? And you’re OK?” “Nothing would stop me from loving you my dear,” the grandmother replies.


Iconic heart candies Sweethearts, from NECCO, marked its 150th anniversary by celebrating the love of Jack and George, a Texan male couple together for 55 years. It was the first Valentine’s Day they celebrated as a married couple.



Hallmark Cards of Kansas City ran a One Love, One Card campaign starring a gay couple and a few lesbian couples.



For the holiday season, mall jewelry store Zales depicted two women getting married. The narrator says, “At Zales, we believe the world needs more love that lasts. Love that grows. Love that’s worth waiting for.”

Meanwhile, tech giants Apple, Microsoft and Facebook all ran LGBTQ inclusive ads during December.




Overseas, advertisers were becoming more inclusive too.

15. COLGATE – Mexico

In a first for Mexico, Colgate depicts a male couple who struggle to carry a couch upstairs, as a grandfather and his grandson coming down decide to help their new neighbors. “Welcome!” says the older man to the two men. A toothy grin flashes across the face of one. The narrator adds, “Sometimes you just need a smile,” as the two men collapse together onto the couch and hold hands.

16. EBAY – India

Noting that “things don’t judge,” eBay’s groundbreaking ad showcases a same-sex marriage proposal between two me accompanied by a voiceover that says: “The only thing the ring sees is the love in my eyes.”


Two men struggle to wrap their kid’s schoolbooks. One says to the other, “Darling, let me, you’ve got glue on your hands.” Their son, who is watching TV on the floor with a friend, says, “See? I told you it wouldn’t be quicker with two dads!”

18. MCDONALDS – Taiwan

Following in the footsteps of its French counterpart, Taiwan McDonald’s depicted a dramatic coming out experience for a young man to his father.

19. PHILIPS – The Netherlands

The Dutch electronics company created this #YouAreYou campaign for Amsterdam Pride, noting that “diversity fuels innovation.”

20. YOPA – England



Bringing back the original Village People band, online home sale site YOPA says, “The Village People are stuck in the past. They’ve all been living together in an ordinary house somewhere in the UK since the ’70s. They haven’t been able to move on. And now YOPA’s going to help them do just that.”

Michael Wilke has covered LGBT issues in advertising for 24 years, is the founder of Commercial Closet/AdRespect.org, and Senior US Consultant for LGBT marketing and diversity firm Out Now.