Male Branding

Hotels Slip Into Bed With Gay Men, Advertising Results

Hilton Hotel and PNC Bank have slipped into bed with gay men, promoting their brands on back covers of gay magazines this month with ads showing male couples in bed together.

Hilton has two scruffy, 20-something guys romantically cuddling up while sharing headphones, while PNC has middle-aged dads spending time with their toddler, one reading a bedtime story to the child while the other falls off to sleep. The Hilton headline says to “Stop clicking around” while PNC’s says, “Know you’re ready for this chapter and the next.”

Both travel and financial services have been highly competitive business categories in the LGBTQ market for decades, and advertisers are compelled to stand out.

Hilton-May 2016

Hilton says it isn’t afraid of showing a male couple in bed. “We’re proud to depict and reflect our guest diversity in our advertising,” said Kasey O’Leary, senior director, Hilton HHonors & Loyalty Marketing, Hilton Worldwide. The campaign features a real couple, who will also appear in Travel + Leisure in June and The New York Times this summer, along with a commercial that includes them. It will air on network and cable.

However, Hilton’s new campaign imagery is bold for a company that has advertised to LGBT consumers for over a decade but showed few actual people until recently. In 2007, one ad depicted “his and his” towels, and a male pair began appearing 2014-15 — eventually with the headline, “Be the couple whose honeymoon never ends.” In 2015 a Facebook post with a rainbow-striped shirt celebrated the Supreme Court marriage ruling that said, “To paraphrase a wise woman, if you love it, then you should put a ring on it. Today’s court ruling in the U.S. paves the way for this to happen. Now, let’s talk honeymoons.”

Of the gay dads ad from PNC Bank, Liz Bobak, Segment Manager of Multicultural Marketing, said, “Our goal for this creative was to reflect the lives of our customers, who include gay couples that live together and (may) have children.” She added that most of the target audience reside “in larger cities, where the cost of living is higher and where there are many brands competing for their attention.” The ad first began appearing in summer 2015.

PNC Bank-May 2016

PNC ramped up its efforts for LGBT customers in recent years. The Pittsburgh-based company participates in Pride events in 22 spots nationwide where the bank operates, and ignored boycott efforts by extremist group American Family Association in 2013. In February, the bank agreed to stop contributions for U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett just a day after New Jersey LGBT advocacy group Garden State Equality and State Assemblyman Tim Eustace drew attention to Garrett’s anti-gay comments.

Few advertisers have ventured into the bedroom before, but there are a few earlier examples from over a decade ago. Back in 2003, W Hotels showed two men laying in bed next to each other, and one says, “I’m hungry.” The other replies, “Me too, do you have the energy to roll over and call for brunch?”

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 2.49.08 PMIn 2005, Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol PM showed two men, side-by-side in bed together – but without heads. Underneath one man it says, “His back is keeping him up. Underneath the other man it says, “His boyfriend’s backache is keeping him up.” The company later followed suit for their K-Y Brand and pictured the winners of a contest as America’s Top Couple, two men, Geoffrey and Rusty, on their bed for a non-sexual ad in Entertainment Weekly.

Perhaps the most suggestive ads are those mainstream brands are beginning to design for Grindr and other sex and dating apps. HotelTonight has launched a campaign on Grindr with provocative headlines such as: “Sup. Lookin 4 Hotel?, a good natured mimicking the casual messaging voice of Grindr members. Another, for, suggests that “the perfect hotel room” is the right choice when you find the “perfect guy.”

Michael Wilke has covered LGBT issues in advertising for 23 years, is the founder of Commercial Closet/, and Senior US Consultant for LGBT marketing and diversity firm Out Now.