Volkswagen garnered much attention when it broke this ad featuring two hip young men on the much publicized coming-out episode of "Ellen." The guys salvage a discarded chair into the hatchback of their vehicle as they drive about aimlessly.
By the time the ad hit, ABC's "Ellen" already had reached a fever pitch of
media attention. All season, there was anticipation that its lead character would come out as a lesbian -- then its star, Ellen DeGeneres, came out too.
Numerous advertisers including Chrysler, Mazda, Wendy's and J.C. Penney fled that episode near the end of the season. "Ellen" got great Neilsen ratings and many lesbians and gays immediately thought the VW-two were supposed to be a couple, while most straights assumed them to be roommates.
Volkswagen denied that the men were intended to be boyfriends and said it was surprised anyone would think so--but the automaker didn't mind either. In fact, it began sponsoring gay events in Australia in 1998.
At that time, there had never been a lead gay character in a TV program. But Volkswagen was prepared and did not flee. Says spokesman Tony Fouladpour, "That program had been a 'green light' for us for some time, among those that thought were good opportunities for us. The intention was not to take advantage of the situation, but we had been advertising on the show for a long time and we didn't think we needed to abandon it for the short-lived controversy."
Such gay reads of the ad -- which revived the 1980s Trio song "Da, Da, Da" -- would likely have been less, were it not for Volkswagen's choice of places for the debut. Still, a gay read seemed possible as the driver meticulously wiped an unseen speck of dirt from the dashboard and the silent communication the guys shared with each other as the wandered the roads.
Volkswagen's casual reaction showed how times were changing. When ABC aired an episode of "thirty something" that contained a scene with two gay men merely talking in bed together in 1989, the network lost over $1 million in advertising. Though it had to substitute some ad slots for the famed "Ellen" episode in 1997, ABC actually was able to charge replacement advertisers twice the normal rate.
Keith Bajura , Pittsburgh, PA
I always loved this commercial and was surprised that someone other than me thought it had a gay feel to it. Just the way the two guys communicate without saying anything makes me think that they are closer than just friends. Why would they want that old chair anyway unless they were sharing a place anyway? I always thought the black guy was really cute too.
Donald Levy , Albany, NY
I liked the ad as well as the "Spin City" parody of the ad. As for the two guys, all I have to say is all my gay friends and I thought they were "family."
Steve Reggie , New York City
I'm wondering how there could be any doubt that these two guys are a couple? If they were only just roommates, would they really be this interested in furnishing their home together? Would they be on the same wavelength when seeing an abandoned chair on the street that they don't even have to talk about it (or when it starts to stink up the car, they still don't have to talk but only look at each other to figure out their next move?)
Surely two straight guys who were not intimate would have to discuss these things out loud. (And I agree with others who've commented here that the African-American guy is boy-next-door attractive.)
Janis Welcome , New York, NY
I think it's supposed to be ambigious. I'm a heterosexual woman and I saw it as two slackers just driving, find a chair, it smells bad, and they leave it. To me, there's not much else. I take the unspoken communication as a device to keep the commercial's flow smooth. It the commercial seems to have a pantomime sort of a flow to it, so it would seem silly if they spoke. It doesn't imply they're roomates, let alone lovers.
Rees Bennett , San Diego, Calif.
As a gay man, I never thought these two were "family", why would they have such bad taste in furniture (just kidding). As for the silent communication and mutual agreement on the chair, my partner of 4 years and I have to talk about everything and very rarely agree on anything much less furniture. This is clearly meant to be read both ways, gay couple or straight roomies, whichever you please.
Daniel Schmidt , Kansas City, KS
Some folks are quite happy to see gay references like that which appeared in the Nut 'n' Honey commercial. I am offended because it just perpetuates the anti-gay sentiment that exists here in America. Being the object of humor is a quite acceptable portrayal of Gays, but having them represented in ordinary ways is not. It is a common thread in most of the appearances you find on television. I like the car commercial where the guys are driving and see a chair on the road... They don't say they are Gay, but it seems that way. The comedy that is shown is less obviously stereotypical.
Terry , Van Nuys, CA
I liked this ad from the very beginning, with the subtle, but nonchalant representation of a gay couple, much the same way I read those Honda Civic ads that seem to portray the same thing. The important issue, however, about VW's advertising is its tagline, "On the road of life, there are passengers and there are drivers." How could you have missed this choice reference to the "positions" favored by gay men? I mean, passengers and drivers??? Who are they kidding? I think it's great and by the way, I am a "passenger." Are you a "driver?" (lol)
Jonah Falcon , New York, NY
Gay, not gay, feh. I like it because it's so hyperreal, a super-realism (not surrealism) that makes me feel like this is some alternate Earth. Fact is, they COULD be gay. As "Boys In The Band" implies, they may be straight roommates in their 20's but when they hit their 30's, THEN something is up.
Darus Walls , Milwaukee
I happen to agree with Johan of New York. I mean c'mon. People read way too much into this. These guys could simply be best friends. They could simply be roomies..gay or straight..it's a good flowing commercial that doesn't go over the top with a bunch o' unneeded elements.
James Tennett , Providence, RI
VW claims that this ad was not intended to be a gay ad. I disagree! Here's my reasoning. When the car pulls up to get the chair there are two poles jutting out from behind the car, signifying penises. OK, maybe they can explain their way out of this one. My second observation involves the passenger. There is a shot of him playing with a pop-up toy as they ride. Everytime he presses it it stands erect. This is classic imagery used in cinema. This man is masturbating. What possible reason can VW say they put this in the commercial? Think about it!
Scott , Chicago, IL
It's quite obvious from the all of the comments on this ad that the 30 seconds of over-intellectualizing the sexuality of the characters by way of masturbating on the elements. The "on the road of life..." comment is a real lulu. To me, the responses are more of an interesting anthropological study of the "gay-colored" glasses milieu. But then when someone like Pat Robertson identifies Tinky Winky as gay (uh, let's see, triangle, carries a purse), then the howls of injustice grow incredibly loud. So what if Tinky Winky is gay? I never identified these characters as such... perhaps because I don't wear gay-colored glasses and decorate my house with the rainbow, which of course, I see Apple computers before I see gay.
Jacob , Dallas, TX
I thought they were just roommates too. Either way, it's a good commercial simply because of the amusing punchline and the way the silent movement flowed with the rhythm of good old fashioned 80's music.
Sccott Olson , Calgary, AB, Canada
All I saw, when I watched this ad, was a couple of roommates. There really wasn't anything to suggest they were anything but roomares. The fact that they took the smelly, ugly chair at first seems to indicate more of a straight stereotype.
Anonymous , San Diego, CA
I really loved this commercial when it was on the air. I'm not gay, and I had no idea the ad had anything to do with reaching out to the gay market. Till this day it doesn't feel "gay" -- which speaks volumes to the ad creators' abilities to reach out to a very broad audience.
Dak , Lansing, MI
I LOVE this commercial. But exactly what do these two guys do that implies it's even Gay Vague? It doesn't even come CLOSE to giving me an idea that these two even MIGHT be gay. Hell, one of my straight roommates from my college years used to love to go around the neighborhood like that to get furniture and stuff.