Anheuserâ€"Busch InBev (BUD) is in an unusual position for a marketer at the center of a controversy: All it needs to do is keep its mouth shut about whether one of its new ads for Budweiser features a gay soldier and everybody wins (video below). The ad lit up the web April 25 when writer Michael Jensen on the After Elton gay culture blog suggested the commercial -- which features a soldier coming home to a surprise party in a barn -- had a "gay vibe":
So the first person our soldier calls is this other guy. Let's call him PB for Potential Boyfriend. Clearly the solider isn't married or in a serious relationship with the girl we later see him hugging. Otherwise he surely would've called her first. So the possibilities are that either that PB is a best friend or ... a boyfriend. Hmm, would a soldier coming home really call his best friend before his parents?In fact the ad contains no overt signal that anyone in it is gay. The two men could be brothers. But once someone suggests that the male bonding subtext isn't straightforward, suddenly the whole thing looks, well, totally gay.
It isn't clear whether this is intentional or not. Overtly, the ad is a salute to veterans -- exactly the kind of thing one might expect from America's most American beer. But the company would have had to be living under a rock not to notice the recent headlines about the repeal of the military's don't-ask-don't-tell policy, and in that context the ad can be read a number of different ways.
Bud: Don't ask, don't tell
The worst thing that Budweiser could do is make any statement about the ad. If it denies the two men are gay, that would be homophobic. If it confirms they are gay, that will anger conservatives who are the beer's base. If it says nothing, then liberals can enjoy the way Budweiser has slipped an unstereotypically normal (for advertising) gay relationship into a mainstream ad and conservatives can just ignore it.
There's even a relatively civilized debate (for YouTube) about the whole thing on the ad's comments board. The ad is either an act of genius or an accidental PR bonanza.
Bonus points: If you remember that Miller Lite made an overtly gay themed ad in 2001.