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Suitsupply’s Controversial Campaign With Two Kissing Men

by Bernardo van Eekhout in Lifestyle & Fashion , 22 May 2018

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar
length: 9 minuten

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the new spring/summer campaign of the Dutch suit brand Suitsupply. Male models in all kinds of intimate poses, even kissing each other. With the matching motto: “Find your perfect fit.” Given the homoerotic appearance of the photographs, this phrase can be interpreted in different ways.

In the slick accompanying commercial Suitsupply plays with typical gay topics, such as the muscular Adonis body and the male toy boy. What a breath of fresh air to finally see a brand that dares to openly focus on the gay community. Or perhaps not? Are the Netherlands in 2018 ready for an advertising campaign that deviates so openly from the prevailing straight norm?

To learn more about this campaign, I received Suitsupply’s accompanying press release. Here you can read that Suitsupply wants to celebrate “love and individuality” through their spring campaign. “At Suitsupply, everyone can find their perfect fit, both in clothing and in life. And we truly mean everyone. That is loyalty to our brand and our culture. We are proud of who we are and what we stand for.” That all sounds very nice, but is it not all about selling suits? Why this explicit gay campaign?

According to Fokke de Jong, founder and CEO of Suitsupply, “Suitsupply has always celebrated relationships in all its varieties. While love and pride are celebrated in many parts of the world, often this is not reflected in mainstream advertising. Our motivation was quite simply to include all of our customers. Attraction and seductiveness are an important part of fashion advertising. It seemed a long time ago that there was a campaign with a gay attraction. We liked the idea of doing that for our campaign, as a campaign in that form is indeed relevant for our brand.”

De Jong dismisses the suggestion that Suitsupply is simply trying to sell suits over the back of gay emancipation as “nonsense.” “The fact that there is a debate about it makes it relevant. Touching on a social issue in advertising doesn’t mean abusing the notion. This campaign was conceptualized to highlight a target group that is prominently present. The message of this campaign is love, attraction and passion. One would think that everyone is now accustomed to men loving each other. It is rather mainstream in our society. However, as soon as you put it on a billboard, everyone gets jumpy. We are a fashion company and we sell clothing, but it is not meant to commercialize the gay community. This campaign is meant to show the message of love and attraction, stylized by Suitsupply.”

Controversial Campaigns
When it comes to advertizing campaigns, Suitsupply clearly is not the most well-behaved. In earlier campaigns, they were clearly looking for the moral limits on what is and what is not acceptable, often stirring up a controversy, usually with naked women in the leading role, supposedly sexist. If a third of the Dutch population are offended by kissing men in public, it is not entirely surprising that this Suitsupply campaign also provokes strong reactions. In no time, Suitsupply lost over 10,000 followers on Instagram. These angry people are from all over the world.

“We thought: holy shit. What is happening here? You do expect some response, but this was intense. We were prepared for it as it is a subject matter many people are personally and passionately involved with. The negative reactions are widespread; from the East to the West. However, we do enter into a conversation on the subject with these customers. Fortunately for us, the number of new followers and positive messages in social media is a good indicator that this campaign was well received. It had a positive impact on them. It is incredibly what one kiss can do.”

World-wide, Suitsupply is active in more than twenty-two countries. The campaign will also be used for these countries. “We decided to display the posters everywhere. The fact that they react so strongly means that it is relevant to get people used to the image.” Yet the photos with kissing men will not be displayed in the Russian Federation and the United Arab Emirates, as the Suitsupply shops in these countries would be closed immediately. “We have different versions for these countries - Still with two men, but not kissing. It would be impossible there. You have to stay within the framework of the law, as our local staff would otherwise be arrested.”

Gay Advertizing

Is Suitsupply a pioneer when it comes to gay advertizing? No. The Swedish brand Ikea surely was the very first in 1994 not hesitating to put a gay couple in their campaign. However, due to bomb threats at an Ikea store, that commercial was broadcast only once. Six years later Ikea tried again, and in their most recent TV commercial we see two women in the bedroom with their baby. Of course surrounded by Ikea furniture.

Other companies that have also shown gay diversity in their campaigns include the American department store Macy’s, Levi’s, and Diesel. But also, the upstanding department store Tiffany has portrayed two men looking for a suitable engagement ring. In their “Never Hide” campaign from 2012, Ray Ban showed two men walking hand in hand.

American Airlines photographed two men on the beach for their campaign with “Here’s to his and his beach towels. Proud to support the community that supports us” as their motto.

Besides Suitsupply, the American clothing giant GAP also had to bear the brunt in 2012 after the launch of their explicit gay advertisement. In the advertisement, a real-life gay couple is photographed wearing one grey T-shirt, embracing each other with the slogan “Be Bright, Be One.” This message didn’t go well with conservative Americans. “Immoral advertizing,” according to the One Million Moms organization to prevent the exploitation of children in the media. “GAP does not deserve it, nor will it generate money from conservative families from all over the country. GAP should seriously consider how this immoral way of advertising affects our nation’s youth.” GAP responded by labelling the campaign as a tribute to what makes people unique.

Personal Opinion

In fact, this campaign can be viewed as an indicator of the state of gay acceptance in the Netherlands and abroad. Often, people claim to accept it as long as they do not have to see it. That is now happening with these photos and with the commercial. For a (gay) tolerant country such as the Netherlands, I find it striking that other companies and brands have not yet come out of the closet through their advertizing campaigns. Because for the gay community it is important that they too are seen outside the prevailing heterosexual norm, which in 2018 still dominates society as a whole.

Moreover, many companies still do not seem to realize how loyal the gay customer is when advertising is addressed to them. That certainly represents a missed opportunity. Personally, I encourage every form of advertising such as the one used by Suitsupply. What is wrong about two people loving each other? As De Jong says himself: “I think there is a little bit of a gay person in each and every one. And that is probably the reason why some people react so violently...”

Meanwhile, some thirty bus shelters and billboards in the Netherlands have been demolished because of the Suitsupply poster with two men kissing. Many of these posters were also painted over, covered with tape, and even vandalized with swastikas. For weeks now, Suitsupply is receiving many a negative reaction to this campaign. “I did not expect such strong reactions in the Netherlands. Many people wonder how they should explain these posters to their children. These are questions we never get when we use an erotically charged poster with a man and a woman,” says Fokke de Jong. Koen van Dijk of GLBT interest organization COC Netherlands is disturbed by these reactions. “Now it is turning into the vandalism of bus shelters, it really hits home. You realize how much discomfort the gay kiss still evokes...”

On Facebook, the photos of the destroyed bus shelters are massively shared. And now politics is getting involved with the controversy surrounding this Suitsupply campaign. Alexander Pechtold for example placed a picture of two men kissing on his Facebook page with the following text: “It is unbelievable that this is happening in the Netherlands in 2018. Destroying posters of two men kissing. Why so much hate against expressions of love?” Pechtold also calls on others to share this message as much as possible. State Secretary Mona Keijzer of Economic Affairs and Climate calls the plastering of the posters “the superlative of vandalism.” Council member Dennis Boutkan (PvdA) cynical notes that “the acceptance of gay men is doing great.”

Ingrid van Engelshoven (Minister of Education, Culture and Science) thinks it is “quite shocking that people find it necessary to destroy bus shelters because they have two men kissing on them.” Wouter Koolmees (Minister of Social Affairs and Employment) adds that “violence against homosexuals is out of the question. I am truly amazed that this campaign raises so much controversy in 2018. That we really still have to say that this kind of vandalism is not acceptable. It remains important to continue to speak out against these excesses.”

Political Campaign

As a counter-reaction, Bas van der Sande (member of VVD Amsterdam) started sticking on VVD campaign photo stickers of two men kissing with the slogan “Who defends our freedom?” With this he wants to show that we do not allow this to happen in Amsterdam. “You should show as many children as possible that the love between two men is the most normal thing in the world. Love must never be restricted. Everyone should be free to experience love with whomever he or she wants. I think that those who have molested the Suitsupply posters would find posters of kissing women more interesting. But apparently kissing men is a bridge too far.”

VVD Rotterdam also wants to put up as many large posters of kissing gay men in bus shelters and advertizing columns as possible. This idea was supported by PvdA, GroenLinks and D66, who started a campaign to raise funds for this. “Unacceptable. We do not accept intolerance,” says Pascal Lansink-Bastemeijer, candidate and councillor for VVD Rotterdam. “This is a free country. Love is also an important freedom. Love can and should be celebrated. That is freedom. With the donations we want to ensure that, in bus shelters throughout the Netherlands, we celebrate perhaps for days, weeks and maybe even months that we can and should be true to ourselves. The target amount is 100,000 euros. You can put up a lot of posters for that amount!”

Hugo BosThat this Suitsupply campaign has caused so much controversy is evident from the demonstration held by the Nijmegen Catholic foundation Civitas Christiana. According to Hugo Bos, manager of Civitas Christiana, “the advertizing campaign is extremely perverse. The picture of two men kissing is an extremely vulgar image that should not be displayed in the public domain. Suitsupply is deliberately provoking. This offensive advertizing is so emphatically present that no one can ignore it. It borders on being pornographic. You do not let six-year-old children watch pornography on the Internet? The posters generate increasing resistance in society and especially in people with children. I should add that this level of vulgarity is more common in the GLBT community than in the heterosexual community. This Suitsupply campaign is part of the ongoing campaign of the GLBT movement to impose its agenda on society...”



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