Coming Out of the Closet Is Now a Marketing Strategy

Congratulations to Infiniti for trivializing a painful experience for commercial gain. In its new ad, the car company has a young man coming out to his conservative, wealthy, BMW-lovin' father. At first, the audience is led to believe the son is coming out as gay. But then we learn that he is coming out as -- gasp! -- an Infiniti lover.

The marketing geniuses responsible for this ad are oh so clever. They employ language from a typical coming out story [Dad: "This isn't how we raised you" / Son: "You must have known I was a little ... different"] to hawk a car.

The brainstorming meeting for this idea must have gone something like this:

Marketing Executive: "Name an excruciating and difficult moment. Go!"
Idea 1: "Cancer diagnosis!"
Idea 2: "Slave auction!
Idea 3: "Coming out of the closet!"
Marketing Executive: "That's it! Coming out! Yes! That's painful ... and hilarious! Ha ha ha! Selling an Infiniti has never been easier!"

What if they had gone ahead with one of those other ideas?

Fade in on a hospital waiting room:
Doctor: "Mr. Smith, I have some difficult news to share with you about your son."
Father: "What is it?"
Doctor: "We ran some tests on that mysterious lump he found."
Father: "And ...?"
Doctor: "No parent wants to hear this."
Father: "Please ... tell me."
Doctor: "Here it is: your son drove an Infiniti to the hospital this morning."
Father: "Oh dear lord! No! Why?!!!"

To me, using a coming out story to sell a car is about as clever as cancer or slavery. It is not comic. It is not appropriate.

It is estimated that 1 in 2 LGBT youth experience a negative reaction when they come out. As many as 40% of homeless youth are LGBT. Approximately half of those kids are homeless because of family rejection. The LGBT homeless suicide rate is 62%.

Son: "This is difficult for me."
Dad: "We didn't raise you to drive an Infiniti."
Son: "I am thinking of killing myself."

Not funny.

LGBTQ Nation asked its readers: "Does this ad trivialize coming out?" To some respondents, the ad is "an enormous piece of progress." It proves "how far we've come in the world in gay acceptance." The casual use of the coming out story, the argument goes, proves positive awareness of such issues in the larger community. Corporate use of gay imagery is an example of the willingness for gay inclusion in the mainstream.

Hogwash. The point of this commercial is that the son is not "normal." Infiniti aims to exoticize gay culture to make their car appear fresh, distinct, and rebellious. But gay people are not new, nor are we abnormal. If Infiniti cared anything about gay culture, they would change the narrative and would reject tired stereotypes.

If there was true acceptance of gay culture in America, then Infiniti would show a proud dad driving his son and his son's boyfriend to their prom in an Infiniti. Or a father gifting an Infiniti to his son and his husband on their wedding day.

Perhaps I am overreacting. Adweek named the Infini commercial one of its "Ads of the Day" a few weeks ago and praised its "empowering" message. Am I being too sensitive? Too PC?

I work with college students. For them, coming out is a challenging and often painful experience. I have lost several people in my life to suicide. Making a joke out of coming out is not funny to me at all.

I understand the Infiniti marketer's tactics. They want to make the car seem trendy and exciting. Somehow, they equate gay life with that positive imagery. However, being gay is not merely a break from stodgy tradition. The ad is reductive when it comes to gay experience and, in my opinion, is no sign of progress at all.

So, thanks, Infiniti, but no thanks. Appropriating LGBT experience for an attention-grabbing chuckle is not for me. If you want to re-brand your image, please look elsewhere.