"South Carolina is So Gay"?

Imagine seeing a Columbia bus station ad touting London’s welcoming culture for southern Christian conservatives. Sound unlikely? How about a London subway ad reading “South Carolina is So Gay”? That one’s real—the recent campaign, which promotes South Carolina’s gay beaches (there aren’t any) ran in conjunction with London’s gay pride parade a few weeks ago. Quicker than you could quote the Bible, activists whipped up a mighty protest against the ad, which had been approved by SC Parks, Reaction and Tourism and promptly de-funded by Governor Sanford.

From a marketing standpoint, this ad ignores a boatload of basic principles. Number one: know your audience. That doesn’t just mean the target audience you’re selling to, but also your periphery audiences who will hear about your ad and be affected by it, either personally or as a whole. In this case, Australian gay tourism marketers OutNow Consulting crafted the ad looking into only one kind of climate (sunny blue skies rather social norms), leaving South Carolinian government, gays and the general public in a tough spot. What is everyone left to make of this? Government says the “use of public advertising money to promote a social agenda was inappropriate.” SC Pride says “We wanted to clear the air and do the right thing and pay off the debt [the $5,000 ad expense].” And the jury is still out on the majority of SC.

While it’s honorable that SC Pride is stepping up to ease the conflict, the real culprit is sitting pretty in the outback. OutNow Consulting’s second marketing faux pas? False advertising. South Carolina aims to project unbiased Southern hospitality—pinning that down as targeted toward any certain group would be inaccurate. Furthermore, marketing the state as anything other than a beautiful place that welcomes everyone would be a sizeable embellishment, one that would probably decrease South Carolina’s $10 billion tourism industry, which is bolstered yearly by gay travel.

To see S.C. native Stephen Colbert’s take on the ad, click here.

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