The 2012 print advertisement campaign of the Ray-Ban sunglasses jumps off the printed page with its clear challenge to conventional gender roles: the ad depicts two homosexual men holding hands and walking down the street together in a downtown setting in the year 1942, a year that is significant in so far as it marks the year of Ray-Ban’s appearance on the consumer market. Accordingly, for this ad campaign which constitutes the 75th anniversary of Ray-Ban sunglasses, the authors of the advertisement have clearly decided to link the product and brand with alternative lifestyles. By choosing the gay community as the theme of its marketing campaign, Ray-Ban makes an explicit commitment to going against the mainstream social discourse. In this sense, the strength of the ad is not only in its clear advocacy for gay rights, but also intends to tie itself with various fringe cultures that have always been marginalized by the mainstream. Ray-Ban thus presents itself as an outsider product, intended for those who are different in society, but at the same time intends to capture a broad appeal, by speaking to all forms of difference.
The content of the advertisement itself, as mentioned bears clear resonances with Ray-Ban’s own seventy-five year history. The company is attempting to demonstrate it as an outsider company, and with this marketing choice in mind, the marketing campaign thus links itself with a group that has been historically ostracized in Western culture: that of the homosexual community. The conventional sexual mores and normativities of patriarchy, with its clear defined gender roles of masculine and feminine, have not only been the dominant framework for Western culture, but have also reflected itself in advertising, in so far as the majority of marketing campaigns play precisely to the conventional gender roles to sell their products. Any glance at beer ads, for example, that feature scantily clad women clearly demonstrates that one of the key social relationships upon which marketing draws is the sexual relationship and the gender roles that are propagated by the mainstream patriarchal social discourse. Advertising in this regard attempts to reflect these same gender roles, harmonizing with an already dominant set of gender roles: by conforming to these gender roles, the ad campaign in question therefore tries to speak to these same gender roles that are already engrained in the mind’s eye of the public. To be a man or to be a woman means to act in a certain manner, and products attempt to conform to these standards, without critically questioning them. In itself, this attempt to always conform in the marketing industry has given rise to various criticisms by social critics, who view these campaigns as merely emptily re-iterating the norms of the dominant patriarchal system of sexualized relationships and gender roles.
With this advertisement, Ray-Ban attempts to use its seventy fifth anniversary celebration to argue that it has always opposed these dominant normativities, existing as a product that was always intended for those who inhabit society’s margins. The classic Ray-Ban sunglasses themselves are associated with many iconic figures in Western culture that in themselves are viewed as existing on the outside of society or who court danger against the safety of the dominant discourse: hence, the association of Ray-Ban products and sunglasses with figures such as the motorcyclist rebel or the pilot who has no fear in regards to the conditions of his own life.
Ray-Ban goes further in this particular advertisement, in so far as it stakes its claims on outsider status in terms of the sexualized relationship of man and woman, thereby speaking to the very heart of social normativities. Arguably, the sexual relationship and the definition of gender roles according to man and woman is the fundamental social normativity, the social normativity that is engrained in culture and social discourse above all others: many feminist theories make such a case. Ray-Ban, therefore, by associating their product with a homosexual relationship, aims with its campaign that it opposes the dominant normativities of society on a fundamental level, criticizing the hegemony of a certain style of sexual relation, and thereby pledging its availability to those who may exist outside of the sexual relation: it therefore aims to become a product for the marginal.
However, Ray-Ban’s very success as a product demonstrates that it is not only existing on the margins: the iconic status of Ray-Ban shows that it has been a fundamental part of Western and in particular American culture. Accordingly, from a more critical perspective, it can be said that Ray-Ban is playing a somewhat cynical double game: on the one hand, it is playing in its advertisement the role of a product outsider, whereas the company understands, on the other hand, that it is this very product image which has made the company appealing to so many generations of American, and has therefore allowed the company itself to exist for seventy five years. Therefore, there is a link here in this advertisement showing how successful companies with distinct product images continually re-formulate these same product images to perpetuate their presence in the consciousness of the mainstream and thereby become known for what is called in marketing “their brand.”
This notion is underscored in the slogan of these campaigns itself: that of “Never Hide.” The scene of two homosexuals walking down a busy metropolitan street in 1942, displaying a clear affection for each other with the holding of hands, namely, showing to the world the status of their relationship, despite this same type of relationship being a marginalized lifestyle within the norms of the greater hegemonic patriarchic discourse of gender roles, is a clear show of defiance to the latter. Ray-Ban therefore wishes to conform to this defiance, which itself is a paradox: defiance means breaking the rules, and Ray-Ban here wants to be construed by the public as a company that breaks the rules, and, to use a cliché, bows to no one. However, this is the precise image that the company also wishes to foster: they are trying to enact the image of defiance, and thereby establish a particular identity in the consumer’s mind.
Certainly, another factor must be considered in this advertisement: the growing acceptance of homosexuality in mainstream Western culture. Whereas this same Western culture is unquestionably still a culture of sexual gender roles created along patriarchal lines, the greater attentiveness to gay forms of sexuality is present throughout the media. In this case, Ray-Ban conforms to a growing acceptance – at least in media circles – of gay issues, an acceptance reflected in television and film, and now even in political law. This is to say that what would be truly revolutionary for Ray-Ban would have to created such an advertisement in 1942, the very year of the company’s appearance on the capitalist marketplace: in this case, the advertisement would have been radically controversial, but would probably have also meant the undoing of the company itself, in so far as such an advertisement can be accepted in the current age, but certainly would have been harshly criticized seventy five years ago.
Nevertheless, the concept of advertisement itself, while playing to the growing acceptance of the gay within the post-modern world, can still be said to continue the identity of Ray-Ban as existing outside the mainstream. And this is clearly the intent of the advertisement itself: in the picture, only one male of the homosexual couple is wearing glasses, and these are not sunglasses of which Ray-Ban has become world renown. Here, the company is not communicating, therefore, a specific product, but rather the culture of the company itself: as such, the gay cause becomes a means with which to promote this culture, according to the sexual minority status of homosexuals in Western history. Ray-Ban thus finds common cause with the gay movement, seeing a correlation between how the company sees itself and how gays have been portrayed by the dominant social discourse.
In this sense, the 2012 “Never Hide” ad campaign of Ray-Ban realizes its goal. The iconic sunglasses company presents itself as a product associated with those who challenge hegemonic norms. And this challenge is enacted on a fundamental level, namely, challenging the validity of the patriarchal sexual relation. The critique of this particular style of sexual relation thus becomes a platform by which Ray-Ban forges its brand identity.
Ray-Ban Never Hide Advertisement: 2012. http://www.andysowards.com/blog/2012/20-best-print-ads-of-2012/