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Confusing brand image for American Idol franchise?

Confusing brand image for American Idol franchise?

American Idol may be the luckiest brand of the year. With news that Idol runner-up  Adam Lambert is coming out  in Rolling Stoneadmitting to his crush on Idol winner Kris Allen, and offering flamboyant in-your-face sexuality with boyfriend Drake LaBry, marketing chiefs at America’s top television franchise must be exhaling a Category 5 sigh of relief that Kris Allen, not Lambert, is the face of Idol for 2009.

While performing in the world’s top singing competition, San Diego’s favorite cross-dressing son was a true professional and a gentleman, singing his brains out week after week while making no attempt to co-opt the show for Marxist sexual politicking. But quietly lurking in the background were Lambert’s many photographed displays of affection, which caused fits for the show’s management. Whether dressing in drag for cameras or making love to boys in public, “Glambert” was a constant threat of becoming the next  Michael Phelps, Michael Vick, or Kobe Bryant–star celebs who turned toxic to corporate sponsors.

Brand is everything in the world of business, and Idol’s mainstream America image was hanging in the balance this past May when Lambert and Idol winner Kris Allen stood together side by side, nervously awaiting the country’s verdict on who would win the crown. In that breathtaking moment, the Idol brand was in more jeopardy than McDonald’s, Kellogg, and Nike combined when their celebrity endorsements turned ugly. But by some stroke of providence, at the last minute Danny Gokey’s votes swung to the folksy Allen, and Idol was narrowly spared a year’s worth of the brand confusion that is Adam Lambert.

IdolIf the onscreen magic of Bogey and Bacall enraptured American audiences and rang the register for Warner Bros. time and again, the sight of Lambert kissing drag queens or holding hands with boyfriend Drake LaBry is having the equal-but-opposite affect upon the masses and big business. In sharp contrast to Lambert’s calculated professionalism on the show, Glambert’s whimsical public displays of affection have repelled onlookers and betrayed the now-legendary Seinfeldian quip on homosexuality: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Unwavering public recoil over public displays of gay affection—or the so-called “Ick Factor”— reveals the uphill battle activists face when trying to rebrand gay marriage as “perfectly normal.”  People instinctively reject the very whiff of homosexual public expression, even if they are fine with letting people keep their sexuality to themselves privately in the bedroom.

At least for now, American Idol has dodged a bullet and can look happily to January 2010 when it will launch a ninth season of original family entertainment. But for homosexual activists seeking to make gay romance acceptable to the masses, the refusal of top brands to associate products with actual gay expression is a constant reminder that while audiences may accept homosexuality dressed up to look straight, they draw back in disgust when they see it acted out in the public square.

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