Same-sex parents in a Coca-Cola ad?

That's one thing to celebrate about the Super Bowl, but more brands need to see using gay characters as the norm.

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The Independent Online

These days, the commercial breaks of the Super Bowl are followed almost as closely as the actual football. For businesses, it represents the opportunity to really make a splash: the chance to impress more than 100 million pairs of eyeballs with your product.

A lot of noise has been made about the Chrysler 200 ad starring a patriotic Bob Dylan, and Scarlett Johansson's SodaStream spot (not least on these pages), but one of the most ground-breaking commercials during the Seahawks/Broncos clash came from Coca-Cola, which became the first advertiser to feature gay parents in an ad during America's big game.

A five-second clip of two men roller-skating with their daughter appeared as one of a number of vignettes that made up the 60-second ad that sought to celebrate the country's diversity, while "America the Beautiful" played in the background.

It was a shrewd move for Coke, which has recently come under fire from LGBT campaigners for sponsoring the forthcoming Sochi Winter Olympics, despite Russia's anti-gay laws, and for censoring its adverts elsewhere. Last month, the soft-drink company removed footage of a gay marriage from an ad that was to be aired in Ireland. Coke claimed this was not because Ireland is a predominantly Catholic country, but rather that Ireland didn't permit same-sex marriage. However, detractors were quick to point out that such unions are not yet legal in Scotland (hopefully, that will change today) and Northern Ireland, but the scene was kept in when it was aired in both places.

Still, gay rights organisation Glaad praised Coke's Sunday night ad, calling it "a step forward for the advertising industry."

Because, despite some advancements, homosexuality is still noticeably absent from much of advertising. While gay people have more of a profile in everything from film to reality television, when it comes to commercials, many businesses still appear reluctant to acknowledge them.


A shot from Natwest's 2013 television advert showing a same-sex couple

Although there are an increasing number of adverts featuring gay characters, such as the Natwest ad last year that featured lesbian partners, or any number of Dolce & Gabbana commercials, including gay people in advertising is still not as straightforward as it should be.

Instances such as the chairman of pasta brand Barilla, Guido Barilla, saying in September last year that he would not use gay people in its commercials, are still all too common. Activists called for a boycott of the Italian company after Barilla told a radio interviewer that the concept of the "classic" family was fundamental, and if people didn't like that they could "eat another brand".

Some point out that we will know we're there when ads such as Coca-Cola's are no longer treated as a big deal.

From a recent Kindle advert - a same-sex male couple can be seen in the commercial

"It should be just as acceptable as featuring any other sort of couple," says Claire Beale, editor of Marketing. "I don't think it should be significant in any sense, I think we should be at the point where it's just all sections of everyday life. I think for some brands it's still seen as a brave decision. We must hope we get to a stage when it's just an obvious and right decision to be reflective of the world in which we live."

A couple of years ago, Ad Week ran a story about global gay advertising and noticed seven key recurring themes including 'Surprise! He/she is gay', 'Don't tell Mum', and 'Lesbians are hot'. That we are finally getting adverts that don't fit any of these storylines is encouraging, or as Ad Week describes them, "inclusive, respectful, and usually quite boring". They also point out that these are "often the most controversial".

That a company as big as Coca-Cola, for many the archetypal American brand, feels comfortable with presenting something as domestic and, as it were, pedestrian, as gay parents roller-skating is actually good news indeed.