Outlook.com comes out in support of same-sex marriage -- or is it just a marketing ploy?

I watched an advert for Microsoft’s new webmail service yesterday. It starts by showing a man changing his job from Deliveryman to Stuntman on the website. Next up, there’s a pretty young woman getting married and locking lips with her partner. Afterwards she uses Outlook.com to change her name from Sarah Jones, to Sarah Jones-Brown, and a female friend emails to congratulate her. The advert ends with a voiceover saying "Get email that keeps your friends information up to date automatically".

I thought it was a decent, if unspectacular, ad that gets its message across well. Then I scrolled down to the comments. And oh my, the bigots were out in force. Because, you see, the woman in the video was getting married to -- shock horror -- another woman!

The homophobes and trolls were, as you’d expect, outraged by the inclusion of a lesbian couple in the clip and the vitriol and ignorance was flowing.

There is, in truth, absolutely nothing in the video for anyone to be offended by, but of course same-sex marriage is a big deal for a lot of people, and it gets many straight Americans (in particular) very angry and opinionated. My personal view is if someone wants to get married to the love of their life, they should be allowed to, irrespective of little things like gender and race. This is the 21st century after all.

When I was growing up, I knew people who thought interracial marriage should be outlawed. Times have moved on, and now it’s same-sex marriage in the crosshairs. Homosexuality is no longer the "love that dare not speak its name" but it’s still a challenge, and in a lot of places a complete impossibility, for gay couples who want to show their commitment to one another to get hitched. (As an aside, I do wonder how many of the men who are firmly against same-sex marriage enjoy lesbian porn? Two women getting it on, well that’s fine, but two women in a loving relationship? That’s an abomination!)

A lot of tech firms stand up for same-sex marriage. Last month 278 companies, including Apple, Google, Facebook, Intel, Cisco, and Amazon, told the US Supreme Court that federal same-sex marriage restrictions hurt their businesses, affected employee morale, and forced them to betray their company principles. Many employees of tech firms like Google have contributed videos to the excellent and very worthy It Gets Better Project.

The Tide Turns

This morning, returning to the video, I see the comments under the advert are now mostly positive. The homophobes and trolls have been shown short shrift and the majority of the negative remarks from yesterday have been removed by their shamed authors. The top comment, from SilverAnicore, now says:

I love it when well-known companies make such a public and natural statement against homophobia and bigotry - by focussing on the thing they support, love, not the things they hate.

Love the ad.

The second most popular comment, from RetroishDude asks:

Why couldn't someone be happy for a couple that has just gotten married? Weird.

Big businesses do sadly have to play it carefully when it comes to promoting or supporting homosexuality, in the same way they have to be careful when stepping into any political minefield. Last year the century-old creme-filled cookie brand Oreo created an advert showing a rainbow-layered cookie in time for LGBT Pride month, captioned it with “Proudly support love!” and faced an instant backlash. But for all the negative comments Oreo received, it got a lot more overwhelming support and positive press in the end, and that is likely what Microsoft was hoping for, and now seems to be getting.

Has the advert generated a lot of interest? Undoubtedly so. If it had shown a man and a woman getting spliced a lot less people would have watched it, or cared, or commented about it. I wouldn’t have mentioned it.

Was Microsoft brave to feature a lesbian couple getting married? Yes, I suppose it was, in some small way, and regardless of whether it was done to show support for same-sex relations, or to get people talking about the advert, or more likely a bit of both, the software giant deserves to be applauded for its decision.

I do wonder, though, if there wasn’t a degree of calculation in this advert. If someone at Microsoft decided that lesbians might be less offensive than gay men to their target audience. Though maybe I’m overthinking it, because really, ultimately, it’s just an ad showing two people in love getting married and using Outlook.com to announce a name change.

There’s a lot to be annoyed at Microsoft’s webmail service for -- still letting damn spam into my inbox for starters -- but showing same-sex marriage in an advert? Not so much.

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