AdRespect first began as a video program called The Commercial Closet in 1996, when business journalist Michael Wilke was a reporter at Advertising Age, the leading trade magazine based in New York City.
An invitation came from the NYC gay and lesbian film festival, NewFest, for a video presentation about LGBT representations in commercials. When Wilke agreed, he wondered if there would be much to show! But Wilke mentioned his plans for a lecture on LGBT-themed commercials to the ad agencies he spoke to daily for work, having them submit anything relevant. Before he knew it, Wilke had over 200 commercials for the lecture. Inspired by Vito Russo's seminal history of LGBT people in film, The Celluloid Closet, Wilke decided to call the lecture The Commercial Closet.
More invitations from other film festivals across the USA and internationally brought attention to the topic and the presentation. Soon, universities and corporations wanted to see the live video program too. And the LGBT-themed commercials kept coming. And coming.
In 1998, Wilke left Advertising Age, and for the next several years worked at WNBC, CBSHealthwatch, and Revolution magazine (published by Haymarket). By this time, the project began attracting support from others, including NY-based Mediapolis and Gnomist, which each offered to design and build a web site pro-bono in support of the unusual content. Gnomist created The Commercial Closet's original logo in lavender and black and white. Then, as New York chapter president of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA), Wilke met Michael Collins, a major investor in the project, who decided that the project should become a fulltime nonprofit organization. And the LGBT-themed commercials kept coming.
Wilke left Revolution in December 2000 and started The Commercial Closet project as a fulltime nonprofit venture. In May 2001 the project launched its web site with the world's largest Ad Library of LGBT-themed advertisements from over 35 countries and its Positive, Negative, Equal and Gay Vague rating system for commercials. ("Gay vague" was a term coined by Wilke in 1997 at Advertising Age, while writing about the Volkswagen "Da, Da, Da" commercial with two men and chair in the hatchback.) "Stereotype" was later added as a fifth category. And the LGBT-themed commercials kept coming.
Within a year, Wilke attracted a board of industry professionals to help guide and lead the project. In 2004, the annual Images In Advertising Awards was launched, as well as the corporate honors program. In 2007, The Commercial Closet modified its name to Commercial Closet Association to emphasize that it was a nonprofit organization and introduced a striking new logo designed by ad agency Impax Marketing Group of Philadelphia.
Today, the LGBT-themed commercials still keep coming and AdRepect is here to house them. This website incorporates Michael Wilke’s independent work since 1996 and that of his brainchild, Commercial Closet Association. The AdRespect ad library contains over 4,000 images from around the world and has been accessed over 10 million times online, with over 100,000 monthly unique visitors, and is widely cited in college textbooks.