Drag queen star of brand new ad campaign

Iceland‘s largest health restaurant chain has put a drag queen at the centre of its new ad campaign. This is the first time a drag artist fronts a huge TV ad in Iceland.

Gló, an Icelandic health food chain which is about to expand to Denmark, is using the opportunity to rebrand and will launch an advertising campaign on Saturday. Fittingly, the TV ad will premiere on RÚV (The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service) during a live broadcast of Iceland’s pre-Eurovision finals on Saturday evening but teasing has begun on social media already.

Sæunn I. Marinósdóttir, marketing director of Gló and Davíð Terrazas, art director at Hvíta húsið, advertising agency.

GóGó Starr, who won the title of Drag Queen of Iceland at last year’s Pride festival, is the star of the new campaign but what is the connection between a drag queen and health food? “Well, since we’re going to take Gló abroad, we started by doing a thorough self-examination with a consulting company, regarding what Gló stands for and what its essence is,” says Sæunn I. Marinósdóttir, marketing director of Gló.

Gló means Glow in English, and considering the name, the conclusion was that the restaurant would be helping people to glow, which is what GóGó Starr certainly does. “It would have been so easy to take a traditional approach, to show people who love sea bathing in the cold or something like that but it’s so inspiring to portray people who nourish a very non-mainstream aspect of themselves; people who aren’t really mainstream,” says Davíð Terrazas, art director at Hvíta húsið, advertising agency.

“Gló is for all sorts of people, with all sorts of backgrounds and all sorts of stories and that’s what we want to portray with this campaign. Hopefully, we’ll get more people with more stories to tell later; more people that glow!”

Elín Helga Sveinbjörnsdóttir, marketing consultant at Hvíta húsið agrees and adds that they wanted to use a protagonist who has the courage to follow their heart. “People who create their own glow and then create a glow on their plate, eating food that makes them truly glow. We basically followed the line that the consulting company had come up with. Gló is a leading restaurant chain that shows initiative so the campaign captures that, showing attitude and confidence by doing things that haven’t been done before.”

Sæunn says that the chain wants to emphasise that the food at Gló isn’t only for a certain type of people. “Gló is for all sorts of people, with all sorts of backgrounds and all sorts of stories and that’s what we want to portray with this campaign. Hopefully, we’ll get more people with more stories to tell later; more people that glow!”

Elín Helga Sveinbjörnsdóttir, marketing consultant at Hvíta húsið and Sigurður Heimir, aka GóGó Starr.

This is the first time a drag queen plays the main role in a huge TV ad in Iceland. Contrary to what some might think, the marketing team of Gló didn’t take much convincing. “We asked four agencies to pitch an idea, based on the course that we wanted to take in accordance to the consultation work we’d had done. But after Hvíta húsið’s pitch, we were ecstatic and didn’t feel we needed to see anyone else. We hardly touched the ground as we left their office and Solla, founder and face of Gló, was more psyched about this idea than anyone,” Sæunn recalls.

Davíð nods in agreement. “There was a slight uncertainty, because we weren’t pitching to a client, but pitching for a potential client. But after doing a bit of research, we felt that Gló was absolutely a company that would go with our idea. If anyone would be up for having a drag queen in their campaign, it would be Gló. And we were right and since then, everybody whom we’ve worked with on this have been wetting themselves over the idea and been so excited to be a part of it”

The ads will appear on TV and in print and web media. First, a long version of a TV ad starring GóGó Starr will be launched but then, about a week later, a short documentary about GóGó/Sigurður Heimir Guðjónsson will start airing too. The documentary will tell the story of how a young man from Akureyri travelled to the capital city, stumbled into a drag, won the title Drag Queen of Iceland and set up his own drag cabaret in Reykjavík.

“This is just the beginning, then we’ll continue with making mini-documentaries about interesting characters who allow themselves to flourish somehow,” explains Davíð. “Yes, stories about ordinary people who have discovered their inner glow,” adds Elín.

Sigurður Heimir, aka GóGó Starr, has never before starred in a TV ad or done much acting under directions and in front of a camera. “This was the first time I’m involved in anything like this and I loved it! I could hardly believe it when Davíð called me to tell me about the project and offer me the lead part. But I thought it was such a brilliant idea and so incredible exciting to be part of it that I said “Yes” right away. Something like this is such a great nod to the queer society as well and I’m so proud to live in a country where this is OK to do, a little unusual perhaps but still OK.”

“This was the first time I’m involved in anything like this and I loved it! … Something like this is such a great nod to the queer society.”

“And he never once complained,” Davíð points out. “We were filming in -4 degrees (Celsius) and we were all shivering, even in our parkas. Meanwhile, GóGó was wearing a silk dress, open-toe shoes and trotting around in snow for three hours, yet he didn’t complain at all; an absolute star.”

Sigurður laughs. “It was just so much fun! Filming days started really early for me, because I had to start by putting on the drag. And then I spent the day filming, being directed, told to do this and that and something just comes over you and you go with the flow and before you know it, the day has gone by. I thought it was a fantastic job! I’d love to do more.”

GóGó is not the only drag queen appearing in the ad, her companions from the performance group Drag-Súgur have small roles in it too, both queens and kings. And on Saturday night, they’re getting together for a little premiere party, more excited about the commercial break than the Eurovision pre-finals.

Sólveig Eiríksdóttir, or Solla, who is the founder and face of Gló, hasn’t seen the full length TV ad yet. Sæunn says they’ll be watching it as it premieres on Saturday on their smart phones, as they will be attending a conference in the States. “But she has seen a clip of it and was happy with it. We have complete faith in Hvíta húsið so we’re just excited to see the campaign unfold.

And did the Gló team never have doubts about the idea of using a drag queen to promote their business? “Not at all. I was actually surprised when people started asking if we weren’t wary of it. It’s just so not our way of thinking; we have immersed ourselves into the vision of human rights, equality and love and peace so it simply never occurred to us that anyone might find this odd or off-putting,” says Sæunn and adds that funnily, after all the work they’ve put into the re-evaluation of their image and rebranding, this campaign has still captured the core of Solla’s initial aim and vision.

“Solla is such a humanist; she loves everybody, all sorts of people. Solla greets everybody with a hug and doesn’t care what you look like. So, everybody is welcome at Gló and that’s the message of this campaign too.”

The new TV ad

Photos from the campaign: Guðmundur Þór Kárason.

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