Gay Community, Mainstream Advertising:
Posted: 03/03/2010 - 23:03
• How the American Corporate World Markets Itself to a Niche $835 Billion Community
by Stephen J. Lucin
Partner, grapeVine PR
Lately it seems that everyone wants a stake in the buying power of the US gay community. And because of that, many companies are turning to a strategy that's not all that new: advertising.
With the findings of Pink Banana Media's 2009 Gay Market Report, the fact remains that the US gay community makes up a huge amount of the market share; standing as nearly a $712-billion per-year market in 2008 - and according to Witeck-Combs Communications, that number jumped to $759 billion in 2009, and is expected to increase to $835 billion by 2011. The original number, however, according to the report, conservatively takes into account that the US gay community consists of approximately 15+ million people.
Regardless, that’s a lot of people. The magnitude these numbers would have on the bottom line of any company that sought to reach out and expand its market to the US gay community would be phenomenal. The numbers would essentially be endless, and many companies would be adding zeroes to their earnings spreadsheets – which is exactly why so many companies are now turning to the US gay community to earn the so-called "pink" dollar.
"Every year, more and more mainstream companies begin reaching out to the LGBT community," observes Matthew Skallerud, founder of Pink Banana Media and author of the 2009 Gay Market Report. "They have been educated over the past few years about what a desirable demographic this community is, whether that’s in the field of travel, entertainment, adoption or technology, etc. Now that LGBT issues and the LGBT community have become more and more accepted and part of mainstream society, marketing to this community carries with it less risk of backlash and more opportunities and upside than ever before."
Many companies today look into branching out of their normal audiences and consistently seek new and innovative advertising and marketing campaigns that utilize platforms that appeal to myriad communities. But one such company will help argue the point that it's not a revolutionary idea, as it has been reaching out to the gay community for nearly two decades. Popular car company Subaru of America has spent advertising dollars in media outlets and on events that specifically targeted the gay community for almost 20 years, and has done more than any other company to reach its expanded audience.
"Subaru has always recognized the importance of speaking to all their customers," says Subaru brand spokesperson, John Nash. "In the early nineties, market research indicated that many lesbians and gay men had a strong loyalty for the brand, based on the reliability of the vehicles. The company made the decision to speak to their G&L [gay and lesbian] customers in the first person, in the magazines and newspapers they read, with custom creative. Seemingly a simple and smart decision, but given the time period, certainly a farsighted and courageous one."
It was a certainty that when a company like Subaru first began its pioneering mission to create advertising specific to the LGBT community that an underlying fear of backlash against the company, and subsequent companies to follow, was a part of the ad placement decision-making process among advertising executives and marketing/public relations professionals in the last part of the 20th Century. But today, that concern is much less common as more companies have followed Subaru’s successful niche-marketing example.
Beyond print, Subaru in 2005 was one of the first advertisers to create TV ads that were aired on the gay television station LOGO, which is owned by Viacom. The three ads were entitled, How do you see yourself?, Opposites Attract and Different Roads, all related specifically to the gay community. Subsequent Subaru LOGO TV ads have consistently supported the concept of being one’s self and, in its 2006 commercial Confidence, Subaru captured and delivered the relatable message that confidence is an innate quality of the LGBT community. (Each of the ads can be found in their entirety on www.youtube.com.)
Anheuser-Busch brewing company's Bud Light brand was also one of the first companies to unofficially join Subaru in its quest in obtaining the attention of the US LGBT market. Early in its efforts Anheuser-Busch dealt with a backlash from various conservative groups after its first advertisement in 1999 that ran in a St. Louis gay magazine. In it, two guys were depicted as holding hands as the slogan proclaimed, "Be yourself and make it a Bud Light." Apparently, the ad was enough to cause a stir among mainstream beer consumers, and the company had met strong opposition. But it maintained its stance about broadening its scope of diversity, and remains a very popular brand.
“For more than a quarter of a century, Anheuser-Busch has been guided by the motto, ‘Making Friends Is Our Business,’" says James Ramey, Anheuser-Busch's Manager of Multi-Cultural Marketing. "In step with that philosophy, we market to the LGBT community as we market to all consumer segments that enjoy our beer. At Anheuser-Busch we are proud to have been a supporter of the LGBT community not only in our marketing and advertising, but also in our support of the causes which are important to LGBT beer drinkers and our LGBT employees.”
Together, Subaru of America and Anheuser-Busch are but two examples of companies that have sought to expand their market reach to the diverse and expansive US gay community. And with their successes, it's apparent that so many other companies are joining in the outreach to the US LGBT community, which outreach Subaru and Bud Light began doing well over a decade ago. Some examples of companies today that are reaching out to the LGBT community include Target, Paris Casino in Las Vegas, American Airlines, Wells Fargo, Delta Airlines, Svedka Vodka, Macy's, HSBC and Progressive Insurance among many more. Even Kellogg's Corn Flakes cereal recently placed an ad in the popular LGBT magazine The Advocate, which featured a Corn Flakes cereal box that was placed as the focal point of the ad, with the list of ingredients highlighted by a spotlight and the words, "The key ingredient is diversity."
Advertising such as the Kellogg's example is an admirable one as it strikes the balance others fail to find; most mainstream corporate companies still seem to struggle in drawing a line between what is too mainstream for the gay community, what can be perceived as "tacky" and what might be inherently and explicitly homoerotic, though those examples are few. While Kellogg's advertisement was creative, some other ads found in print publications targeting the LGBT community miss their mark, so to speak.
"Some initial mainstream advertisers do tend to use generic imagery in their ads," says Skallerud, "as well as imagery of people who are obviously not gay or lesbian. As they develop their strategy and overall advertising campaigns in this market, however, you tend to find a distinct migration away from the generic ad to a more unique ad showing, in the least, diversity, and at best, a distinct gay and/or lesbian sensibility."
Additionally, a lot of advertisements directed towards the gay community by mainstream companies almost always include the symbolic rainbow motif. And while some companies utilize it sparingly, others go wild by including a vast array of colors. Those that really “ride the rainbow” are often seen as spurious or not knowledgeable about the gay community, which, essentially, could lead the advertisement to be considered by this audience as entirely irrelevant.
“As with any advertiser serious about marketing to a new audience it may take some time to hone in on the right messaging and visuals,” says Anheuser-Busch’s Ramey. “But most importantly their interest is an acknowledgment of the LGBT community in and of itself and it is wonderful to see growth in a broad spectrum of intelligent, precise and targeted advertising which meets the expectations of LGBT consumers.”
Subaru's Nash adds that "in the case of current, or long-term advertisers in the G&L [gay and lesbian] market, there are those who do it well, and brands who make some overly simple assumptions about gay consumers. It really depends on the product category. Absolut, for example, has been in the market for 25 years, and always approaches custom creative with the same diligence it applies to the general market. I think like Subaru, they make a good example of how best to speak to the market."
And while more mainstream companies join in outreach efforts to the gay community and try to distinguish themselves within the community, there is but one more component to consider: false intentions.
Some companies, though again examples are few, that don't necessarily market to the gay community, but that are willing to take gay dollars, include: A-1 Self Storage, Cinemark, Domino's Pizza, ExxonMobil, and the Salvation Army.
However, thanks to the efforts of national organizations - those that serve as watch-dog groups over seemingly anti-gay companies - it is clear which companies target the gay community either directly or indirectly, and which seek to profit from the very people they are against by also funding organizations or political interests that pass legislation against the gay community.
According to other findings in the 2009 Gay Market Report, "70% of LGBT adults are likely to consider brands that support nonprofits and causes important to LGBT consumers," and "in 2008, of the 3,822 Gay and Lesbian consumers surveyed, 86% preferred to do business with companies that gave back in terms of community support and involvement."
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) compiles an annual report (The Corporate Equality Index), which consists of mostly Fortune 500 companies that appeal to an audience of and include employees of diverse backgrounds and identities. The HRC grades each of these companies based on past and present employee anti-discrimination rules, employee benefits and hiring practices that coincide with the all-inclusive nature of their respective workforce. Subaru of America and Anheuser-Busch both ranked 100% in their respective industry.
In Europe, conversely, some gay magazine publishers believe that their readerships aren't as aware of advertiser's intentions, and that those alleged intentions are irrelevant when compared to the initial message of the ad -- which is often the simple presentation of a product or service.
Remco Teppema, the Advertising Director at Dutch gay magazine, Winq, which recently launched an international print edition, feels that readers are more interested in the magazine itself, as opposed to simply looking at the advertising.
"Here [in Europe], I believe people read the gay magazines because they love the content; they're not too busy thinking of why advertisers are putting ads in the magazines," he opines. "In the US, the gay community is much more aware that brands target the community. And that adds a whole different perspective."
Targeting the US gay community, however, requires a huge undertaking that may necessitate assistance from specialized companies that hold the knowledge that is key to understanding consistently changing wants, needs and rights – for example, as gay marriage initiatives pass in many US States, this demographic is demonstrating that service-oriented companies related to weddings and ceremonies may be able to expand their reaches into the gay community, as well.
The gay community consists of perhaps 15 million people in the United States alone, and is a record $712 billion per year demographic that appeals strongly to many companies in various industries. It is a community that is welcoming to companies that take extra steps in marketing to it, which companies also support causes aimed at improving and advancing the lives and rights of the many individuals of which it is composed. But it is also watchful of any company with ulterior motives that seeks to grab a part of its unique market share.
Marketing to the gay community certainly helps a company expand its reach into a diverse group of people. Doing so introduces a level of respect from the advertiser and from the community on the receiving end of the advertiser's message. Not only is a company selling its product or service, it is additionally selling to people the notion of acceptance and progression on important social issues of the 21st Century.
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