CHANGING TRENDS Ads targeting gay market coming out of closet
An advertisement recently ran in a gay magazine and a men's magazine.
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
ST. LOUIS -- For years, companies have tried to crack the often-misunderstood gay market.
By placing ads in gay-specific media, including magazines such as Genre or The Advocate, corporate marketers have skirted controversies and high advertising rates.
For example, Anheuser-Busch Cos. has been marketing to gays for nearly 25 years, but you might not know if you're not gay. Most of its gay-focused advertising has been in gay publications or at gay events.
But with the success of cable-television shows such as "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and "The L Word," to name a couple, observers say marketers can come out of the closet, too.
"The only thing [marketers] have left to fear is the right wing. No one wonders anymore what the middle thinks," said Michael Wilke, founder and executive director of the Web site www.commercialcloset.org, which tracks and rates gay representation in advertising.
Corporate marketing has a good reason to come out of the closet. Recent estimates say there are roughly 15 million gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people in the United States, with about $485 billion in spending power. Though it's a smaller niche than the black and Latino markets, gays are a consumer group with a high proportion of discretionary income.
Ads targeting gays can be a boon to companies because they attract attention. For example, the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp.'s recent print campaign had this slogan: "Philadelphia -- get your history straight and your nightlife gay." It received play in the national print and broadcast media.
And ads targeting gays can attract other consumer segments: One for Disaronno Amaretto that featured two women canoodling ran in the lesbian magazine Girlfriends and in the men's magazine Playboy during the same month.
These ads come amid a growing acceptance of gays. For example, MTV Networks plans to launch a gay-theme cable channel dubbed Logo next year.
It's also a signal to advertisers to up the ante, Wilke said.
"Advertisers who've been able to get the gay market on the cheap have been paying more for paper clips than it costs to go into gay media. They're going to have to consider upping their budgets for TV."
Anheuser-Busch has marketed to gays using slogans such as "be yourself" and "pride reflected," and it has used rainbow colors, a symbol of gay pride, in its targeted advertising. Anheuser-Busch said in a statement that gays are one of several markets important to the brewer.
Advertising to gay consumers takes an insider approach, said Howard Buford, the founder of New York-based advertising firm Prime Access Inc. Marketing aimed at gays must be nuanced and steeped in good research, said Buford, a gay man who started his agency in 1990 to target niche markets.
"If you could detail anyone's culture with dos and don'ts, then advertising overall would be a much easier business," Buford said.
Marketers have to steer clear of certain phrases that are not only pass & eacute; but also offensive, such as "gay lifestyle," he said. "It's not a lifestyle; it's an orientation."
What's more, the company policies of advertisers -- such as domestic-partner benefits and anti-discrimination clauses -- are often more important to gays than the images of gays that those advertisers portray in ads, Buford said.
That's because, in general, gays are more politically astute than the overall population. Buford said an estimated 80 percent to 90 percent of gay Americans are registered to vote.
American Airlines has sought to build relationships with gay groups, said Tim Kincaid, a spokesman for the airline. It's the official airline of several gay-pride events and organizations throughout the country. Recently, the company added gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy, Kincaid said.
"We have the distinction in the industry of having a dedicated team of salespeople who do nothing but market to the gay community," he said.