Gays and Lesbians: The Latest Emerging Market?

Jul 08, 2004

By David Morse

While the issue of gay marriage has emerged as one of the hot-button issues in this election year, corporate America and others are seeing opportunity.

For years, many had ignored the gay and lesbian market, in part, due to a lack of data. Since not all gays are “out” or willing to identify themselves in surveys, it’s been a hard market to track. But things are changing.

Beginning in 1990, the Census began tracking “unmarried partners” of the same sex, an incomplete measure, but of immense value in targeting where gay folks live. To fill in the blanks, there have been a number of studies, including one conducted by Witeck Combs Communications and, that estimates that the adult gay and lesbian market is over 14 million large, with at least $451 billion in purchasing power.

Another roadblock in the past toward marketing to gays and lesbians has been the fear of backlash. But public opinion polls show that mainstream America grows increasingly less negative and more accepting of gay men and lesbians.

The result, or perhaps cause, of this openness is the unprecedented visibility of gays and lesbians in the media. Breakthrough programs on cable like “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” “Queer as Folk” and “The L Word” have brought gays into the mainstream view. “Will and Grace” was the first sitcom on broadcast television with openly gay lead characters. Last month, Viacom announced plans to launch the first gay television network, Logo, scheduled for a February 2005 debut.

Advertising in the gay media is a booming business, but gay and lesbian targeted campaigns are emerging in mainstream media as well. A couple of television ads that are making the rounds:

A man in colonial dress awaits the arrival of his beloved outside of Independence Hall with a bouquet of flowers in hand. He ignores the glance of an attractive girl that passes him as an announcer says, “Philadelphia and its countryside have a long history of making everyone feel welcome and free.” Another man walks up to him, to whom he gives the bouquet. The tagline proclaims, “Come to Philadelphia. Get your history straight, and your nightlife gay.”

Two Snapple bottles, dressed up like a bride and groom, are marching down the aisle to the music of “Here Comes the Bride.” Suddenly, in a take off of “The Graduate,” the ceremony is interrupted by another Snapple character, a noisy man in the balcony, setting off a flurry of gasps and groans among the attendees. The organist faints. In the next scene, the two men exit the church together to “The Wedding March,” with guests, limo and abandoned bride left behind.

The City of Philadelphia and Snapple are joining the increasingly swelling ranks of companies — including Ford Motor Company, Subaru, Miller, Anheuser Bush, Coors, Orbitz, IBM, American Airlines, Washington Mutual, and Ikea — who are actively courting the dollars of this “emerging” consumer.

Moderator’s Comment: How aggressively should companies be targeting gays and lesbians? What companies seem to be doing
the best job at leading the pack?

Many companies are starting off by establishing corporate policies that are “gay friendly,” a subject of deep importance to this community that is no stranger
to discrimination.

In its 2002 report, the Human Rights Commission (HRC) studied 319 large American companies in terms of how they treat their gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender
employees. The study found that:

  • 92% include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies

  • 69% have domestic partner benefits

  • 60% have advertised to the gay community or supported GLBT or HIV/AIDS organizations

  • 40% have GLBT employee resource groups

Michael Wilke, executive director of The Commercial Closet Association, a group that works to improve public opinion of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
community by improving their portrayal in mainstream advertising, was recently quoted as saying, “It’s just emerging and remains a bit edgy because of the political nature of
it. (Companies) are just beginning to see the value.”

The Commercial Closet Association offers what has to be the most extensive archive of gay and lesbian commercials – good and bad – on its website at
The site also features a list of the best practices for developing effective, inclusive advertising to GLBT people. Heading the list: be respectful, inclusive and avoid stereotypes.

David Morse – Moderator

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