Reaching Today's Gay Consumer. | Bruce Turkel

For the past few years, advertising to gay audiences has been the hypocritical little secret of a lot of marketers. They’re seduced by the demographics and sheer purchasing power of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) consumers but they’re terrified that their more conservative, middle-of-the-road customers might object to seeing gay couples in ads and stop buying their products or services.
To avoid this the advertisers sneak around, using same-sex models in the ads they run in gay publications, but reverting to more traditional couples in their mainstream ads. That way they can appear to be gay-friendly when they’re talking to gay audiences but still hedge their bets when they’re communicating to their bread-and-butter consumers.

I pointed this out when I spoke to a LGBT travel convention in San Francisco a number of years ago. My question to the audience was how long they were going to patronize advertisers who made half-hearted attempts to woo gay consumers by shamefully hiding their outreach in gay-only media. I also wanted to know how long the audience was going to accept namby-pamby photos that showed happy gay couples but never portrayed them in the real life situations you see in mainstream media — dancing, raising children, sleeping in bed together, and kissing.

To make matters worse, gay publications are just as complicit in this chicken-hearted ruse. Because they don’t want to rock the boat and risk losing ad revenue, they rarely point out the fact that their very readers are being taken advantage of by the companies who are advertising to them. Gay publications don’t compare the ads that run in their publications with the similar, but heterosexually oriented, ads that run in mainstream papers and magazines because they know that ultimately that will reflect badly on them — and their bottom lines.

The reason for all this is simple: Gay consumers read both gay and mainstream media but straight readers do not read gay publications.

What’s more, the true demographics of gay marketing are stacked against the LGBT consumer and those companies that want to reach them. The problem is that while the US Census counts 311,849,166 Americans as of July 26, 2011, no one really knows how many of them are homosexual. USA Today estimates the number at 25 million (12.4%) while The Washington Post says 10% of men and five percent of women are gay. And The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, a sexual orientation law and public policy think tank, estimates only 9 million (about 3.8%). Adding to the confusion, within the LGBT audience you have to account for younger and older consumers, men and women, and every other demographic (racial, cultural, etc.), all of which create new challenges for marketers.

While the total count of how many Americans identify themselves as L, G, B, or T clearly varies, what we find is that none of the gay publications actually reach a very large gay audience. It makes sense, therefore, that the print media most widely consumed by gay consumers would be mainstream newspapers and magazines — the same publications general market advertisers are using to reach their buyers. In fact, in a study done by Community Marketing, 30,000 gay respondents said that they find out about relevant stories from mainstream media 65% of the time compared to 46% of the time from gay print and online media.

 

Throw all this together with a few other facts and you’ll realize the great opportunity that the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York presented for our client, The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Consider the following:

  1. New York is Miami’s top visitor market.
  2. LGBT travelers are very important to the Miami tourism industry.
  3. New York City arguably has a larger LGBT population than many other areas in the country.

Because so many eyes would be on New York’s first same-sex marriages, performed on Sunday, July 24th, it stands to reason that The New York Times’ Sunday Styles section, and its Weddings/Celebrations marriage listings would be well read by readers of all sexual orientations. And so that section presented the perfect opportunity for us to reach all of our audiences the right way — with pride, admiration, and a true sense of welcome.

 

But the point of this blog post is not just to point out the interesting marketing challenges inherent in reaching the gay audience. Nor is it to pat ourselves on the back for a brilliant marketing move. Instead it is to thank and congratulate our marketing partners at the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau for their foresight, vision, openness to new ideas, and courage and conviction to do the right thing. And that’s something all consumers should congratulate them for.

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