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Advertisees Anonymous

Do gays and lesbians visit the Web in significant numbers? According to a study by market research firm Greenfield Online in conjunction with Spare Parts, the answer is clearly yes: Web surfing ranked as the top spare-time media choice for 94% of the respondents.

But whether gay and lesbian sites can make a compelling argument for advertisers’ dollars is another story. Greenfield’s findings were part of a recent panel hosted by The New York Times and attended by reps from Gay.com, the Gay Financial Network and Web ad agency Razorfish.

In the last year, Gay.com’s monthly audience has leaped from 4 million to 8.6 million visitors who spend an average of 35.5 minutes there checking out community events, shopping and chats, said ad director Amy Simmons. Gap, IBM, Saturn and American Airlines are among its advertisers.

With its fourth redesign just completed and a new ad campaign underway, the Gay Financial Network, which had initial difficulty attracting advertisers, now boasts 24 content deals and strategic partnerships with the likes of Fleet, Telebank and TheStreet.com and advertisers such as Strong Investments, said president/COO Jeffrey Newman.

Still the paucity of dedicated sites or targeted marketing programs was quite evident when Razorfish’s Evan Orensten could cite only two such projects that had come through his doors: an Allied-Domecq chatfest for UK audiences in 1995 and Sylvester.nu, a portal for Scandinavian gays. More common, he said, were requests for tweaking existing ads for clients like Armani Exchange to portray a stronger gay element.

Clearly, marketers mulling links to this Web community have concerns: Can G&L sites guarantee no links to sex sites or “questionable” chat content? Are audiences open to e-mails from advertisers? And how can brands get added-value in an arena where data disclosure is a sensitive topic?

Privacy concerns are particularly high among gay and lesbian Web users. DoubleClick recently said it would postpone a controversial plan to marry Web user names with browsing habits amid protests over the potential for invasive tracking. GFN, for one, publicly states it “will never release, sell or make available any member information, including your email address.”

But that keeps the likes of Starwood Hotels’ marketing chief Keith Ferrazzi from diving in deeper. “Sites that have gotten my attention are talking strategic partnerships,” he said in an interview. Ferrazzi wants to drive consumers to book rooms on Starwood’s site to avoid $15-per-transaction travel agent fees.

Recently, Ferrazzi began directing 5% of Starwood’s $100 million budget at gays and lesbians via events and sponsorships. That’s taken Starwood to Aspen’s Gay Ski Week, and come April, it’ll sponsor bandshell activities at the Millenium March on Washington. As for the Web, Ferrazzi is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“The tools and technology are getting to the point where we can measure with a perfect degree of success how effective individual banner offers are,” he said. “I’m paying for performance in advertising now—what a thought!”


Karen Benezra, BRANDWEEK—March 13, 2000

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