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Marketers To Queers: GLAAD To Make Your Acquaintance

Despite repeated surveys reporting the gay and lesbian communities are very loyal to companies who focus marketing efforts on them, relatively few national advertisers have yet to target this lucrative market.

The companies that do, though, get noticed. In fact, they get awards for it.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation distributes Fairness Awards to companies and organizations that actively support the community. This year's awards, slated for October 10, will be presented to companies such as magazine publisher Conde Nast and music labels Warner Brothers and Reprise Records.

"Conde Nast has demonstrated their commitment to journalistic integrity and influential reporting ... Warner Brothers has created images and music that fairly reflect the diversity of the population," says Glennda Testone, NorthEast regional media manager for GLAAD.

These companies may have commitments to integrity and diversity. But they are also committed to the bottom line. Something the queer community can help bolster in droves.

Research firm Kalorama Information reported in June that the gay community in the U.S. represents more than 13.3 million people, a figure expected to increase after the 2000 US Census is completed next year. Others estimate the demographic numbers close to 10% of the total US population -- or 26 million. Queer publications report over and over that the community has a higher education level and higher income than average, few or no children, and what some describe as a "huge interest" in style and fashion.

All of which translates into $515 billion in annual spending power.

Rivendell Marketing, the largest media buyer for gay publication in the US, began operating in 1979 representing 25 local gay publications. Today the company represents 237. National advertisers have been trickling in, slowly but surely, since the company's incarnation.

Todd Evans, Rivendell president, says that gay and lesbian publications reach about 5 million readers in the US and advertising revenues are trending upwards.

1997 ad spending in gay print totaled $100.2 million. By 1999, that figure had increased 50% to $155.3 million. However, most of these revenues represent local advertising, such as restaurants and bars. National ads only account for about 5 to 10 percent of this total, says Evans.

"Gay and lesbian publications are thrilled that more and more advertisers are pursuing the market -- it is allowing them to grow," says Evans. He attributes the increase to advances in publishing, such as color printing, and the reduction of stigma attached to advertising to queers.

It is national advertisers, however, who get noticed when they sponsor or market to the gay community. Many have hesitated for fear of alienating their other consumers. Several national advertisers have been on the scene for decades -- Absolut Vodka, music companies, HIV drug companies and retailers such as Benetton and The Gap. This year, though, more and more alcohol, tobacco, banking, technology, and fashion advertisers are showing up. Nevertheless, "they're still not devoting the dollars the market deserves," says Evans.

National advertisers generally make inroads into the community by including their mainstream ads in gay and lesbian publications. The next evolution, though, is gay-specific ads that stand out from competitors who are placing ads in the same sources. A Bud Lite ad last year featured two muscular male arms, clasping hands. Subaru had a subtle campaign where license plates on its vehicles read "CAMP OUT" and "XENA LVR" -- all cryptic jokes for the gay community.

Few ads that focus on gay issues have made it to mainstream media though. Mainstream ad campaigns that do involves gays and lesbians often use the subject matter for humor, shock value or a sexy sale, most of them, though, not really focused on the queer demographic.

"I've seen lesbian imagery that I don't believe is to attract women or lesbians as consumers but instead to titillate and excite men. You see these ads in men's magazines or fashion magazines and it seems like they are slightly exploitative. When I see that in [gay or lesbian] publications, I'm less likely to think it's ... to be controversial," says GLAAD's Testone.

Certainly, the fear of alienating consumers is lessening. Rivendell's Evans says his message is finally getting through to advertisers. "A gay and lesbian media campaign is really [just] part of a diversified ad spending campaign," he says.

With the market's disposable income and the fact that most national advertisers have yet to tailor campaigns to them, it would appear targeting gays and lesbians ought to be less about promoting diversity and more about smart business practices.


Laurel Fortin, BrandEra.com

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