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A Community With Money? Of Course Marketers Want In on That

Professionals of all stripes have no end of networking possibilities, with social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook. Now one particular segment, the gay professional, has a new networking venue — and advertisers are taking note.

A new Web site, dot429.com, which calls itself the “Gay LinkedIn,” aims to help lesbian, gay and transgender professionals network and make business connections. The site, founded last year, calls itself a “multi-platform network” for gay professionals but really amounts to a kind of hybrid — part social network, part events company, part vehicle for marketers to reach a coveted demographic.

Dot429 is not the only site trying to offer professional networking for such groups. The actual LinkedIn Web site has a number of networking groups catering to LGBT groups and sites like Meet Up and OUT Professionals also exist. But dot429.com has struck a number of prominent brand partnerships connected to the content. So far the site has attracted brands like Wells Fargo, Fiat, David Yurman, Saks Fifth Avenue and General Motors as advertisers on the site or event sponsors.

Richard Klein, the chief executive of dot429.com, said the goal of creating the site “was about bringing the community together in person and creating something that is a lot more sophisticated than really what was out there,” namely dating sites and blogs. Part of the draw for advertisers, he said, was the professional content on the site, which includes articles about the arts, business and politics and video interviews with professionals talking about issues affecting the lesbian, gay and transgender people.

“A lot of the media that targets the LGBT community has adult content,” and many advertisers are wary of placing their brands near such content, Mr. Klein said.

Another attraction for advertisers, as stigmas about the groups fade and the economy tightens, is the opportunity to sell products. Howard Buford, the president and chief executive for Prime Access, a multicultural advertising agency, said one factor favoring the group for advertisers is two-income households where both partners are men, who still make more on average than women.

“When you have a male couple, that effect gets amplified,” Mr. Buford said.

And while more LGBT couples are having children of their own or adopting children, Mr. Buford said many couples did not have children, leaving them with more disposable income and “disposable time” for travel and entertainment. The sour economy might also prompt brands to go beyond their usual general market targets, Mr. Buford said. “The need for sales and profitability is more compelling than, ‘Hmm, I wonder if we should do this.’ ”

In addition to its online platform, dot429 also hosts in-person networking events often sponsored by brands. General Motors sponsored a series of brunches in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles where participants looking to network could also take a test drive in a vehicle representing one of the company’s four brands: Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet and GMC. In reaching out, General Motors representatives “wanted to do it in a very intelligent way and we want to target professionals,” said Joseph LaMuraglia, a communications liaison for General Motors.

Bill Stewart chairman of the board for dot429 and a marketing adviser to the company, said brands coming to the site were trying to reach a specific audience.

“There’s a very high concentration of trend-setter and trend influencers in the LGBT community, and I think advertisers have realized that.” Mr. Stewart said. “For the most part LGBT consumers tend to have higher incomes, higher spending influence.”

Michael Goff, the chief operating officer and partner at Towleroad.com, a blog about gay issues, and the founder of OUT magazine, said while online destinations for gay and transgender professionals were popular with readers interested in issues that affect them, in-person events were lacking or at least not publicized.

“What we’ve lost over the past 10 years are a lot of local newspapers,” Mr. Goff said.

Joe Landry, the senior vice president and group publisher at Here Media, whose properties include OUT magazine, The Advocate and Gay.com, said the company had a base of luxury advertisers that wanted to target “affluent men with a lot of disposable income.” Mr. Landry said. “Being gay is really besides the point.”

Brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada are looking more at the likelihood that a consumer will buy a luxury good as opposed to the consumer’s sexuality. Mr. Landry said most of the advertising on the company’s multiple properties fell into two categories: brands that wanted to target gays directly with products and brands that did what Mr. Landry called “recruitment advertising,” or companies that posted ads for open positions to show the company was “inclusive in its hiring practices.”

And more brands are tapping into their digital advertising coffers to reach the gay audience than ever before. Mr. Landry said the company had a 25 percent increase in digital ad sales in 2010.

While some brands use the same message for both straight and gay audiences, Mr. Buford of Prime Access said the actual content of ads featuring gay lifestyle themes had also increased over the last few years. In national lesbian and gay magazines, where advertising pages are dominated by national brands, the percent of gay-specific ads is now 91.3 percent, Mr. Buford said in an e-mail highlighting a report that the agency will issue this month. “Thus, national advertisers have adopted gay-targeted creative as a best practice.”


Tanzina Vega, The New York Times. November 21, 2011

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