Term Paper: Advertising Geared to the Gay

Pages: 10 (3536 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Women's Issues - Sexuality  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] As one marketing director has pointed out, advertisers "really want to reach a bigger market than just gays, but [they] don't want to alienate them" either (Clark 486).

Print ads have dominated gay advertising for a number of years because their target markets are quite specific, and the ads can be much more open about their content and meaning. One researcher found, "Advertising in gay print publications increased by 20% in 1996 to $73.7 million, according to the third annual Gay Press Report (1998)" (Kates 25). Print ads can be placed in predominately gay publications with little worry, but if they appear in mainstream publications, they can create problems. Alienation is perhaps one of the biggest concerns with advertisers who want to break into the gay and lesbian marketplace. The advertiser must walk a tightrope between the advertiser and the gay community. A too gay slant will alienate mainstream audiences, and a too little slant could alienate the gay audience. For example, a conservative family who viewed the Toyota ad might be offended that Toyota considered their values the same "family" values as those exhibited by these two gay men leaving on vacation. They could even boycott the company, or organize a nationwide demonstration or denunciation. There is a balance between the two extremes, and advertisers must recognize this balance when attempting to advertise to gays through mainstream media.

Probably the most important aspect of gay and lesbian marketing is how many advertisers have decided to gear ads to the gay community, and how successful some of those ads have been. In addition to being a wise marketing tactic, marketing to the gay and lesbian community is proving to be increasingly profitable. One study notes, "The Gay/Lesbian Consumer Online Census also found that advertisers who choose to use gay themes realize increased brand awareness and brand loyalty. Eighty-seven percent of G/L Census respondents remember ads with gay themes vs. those with non-gay themes" (McFarland and Garber). One of the most successful gay advertisements came from traditionally macho advertiser Miller Lite Beer. The television commercial depicts two women flirting with a man in a bar. Eventually, the man's gay partner sits down and takes his hand, while one of the women wryly comments, "Well at least he's not married" ("Best Practices"). This commercial aired during both gay themed shows such as Will and Grace, and on network and ESPN sports shows. Surprisingly, a large number of men also enjoyed the ad, and it was quite popular with women, too. Another successful print ad featured a gay couple marrying in a DuPont Pharmaceutical Company ad for an AIDS drug. While the ad did garner some negative reaction, the company continued to depict gay couples in many of its ads for the drug. Another researcher notes that more and more companies are discovering gay and lesbian consumers have money to spend, and are willing to spend it on their products. He notes, "Among the companies regularly advertising to gay and lesbian consumers are American Airlines, Levi Strauss, American Express, IBM, Saab, and Anheuser-Busch" (Buford 27). These are some of the largest corporations in America, and they are not afraid to go after the gay consumer's dollars.

Obviously, the last decade has seen a much wider of acceptance of the gay and lesbian lifestyle, and much more advertising geared to the community. What does this mean for their culture? With wider acceptance, more gays are finding the strength to admit their lifestyle. They are finding a legislative voice, and are working to change laws, including those that ban gay marriage. With the television coming out of "Ellen," and the advertisers who eagerly embraced the show, gay advertising reached new levels, especially in the mainstream marketplace. In addition to more acceptance, gay advertising continue to portray gay couples just the same as heterosexual couples, blurring the distinction between the two. As more advertisers jump on the gay bandwagon, the community can only continue to improve. Gays have been treated as second-class citizens for so long, that the continued advertising boom enhances their reputation, and their buying power improves. As companies target them, they become more brand conscious and brand loyal, and have more choices available to them. If the researcher is correct, and gays and lesbians do not trust advertising, then their trust will grow as more advertisers reach out to them. One of the reasons they can come out of the closet easier today is because of the strides made by people like Rosie O'Donnell and others who admitted they were gay, and even made it rather fashionable. The popularity of such shows as "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" is also helping more gays stand up for themselves, and be noticed by the advertising and other communities. Many of the specific advertising campaigns are especially significant because they not only recognize the gay community, they celebrate it. The DuPont ads for their AIDS drug depicted gays in gay specific situations, and a Nike ad showed an HIV-positive athlete participating in their sport, while casually mentioning they were HIV-positive. These moments are significant because they point to a deeper understanding of the gay community, and a deeper awareness that the heterosexual lifestyle may not be the "only" acceptable way to live. The gay and lesbian communities have fought for many years to be accepted and gain the same benefits, and these commercials may help them gain a foothold on benefits and equality. Ads that do not poke fun at the gay lifestyle can be positive and rewarding, and can help people who might never have had contact with a gay person to understand them a little bit more. If these ads promote nothing else but understanding and tolerance, they will certainly ultimately make a difference in the gay community.

While there are many successful examples of advertising geared to the gay and lesbian market, there are also quite a few disasters to report. Swedish retailer IKEA featured a gay middle-aged couple shopping for furniture in an ad from 1994, but the ad aired only once in Washington D.C. And New York City, and IKEA pulled it when conservative groups protested and began phoning in bomb threats to local IKEA stores. One writer notes, "Many wrongly assumed the commercial was meant to target gay buyers, but the campaign was about 'non-traditional' families, including a mixed race couple and a single mom with an adopted child" ("Best Practices"). This was the first commercial to show an openly gay couple in the U.S., and the director said that surprised him. It was no surprise that the gay community liked the commercial, and IKEA has continued to explore gay themes in its commercials from time to time ("Best Practices"). However, just as IKEA had problems with the gay depictions in their commercials, other advertisers have had problems with their commercials, too. McCormick Grill Mates initially aired a humorous commercial with a man grilling food that was so good; another man kissed him on the lips at the end of the commercial. However, reaction to the ad was so strong and negative that McCormick pulled the ad, and then edited out the kiss, replacing it with a taster crying tears of joy. Why did the company change the ad? The Commercial Closet Web site reports, "There was some viewer reaction,' says Mack Barrett, McCormick's spokesman. 'We like to think we're sensitive to our audience'" ("Best Practices"). Unfortunately, many advertisers still shy away from any gay-themed ads, or even openly gay actors or shows. When "Ellen" came out on national TV, mega-sponsors Chrysler and Coca-Cola, among others, removed the comedy from their advertising lineup after the show with her announcement that she was gay (Gross 161).

When consumer reaction is negative, advertisements can disappear quickly. This affects the gay and lesbian community in a variety of negative ways. It gives power to those groups who oppose their lifestyle for whatever reason, and builds barriers between the gay and straight communities. It also gives more recognition to those who protest than those who approve of the ads. Clearly, this is a difficult position for the advertiser, who does not want to lose customers because of their lifestyle depictions, but it is also a difficult position for society. If American society finds the homosexual lifestyle so unacceptable that they cannot acknowledge it exists, then society is so far out of touch with reality that it may never reach acceptance or understanding. Sexuality is one of society's most emotionally charged issues, and because of it, it is one of society's biggest taboos. Bringing out alternate lifestyles may make some people uncomfortable, but not recognizing they exist is just as dangerous.

Perhaps the most important indicator of gay and lesbian advertising is the community itself. How do gays view advertising geared to their lifestyle? One researcher notes, "[T]he homosexual consumer… [END OF PREVIEW]

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