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advertising geared to the gay and lesbian communities. Specifically, it will discuss advertising in the context of gay and lesbian culture, and how particular ad campaigns are significant to the gay and lesbian communities. While society has become more accepting of the gay and lesbian lifestyle, there are still many aspects of culture and society that disapprove of the gay/lesbian experience. Traditionally, mainstream advertising has not courted gays and lesbians, but some advertisers have recognized the size and dimensions of the market, and are beginning to break down the barriers in advertising to gays and lesbians in mainstream markets. In the last decade, advertising has become more open, and the gay lifestyle has become more accepted. Advertisers will continue to create new markets to create new opportunities for business and industry, and the gay/lesbian market is still waiting to be fully tapped.
The gay and lesbian lifestyle has existed for thousands of years, but it is only fairly recently been seen as a viable advertising market. Many experts and researchers believe gay advertising existed in the 1920s, citing several examples of print ads that seemed to indicate a gay or homosocial relationship between men (Boyce 26). In addition, author Alexandra Chasin cites a 1976 New York Times article that discussed the efforts of gay publications to attract mainstream advertisers, and other early recognition of the growing gay and lesbian marketplace (Chasin 30). Thus, advertising to gays and lesbians seems to have existed in some form for decades, but it is only in the last decade that it has really "come out of the closet." In fact, today there are numerous marketing companies entirely devoted to the gay and lesbian advertising market, and numerous studies have been conducted that indicate this market is profitable, viable, and growing. One report notes, "gay/lesbian consumers tend to be highly educated (37% are college graduates and one-fifth have graduate degrees) and in high-income brackets (27% have an annual household income of $100,000 or more)" (McFarland and Garber). Clearly, this is a viable advertising market, and as the gay/lesbian lifestyle becomes more open and accepted, then more advertising will appear that is geared to gays but also appeals to a general audience. Included in this analysis are some marketing terms such as "market," "demographics," "mainstream," "commodity," "niche market," "B2B," and "campaign." "Market" is a group of people or customers who represent the target audience for a particular product or service. "Demographics" are statistics used by advertisers to determine age, sex, and other important information regarding the market. "Mainstream" is the "normal" group of Americans that advertisers market their products to, such as white heterosexuals. "Commodity" is the product or service being sold. "Niche market" is a specialty market out of the mainstream, such as gays and lesbians, or Hispanics. "B2B" is the shorthand term for business to business, and finally, a marketing "campaign" is a series of ads or a group of different ads targeted to a specific group of consumers. For example, a Toyota marketing campaign might include print, radio, television, and Internet ads regarding a specific car line or auto feature.
One aspect of gay advertising is still being underrepresented, and that is the lesbian market. Perhaps two of today's most famous lesbians, Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O'Donnell, are changing the way the world looks at lesbians, but the lesbian lifestyle is still not as recognized as the gay lifestyle, and advertisers target fewer lesbians than gays in their marketing campaigns. One writer notes,
Lesbians have not been targeted as consumers by the advertising industry for several historical reasons. First, lesbians as a social group have not been economically powerful; thus, like other social groups who lack substantial purchasing power (e.g., the elderly), they have not been attractive to advertisers. Second, lesbians have not been easily identifiable as a social group anyway (Clark 485).
Therefore, even as the gay and lesbian market is expanding, there are some limitations to what advertisers will do, and who they will target. One classic example of lesbian marketing is a John Hancock Insurance commercial that aired during the 2000 Summer Olympics and the World Series. The ad featured two women in line at an immigration office, holding their new baby they had just brought back from China for adoption. The two women discussed becoming a "family," and at the end one said to the other, "You're going to make a great mom," and the other said, "So are you." The ad drew so much criticism from the public that Hancock edited it several times, and finally removed the ad from their advertising program ("Best Practices"). The ad depicted an openly lesbian couple who was concerned about the future of their adopted child, and indicated John Hancock recognized the special needs of gay couples who hoped to start and maintain a family.
This ad is extremely important to the lesbian culture, because it portrays a "normal" couple adopting a child and worried about its' future. However, the family unit just happens to be made up of lesbian women. The ad indicates that lesbian women are like many other American women - they want to have families, raise children, and belong to a committed and loving relationship. The only difference is their choice of partners. The ad makes them seem like any other women, and so does not stigmatize or belittle them for their lifestyle choices. Traditionally, lesbian women have often rebelled against fashion and cultural "norms" to make a statement about society and its mores. Many lesbians have turned their backs on designer fashions and upscale looks in an effort to call attention to the perennial attention to beauty and feminism our culture promotes. However, studies show lesbians are increasingly affluent and upwardly mobile in our society, and they are increasingly consumer oriented, too. Because of this, more advertisers are beginning to recognize their importance, and as they do, it legitimizes the lesbian community. It also shows mainstream American consumers that there are other lifestyles in the world, but simply because someone is gay or lesbian, it does not mean they do not have the same needs and wants as most mainstream consumers. Lifestyle aside, gay and lesbian consumers buy products, desire commodities, and have money to spend, just like mainstream customers, and recognizing that makes them seem more a part of the mainstream themselves.
In another act of acceptance, Japanese automobile maker Subaru used tennis star and openly lesbian Martina Navratilova as their spokesperson in 2000, because they discovered through testing that they had a strong base of lesbian customers ("Best Practices"). This is equally important because Navratilova has been openly gay for many years, and most modern American consumers know that. Using her as a spokesperson indicated Subaru was not only courting the gay market, but the gay market approved, because Navratilova agreed to the assignment. Again, her participation legitimized lesbian women, and even placed them in a traditional "family" vehicle, a station wagon. While Subaru no longer uses Navratilova as their spokeswoman, her campaign proved successful. What is quite amusing about the campaign is that it followed the success of Paul "Crocodile Dundee" Hogan's campaign for Subaru. Hogan, a super-macho Australian actor created a persona that oozed sex appeal and machismo, and he was followed by a lesbian. This shows the different strategies of the marketing community, and indicates that very different consumer images may combine to form a long-term successful ad campaign. As long as advertisers such as John Hancock and Subaru are willing to gear their ads to a gay or lesbian audience, understanding and acceptance should continue to grow, and these types of ads should become more commonplace.
In addition to online and television advertising, print advertising is heavily utilized by many advertisers hoping to attract the gay and lesbian audience. Writer Clark continues, more common and more discreet means of reaching the gay male consumer, however, is achieved through the mainstream (predominately print) media. 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).
Many print advertisements are not openly gay in their content, but can be seen as appealing to gays by the content. This expert writes, "This dual marketing strategy has been referred to as 'gay window advertising.' Generally, gay window ads avoid explicit references to heterosexuality by depicting only one individual or same-sexed individuals within the representational frame (Clark 486). For example, Toyota debuted a print ad for its Seca Ultima model that featured two men loading their car for vacation. The car included their suitcases, sports equipment, and even a picnic basket containing champagne and French bread. The headline read "The Family Car" (Kates 25). Print ads may be seen as less controversial because the reader can simply turn the page of the magazine, but they also offer more lasting impressions than television commercials. This ad appeared in publications geared to gays because Toyota was targeting this market.…[continue]
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