Gay Stereotypes Dispelled

Discussion
Oct 24, 2007

By George Anderson

A one-size-fits-all approach to the gay and lesbian market is reducing the effectiveness of campaigns targeted to consumers based on their sexual preference. That is the finding of a recent study by New American Dimensions and the Asterix Group.

According to the study of 926 individuals online and in-person, the stereotypical young, white, urban and affluent gay and lesbian image often portrayed in the media is reflective of only a small percentage of consumers in this market segment.

Gary Gates, a demographer at the Williams Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles law school, told the San Jose Mercury News, “Gay men actually make less money than other men. And every time I say that, people say, ‘What?’ This stereotype of gay men being really wealthy – the whole ‘Will and Grace’ kind of stereotype – it’s just absolutely not true.”

Only 42 percent of gay men and 31 percent of lesbians report living in urban areas. The vast majority resides in small towns and rural areas.

About 12 percent of the study’s respondents were identified as “closeted.” Only four percent of this group reported having come out of the closet while 35 percent said they were still in. These individuals, the research found, were more likely to be Caucasian, older and live in small communities. Eighty percent of these individuals said sexual orientation was not an important part of their identity.

The polar opposite to “closeted” individuals were those identified in the study as “super gays.” About 26 percent of respondents were classified into this segment by the study’s authors. Members of this group were open about their sexual orientation and tended to be more highly educated and affluent.

Across the various segments, the study found some commonalities. For one, nearly two-thirds report having experienced stereotyping and discrimination as a result of their sexual orientation.

Christine Lehtonen, president of Asterix, told the Mercury News, “I expected to find more differences by gender, male and female. And primarily, there weren’t a ton of differences.”

Seventy percent of gay consumers were willing to spend more for products developed for companies that support their community. The two most popular methods for demonstrating that support are companies offering domestic partnership benefits (79 percent) and making donations to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) groups.

Reflecting on the study, David Morse, president of New American Dimensions, said in a press release, “We have segmented the LGBT market in all its diversity, providing a more detailed picture of the gay and lesbian customer, providing highly sought-after insights to mainstream advertisers.”

Discussion Questions: With such a diversity of lifestyles within the GLBT community is it possible to develop a single, effective marketing message to these consumers? How critical is it to zero-down to the various segments identified within this study to be truly effective? Are targeted spots necessary if companies are engaged in activities supporting GLBT individuals and causes?

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10 Comments on "Gay Stereotypes Dispelled"


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Gregory Belkin
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Gregory Belkin
14 years 7 months ago

Certainly, marketers are going to have to sharpen their pencils a little bit, based on research which, frankly, didn’t surprise me all that much. Stereotypes never end up holding much weight when the facts roll in.

I also agree that the money issue was perhaps the only nugget that made my eyebrow twitch a little bit. Marketers are going to have to take a close look and rethink their game a little bit.

Lee Peterson
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

I am marveling at this question. Amazed at the naivete (I’ll get over it).

Like anything or anyone else, it depends on what you’re marketing to whom. Big message (like equality), big audience. Small message (specific retailer/restaurant/club), tighten it up.

Why would this equation be any different than the ones you ask yourself when marketing every day?

Mark Burr
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

So let me try and understand this; the GLBT community fits into every geographic and demographic…. So, that being the case; why segment them at all?

Putting aside the political and controversial stirrings of addressing or segmenting this group–wouldn’t it seem possible that the group’s expectations are not all that dissimilar with the average consumer?

What’s left appears to be a question of whether or not retailers or manufacturers want to broach the subject of advertising to specifically targeted media. That, in itself, poses a completely different set of challenges other than what is addressed here.

The more we try to segment different ethnic or social groups, the more the reality sets in that as a consuming public, we are more the same than different. Yet, there are a tremendous amount of research and consulting dollars spent to convince us otherwise.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 7 months ago

Frankly, I’m impressed with the courage shown by RetailWire’s esteemed editors to allow the terms “gay and lesbian market” and “one-size-fits-all” to appear together in the same discussion. (Admit it, you just grinned.)

I wish this research were far more extensive in terms of numbers of respondents, because it only introduces some intuitive thoughts that many of us have entertained. What’s disturbing, however, is the perception that the “GLBT” community exists in sufficient numbers to require customized marketing. My view is that GLBTs should market to GLBTs. Anything else is unwarranted on the basis of ROI. Except, of course, if you’re selling Liza Minnelli halloween costumes.

Steven Roelofs
Guest
Steven Roelofs
14 years 7 months ago

At 47, I have long ago stopped paying attention to GLBT magazines for their overwhelming focus on youth and wealth. Ditto for most gay-themed programming like Queer as Folk and Will & Grace. Simply not relevant to my life or the lives of the people around me. But as the article did point out, I do pay attention to which companies offer domestic partnership benefits, etc. and I do pay attention to which companies sponsor events like the Gay Games. In fact, I would like to see all of corporate America spend less on advertising in general and more on sponsorship of the arts, cultural events and historical preservation of our American heritage, among other things.

David Livingston
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

It would probably be very difficult to zero in on all the subcategories of the gay community. It’s hard enough to zero in on the straight community. It seems that most advertising, regardless of orientation, is geared towards young, white, urban, and affluent. The comment about gay men earning less than “other” men sort of surprised me. But I wonder if gay male couples earn more than straight couples? They are men, after all. Having an extra male earner in the household should give the household a financial boost, even if he earns slightly less than the average male.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Advertising is most effective when it’s believable and consistent. A national brand advertising in LGBT media without partner benefits is unlikely to be tops in effectiveness. And a national brand that provides partner benefits but doesn’t advertise in LGBT media is probably missing opportunities to reach that audience. Of course, the #1 message in all advertising is the customer benefit, and certainly many products and services have the same benefit, regardless of sexual preference. The ads for Subaru, American Airlines, Ameriprise, Coors, and Bud all use LGBT media effectively.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Let’s see…how effective is it to develop an advertising campaign aimed at, oh, I don’t know…heterosexuals? Gay men aren’t lesbians who in turn aren’t transgendered, etc., etc. I don’t think it’s necessary to crawl into every sexual subcategory to be effective but I also don’t think it’s very useful to imagine that everyone in the GLBT communities are the same or react to the same stimuli.

As to David’s notion that advertising is oriented only to the young, white, urban and affluent–don’t tell Wal-Mart, they might start to see the error of their ways. And, while I’m at it, who assumes that members of the GLBT are necessarily white, urban, young or affluent? There are plenty of persons of color, poor, rural and older representatives in those communities.

Mark’s right–advertising only works when it shows a distinct customer benefit and that can’t happen until you have a realistic understanding of who you’re talking to.

Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
14 years 7 months ago

The “gay” community consists of a broad spectrum of demographic profiles, and with the exception of some aspects of lifestyle, has as much in common with each other as the “hetero” community.

Because of the lifestyle choice, entertainment and news media can develop content and styles which create identification and deliver appropriate benefit. This provides a targeted means to advertise to this “community.” It does not mean that the very concept of targeted advertising makes sense to this community, outside of a very limited scope of products.

Distinctions are not necessarily valuable.

Laura Davis-Taylor
Guest
Laura Davis-Taylor
14 years 7 months ago

This is no surprise, as we’ve dealt with this same issue with multicultural strategies for years. But why does the advertising have to be blatantly about sexual preference? Gay or not, focus on the product, the benefits and the specific messages to the sub-segments (DM 101). If having a gay campaign is important, I’d recommend ramping up the PR engine to ensure that the gay community (and the right targeted pubs) openly share what the company does to support them. This segment DOES keep track of the companies that stand by them by doing more than firing out targeted ads. They want to give their money to the brands that take a real supportive stance, even if it means getting some heat from the more conservative parties. But, doesn’t everyone?

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