Marketing to LGBT Consumers: Is the Gay Market Worth the Hype and if so How Best to Reach
As a gay man who began the journey of self-identifying as such in 1993, I have observed over the past two decades a seismic shift in how the marketplace approaches gay consumers. At first blush, given the historical marginalization of homosexuals, I ask myself what makes the gay market (the preferred term used by the marketing industry to reference what call LGBT or GLBT representing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered) attractive to firms? And, if the gay market is indeed a smart pursuit for organizations, how best it be approached?
Stereotypes abound within both the homosexual and heterosexual communities about the economic capacity and impact of the gay market—beliefs such as: gays have higher incomes than the average straight population and gays are innovators and trend leaders. Are these valid assumptions or rather ideas propagated in large part by gays themselves to shake the stigma associated with their sexual orientation? The reality is that unlike other demographic groups, it is difficult to get unbiased statistical data on gays. According to GLAAD, “due to politics, the closet and noncommittal interest, solid information on gays and lesbians is in short supply and they have remained difficult to survey. (The U.S. Census says it cannot ask about sexuality until Congress recognizes gays as a federally protected minority.)” 1 As such there are no exact counts, yet various studies (Kinsey, Simmons, NORC) estimate the U.S. gay market to be between 15 million and 21 million consumers and averaging just over 18 million.2
While initial efforts to reach a target gay audience began sporadically in the 1970s, the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s caused marketers to back away from gay specific marketing, as if in fact avoiding the plague. It was not until the 1990s that firms began to “come out” and get beyond the concerns of estranging heterosexual customers by marketing to homosexuals. A seminal article in a mid-1991 edition of the Wall Street Journal entitled “Overcoming a Deep-Rooted Reluctance, More Firms Advertise to Gay Community”3 trumpeted “you’re talking about two people with good jobs, lots of money and no dependents. This is a dream market.” Subsequent articles, texts and scientific studies regarding marketing to gays invariably use “dream market” as a descriptive. Upon closer reading of the original WSJ article one learns that the now often used term was actually attributed to “Rivendell Marketing Co. President Joe Di Sabato, who (sold) ad space in the gay press.”3
The question then arises as to whether the gay market is in fact a “dream market. Much of the research done on the gay market has been conducted by marketers who specialize in selling “gay”—there has been very limited scientific academic research performed on the demographic. Thus, most surveys targeting gays have an implicit bias to skew toward higher income, education levels, etc., being primarily executed by marketers with a vested interest in reaching those conclusions. Due to the limits of sampling a population that self-identifies, most of the pseudo-scientific research is done via the Internet, with survey respondents identified through websites catering to gay affinities. Community Marketing, Inc. (CMI) using a 15-minute online survey in 2011 with over 30,000 participants (of which I was one) performed one of the largest and most recent studies of the gay market. A key finding of “CMI’s 5th Annual LGBT Community Survey,” was “LGBT consumers represent a powerful buying community that marketers cannot afford to ignore—a significant number across all age groups made major purchases last year and even more are planning to buy big ticket items in the next 12 months.” 4
While CMI does not make any income data from the study publicly available, the inference is that the gay market is highly desirable because of its tremendous...
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