Consumer Preferences Vary Among Gay/Lesbian Segments

A new study drives home the importance of understanding the diversity of the gay and lesbian communities and creating marketing strategies that reflect a company's or brand's likelihood of connecting with specific consumer segments.

Multicultural market research/consulting firm New American Dimensions and full-service creative agency asterixGROUP conducted 926 online and intercept surveys with (evenly divided) men and women during June.

The study identifies five distinct demographic segments and cross-references these with preferred ad styles and imagery.

The segments:

* "Super Gays" (26% of respondents) are highly educated (28% graduate school), highest-income (16% earn $100,000 or more) and most likely to be self-employed (15%). Slightly more than half (54%) of this segment are males.

Super Gays describe themselves as sophisticated, activist, complex, intellectual, mature, risk-taking and extroverted.

Nearly 90% report that they are "completely out" and about the same percentage report that they consider being gay to be a big part of who they are, and the most active segment in terms of supporting the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transsexual (LGBT) community with time or money.

Three-quarters (77%) live in big cities, 48% live in metro areas, and 56% own their own homes.

This segment spends the most time surfing the web (20.3 hours per week) and reading magazines/newspapers (7 hours). Favored publications are The Advocate (38%), The New York Times (25%) and Out (22%).

Compared to other segments, Super Gays are more likely to connect to a company that "actively speaks on behalf of LGBT causes" (18% express this attitude).

* "Habitaters" (25% of respondents) are older (41% are age 50 or older) and most likely to be in a stable, living-together relationship (59%). This group skews a bit toward females (55%).

Habitaters describe themselves as serious, down-to-earth, emotional, simple, traditional, responsible and mature.

About three-quarters (77%) are "completely out," and 61% say that being gay is a big part of who they are. Fewer than half (45%) say that they actively support the LGBT community, but 23% express concern about women's issues and 21% about children's issues.

Compared to other segments, they are the most likely to live in suburban areas (37%) and own homes (65%) and are least into dining out (1.6 times per week).

They are highest in TV-watching (10.2 hours per week), but low on magazine/newspaper reading (4.9 hours). Favored publications are The Advocate (19%), Entertainment Weekly (12%) and People (12%).

Compared to other segments, Habitaters are more inclined to connect with a company that offers domestic partner benefits to employees (71% express this attitude).

* "Gay Mainstream" (23%) respondents tend to be conservative and middle-of-the-road on almost all measures and attitudes, and as a group comprise an equal mix in terms of gender, age, education and income.

They are also equally mixed in terms of living in urban and rural areas, and in renting versus owning homes.

This group is most likely to have full-time employers (66%).

Fewer than half (44%) are "completely out," and 78% say that they have to know someone well to tell them that they are gay, but 73% say that being gay is a big part of who they are. Over half (57%) of Mainstream Gays are in stable relationships.

They are lowest in reading magazines/newspapers (4.6 hours per week), although 39% read LGBT publications. Favored publications are The Advocate (22%), Out (12%) and Entertainment Weekly (11%).

Compared to other segments, they are more likely to connect to a company that "reaches out to gays and lesbians in traditional media" (15% express this attitude--and 78% say that they prefer to watch TV programs in which being gay is part of the story). They also connect with companies that "actively speak out on behalf of LGBT causes" (13%).

* "Party People" (14%) skew young (29% are 18 to 24) and are the least-educated (23% are high school graduates).

Most (82%) live in big cities, and 41% own homes.

They describe themselves as youthful, down-to-earth, simple, cutting-edge, extroverted, rebellious and risk-taking. About half are in stable relationships.

Three-quarters (77%) are "completely out," and 87% say that being gay is a big part of who they are.

This segment had the earliest realization of gay identity (age 13.4, on average). Also, nearly half (45%) of Party People agree that "being gay is a choice." This is in marked contrast to other segments, whose percentages of agreement with this statement are very low (Super Gays, 0%; Habitaters and Mainstreams, 1% each; Closeted, 12%). This appears to largely reflect growing comfort with sexual identity with age.

Three-quarters (76%) of Partiers say they visit LGBT bars/clubs frequently. Partiers also eat out more than other segments (3.1 times per week), and spend more on this (33% spend between $100 and $250 per week).

Despite their youth, they are lowest in Internet surfing (15.3 hours per week). However, since they're also lowest in TV watching (12.7 hours per week), both patterns are probably a factor of nightlife taking up most of their free time. When they are Web surfing, they're more likely than other segments to visit gay sites and social networking sites like MySpace (30% do so).

About half read LGBT publications. Favorite publications: Entertainment Weekly (20%), The Advocate (18%) and People (17%).

Compared to other segments, Party People are more likely to connect to a company that "supports the gay community with donations" (11%) or "sponsors gay events" (8%).

* Closeted respondents (12%) skew older (40% are age 50 or older), and 15% are retirees.

Just 4% are "completely out," and 35% are "completely in." Fully 95% agree that they have to know someone well to tell them that they're gay. This group also realized their gay identity latest: age 17.8, on average.

Closeted gays describe themselves as serious, sideliners, traditional, introverted, mature and cautious.

They are highest in being single--meaning outside a stable relationship (52%)--and lowest in living in big cities (20%). Nearly half (47%) live in rural or small-town areas, and 59% own their own homes.

They eat out 1.6 times per week, but are lowest in dining-out spending (just 6% spend $100 to $250 per week).

They are high on Web surfing (20.2 hours per week) and highest in purchasing and engaging in games/sports on the Web, but low on visiting LGBT sites (23%). They read magazines/newspapers just five hours per week, favoring Reader's Digest (17%), People (16%) and National Geographic (11%).

Compared with other segments, they're likely to connect to a company that "reaches out to gays and lesbians in traditional media" (16%).

Differences by Ethnicity, Gender, Age

In addition to the lifestyle segment findings, the study identifies significant differences by ethnicity, age and gender. These include:

* Compared to Caucasians (who comprised 80% of respondents), Hispanic and African-American gays/lesbians are more open and comfortable about expressing their gay identity, although African-Americans place gender and racial identity above sexual identity in terms of importance.

* Realization of gay identity comes earlier for men (average age 14, versus 17 for women).

* More lesbians live together in relationships (59%, versus 37% for men), have children at home (16% versus 4% for men) or plan to have/adopt children within five years (15% versus 8% for men).

* Men dine out more (2.3 times per week on average, versus 1.8 times for women) and spend more on this (29% spend $100+ per week, versus 18% of women).

* Men also spend more on fashion: 26% spent $1,000+ on clothing during the past 12 months, versus 20% of women.

* The number of gays reporting being "completely out and fine with that" was higher among those ages 25 and older, again suggesting that comfort with sexual identity increases with age.

Media, Brand Preferences Across Segments

The researchers also tallied data across the entire sample. For example, looking at total respondents:

* Favorite networks include ABC (20%), Discovery (18%), NBC (17%), Logo (16%) and Bravo (15%).

* Favorite shows include "L-Word" (15%), "CSI" (15%) and "Grey's Anatomy" (14%).

* Favorite magazines include The Advocate (23%), People (13%) and Out (13%). Local LGBT publications are read by 43%.

* Favorite Web sites include Yahoo (25%), Google (14%) and MySpace (14%).

* Asked what is the most effective way for a company to increase its connection with gays and lesbians, 79% cited "offering domestic partnership benefits to employees," and 46% cited "supporting the LGBT community with donations." The researchers note that gays clearly reward companies that support the community, including by placing gay-themed ads and content in traditional media.

* Favorite automotive brands include Toyota (30%), Honda (22%), Ford (16%), BMW (15%) and Chevy (14%). Brands that are perceived as most supportive of the LGBT community are Subaru (60%), Volvo (22%) and Volkswagen (12%).

* Primary banking preferences include Bank of America (16%), local credit union (15%) and Wells Fargo (7%). Banks ranked best for the LGBT community: Bank of America (19%) and WaMu (18%).

* Favored fashion brands include Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.

* Favored alcohol brands include Grey Goose and Budweiser.

Responses to Print-Ad Imagery, Specific Commercials
Some general trends were identified when respondents were asked to respond to six imagery styles commonly used in print ads geared to gay/lesbian audiences: "Beefcake" images and images of gays kissing/showing affection resonate more with gay men than lesbians; celebrity and friendship imagery resonate more with lesbians; gay pride and friendship imagery resonate more with older than younger gay men; and older lesbians relate more to "cuddly," "pride," celebrity and friendship imagery, while younger lesbians relate more to kissing/affection imagery.

The study also asked gays and lesbians to rank three specific TV commercials on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means "I hate it" and 10 means "I love it."

Dodge Caliber's "Too Tough Fairy" spot and Budweiser's "Ladies' Night" spot--which both employ gay stereotypes for humor in an exaggerated, over-the-top way--scored 5.9 and 5.7, respectively. In contrast, Holiday Inn's "Hot Tub" commercial, which tries to play homophobia for laughs, scored 4.4. Lesson: Exercise caution when using gay themes in humorous creative.

The study also identified media/imagery preferences by segment. (Click here to access a PDF summary of results and methodology.)

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