MindShare, Poux: Gay Market Mirrors General Population

A recently conducted study of gay, lesbian, and bisexual (GLB) Americans has confirmed what most marketers within that niche have long known--that demographically, the GLB market closely resembles the population as a whole.

Still, the study--conducted by the trio of MindShare, Poux Company Segment Marketing, and Lightspeed Research--is significant for many reasons. For one, just because GLB marketers know that the community extends far beyond "rich white guys who want to remodel everything they see" (in the words of here! TV president Paul Colichman) doesn't mean that the rest of the marketing world is similarly enlightened. In addition, the study represents one of the largest-scale efforts to study an audience that--although it represents $450 billion in annual sales--remains something of an unknown entity to many marketers.

"Companies like Nielsen and Arbitron, they don't slice and dice their data to account for gay people," says Poux Company President Paul Poux. "You have lots of people talking about gays as a dream market, but you don't have the concrete data to prove anything."



While the study found that the gay population is demographically similar to the non-gay population (household income, etc.), it noted a handful of distinctive media usage and marketing characteristics among GLBs. The 1,000-plus respondents prefer local gay publications to national ones, a conclusion that doesn't surprise Todd Evans, president and chief executive officer of media-rep firm Rivendell Marketing.

"It doesn't matter how good the coverage of gay and lesbian issues is in The New York Times. Here in New York, if somebody wants to know what's going on on Friday night, there's no better place to go to than the New York Blade or HX," he explains. Advertisers, however, have been slow to respond, even as circulations climb.

Respondents also say that their perceptions of products and services are more influenced by programming, commercials, and ads with a gay theme than by more mainstream options. What this means for marketers: they should specifically target the GLB niche in much the same manner that they would any other social or ethnic group.

"Even from marketing folks at large corporations who should know better, I've heard things like 'why should we be marketing to gay people separately?'" Poux says. "Well, because they want to be marketed to separately. There are lots of meaningful points of differentiation that companies are still missing."

As an example, he points to the study's finding that more GLB women than men watch sports on television. Yet many marketers still assume that, by buying time during NFL broadcasts, they'll capture gay male viewers.

"Smart companies, like American Express or IBM, are doing their homework and creating programs that are custom-tailored," Evans notes. "But I still get calls from companies that want to do a quick buy without looking at the facts, and then expect immediate results."

As for the dearth of research on the GLB market and its media/marketing preferences, Colichman attributes it in part to homophobia: "There's still almost an acceptable attitude of hatred towards gay people. I've had people look me in the eye and say things that they'd never say to any other minority group." Adds Poux: "I've been in rooms where nine out of ten people say they want to do some marketing to the gay and lesbian community, but then somebody else says 'what if people start saying that we're the gay beer?' Clearly that's a ridiculous conclusion to draw, but you still hear it."

Evans, on the other hand, cites finances as the limiting factor. "None of the gay publications had enough money to conduct their own research," he says. This, predictably, had a domino effect: without reputable data, gay publications were basically asking media planners and buyers to make decisions based on hunches. As a result, marketing dollars were apportioned elsewhere.

The fact that a highly regarded firm like MindShare co-sponsored the study encourages Evans. "They're going to be one step ahead," he says. "I'm sure the reason they're doing this is that more and more clients want the information. And if there's enough demand for it, they can spread the expense across all of [the clients]."

For the study, Lightspeed surveyed more than 1,000 gays/lesbians/bisexuals via email. The respondents were split more or less evenly between men and women.

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