Web publishers gear up for a gay marriage ad boom
In 2007, Disney opened its Fairy Tale Weddings services to gay
couples, allowing them to exchange vows in front of Cinderella's castle, with Mickey and Minnie Mouse in attendance. Now that the California Supreme Court has ruled the state's constitution
guarantees the right of marriage to all its citizens, those weddings will be legal, too - at least in the state.
That ruling has created a boom in the gay weddings market: California's hangover economy could get a $683 million transfusion over the next three years, thanks to nontraditional couples shelling out big bucks for the traditional cake, flowers and champagne, according to a June 2008 study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
Wedding planners don't necessarily expect the good times to last, though. "It's a market that will fade away," says Craig Smith, co-owner of Gay Celebrations in Los Angeles.
But for now, let the good times roll.
Smith and partner Mark Zangrando launched Gay Celebrations and its companion Web site as offshoots of Smith's established event production company. They hope their gay wedding services will create loyalty that will lead to bar mitzvahs, anniversaries, 50th birthday parties and all sorts of other parties. "Gay people celebrate - not just weddings," Smith says.
GBK Productions, another LA event producer, wanted to draw an affluent crowd of gay consumers to Same Sex in the City, a wedding expo held in August in Los Angeles and in Palm Springs. The company sent multimedia e-mails with embedded video to its mailing list of 15,000, as well as to a list rented from the LA Gay and Lesbian Center. The creative, produced in-house, used a few bridal tropes, such as a red-lipsticked woman in a white dress, but gave them an urban spin: The bride carries sunflowers instead of roses, and expo attendees are promised premium martinis instead of champagne. The same creative was used for a banner campaign on local gay sites.
The creative reflects the sensibility of the gay marriage market and the gay consumer in general, according to Gavin Keilly, GBK founder. "Typically, the gay couple has a more sophisticated palette," he says.
All Cake Is Local
The lion's share of the online advertising spend for same-sex weddings may go to search. "It's all about small business," says Mike Wilke, executive director of the Commercial Closet Association, an organization that advocates for advertising that's inclusive of lgbt consumers. "It tends to be wedding planners, rings or jewelry."
That's why Gay Celebrations is starting with organic search-engine optimization of its new Web site; the company is considering search advertising as well. However, like a lot of SMB owners, Smith and Zangrando know all about their industry but little about keyword auctions and response tracking. Their business, like most of the wedding industry, relies on word-of-mouth, despite the gay audience's heavy use of the Internet.
"Because of the competition in this area, it's better to market intimately," Smith says. "We're a pop-and-pop organization, and we use that."
The potential of this affluent online consumer base can't be ignored. Two new Web sites hope to be the Internet hubs for same-sex soon-to-be-weds.
In July, Jonathon Feit, ceo of Feit Publishing Ventures, relaunched withthisring-magazine.com, aimed at "the flip side of the wedding market," that is, folks of all persuasions who gag at the thought of a Disney Fairy Tale Wedding. That includes a lot of gay people, and the first online edition features a glamorously punky female couple.
They may be alternative, but as Feit points out, "These are monogamy-oriented people." The audience he wants to reach is defined by its progressive values rather than by its sexual orientation. This wider focus is also good for business.
"Ghettoizing gay marriage has its heart in the right place, but the audience isn't going to be huge," Feit says. Still, With This Ring struggles with the inherent conservatism of the traditional marriage market, as well as advertisers' reluctance to put their brands on this political hot potato. A representative of a company so gay-friendly that it sponsors Pride events admitted to Feit that the company wasn't comfortable with gay marriage.
Print and Web publisher The Knot partnered with gay.com to launch Gay Weddings by The Knot and Gay.com (at gayweddingsbytheknot.com). The Knot will provide editorial content and sell local advertising, while gay.com will sell brand ads. Carley Roney, editor in chief of The Knot, points out that her pub has included info for gay couples since its 1997 launch. "A bouquet is a bouquet, whether the couple is carrying one or two," she says. "We very much support throwing a wedding, whether it's legal or not."
The Knot brings to the joint venture a massive database of local wedding vendors and the site's built-in ability to target advertising based on user registration. When registering, site visitors specify where they want to be married because many couples take their vows out of town. This makes it a cinch to match them with local vendors.
Roney has seen no hesitation from local advertisers about jumping into the gay market. "The wedding
industry is very excited about some opportunity for market growth, especially in this economy," she says. And she sees huge upside for brand advertising. Macy's and Bloomingdale's have already had great success with gift registries for gay couples, she points out, and gay people tend to skew higher for disposable income, making them highly desirable for top-shelf brands.
Travel is another area where the gay wedding industry might go national. Newly married couples may plan a honeymoon, and travel is already among the top categories for online spending to reach the gay market.
American Airlines was one of the first carriers to understand the value of the gay market, says Stephanie Sandberg, vice president of sales and marketing for PlanetOut, which operates gay.com, a network of sites and print publications. "As their industry is getting pummeled, they understand the importance of speaking to this market," she says.
For the launch of the Palm Centro smartphone, PlanetOut worked with MindShare to create a "Nightlife Face-Off" microsite. The site, up for two months, followed two gay men as they navigated the scene, blogging as they went with the help of their phones. The campaign resonated with gay.com's gadget-loving crowd, boosting sales and Palm's stock price.
See also Hanft Raboy and Partners' ad for chemistry.com, honored in Commercial Closet's 2008 Images in Advertising Awards. The vertical rectangles and banners show sweetly kissing couples. The copy, "No issues here," alludes to competitor eHarmony's policy of not allowing homosexual members.
The gay community rewards advertisers who get it right. A 2008 study by PlanetOut and Prime Access, a media and creative services agency, found that 85 percent of gay males would support advertisers that support gay media, and 92 percent said they appreciate when a brand makes an effort to speak to the gay community. Just showing up on a gay site is great. Showing up with custom creative is even better.
"The LGBT community used to be seen as a niche that you could reach in mainstream publications," Sandberg says. "Now, Fortune 400 brands recognize that there's an intense loyalty factor from the community when the advertiser makes the effort to tailor the message to the community."