Has Marketing To LGBT Consumers Become Mainstream?

Not long ago, ads targeting gays and lesbians could only be found in alternative newspapers. Now Chevrolet, Levi Strauss and others are targeting that demographic. Guest host Jacki Lyden speaks with Advertising Age reporter Thomas Pardee about changes in LGBT-targeted advertising.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, almost seven years after Hurricane Katrina ruined the historical New Orleans Botanical Garden, we speak with a man who's dedicated himself to the garden's renaissance. That's coming up next.

But, first, we wanted to take a look at the world of advertising, gay advertising, specifically, which has come into its own. Companies from Ben and Jerry's to Levi Strauss and Target are marketing specifically towards gay and lesbian consumers.

Recently, a new print ad for the Chevy Volt features the car above a rainbow banner telling its more gasoline-oriented parents, quote, "mom, dad, I'm electric." Get it? Now that marketing to gays and lesbians has become so widespread, we thought we'd talk about it with Thomas Pardee. He's a reporter who's written widely about this topic for Advertising Age.

Thomas Pardee, thank you for being here.

THOMAS PARDEE: Of course.

LYDEN: So, as we mentioned, this has really grown in recent years. Talk about why that is so.

PARDEE: Well, there's been - I think, in the last two or three years - quite a renewed interest, I think, in the media around, you know, gay issues in general, LGBT issues in general. And this has been fueled, in part, I think, by the - just the amount of politicizing that's been going on around gay rights, gay protections, both on the federal level and on each individual state level. I feel like every few months, there's a new battle for marriage equality that's being won or lost.

LYDEN: But that might account for political trends, but what about marketing trends? How do advertisers take advantage of the political debate?

PARDEE: Well, I think it's just the conversation is on everyone's lips right now. And I think you're seeing more and more positive representations of gays and lesbians in pop culture right now. You know, you're talking about "Glee" and "Modern Family." These are some of TV's biggest television shows, just as an example. And I think it's difficult for a marketer to ignore that sort of cultural shift.

LYDEN: Is there something that makes the LGBT community an ideal demographic?

PARDEE: Well, the old rumor - well, it's not really a rumor. It's sort of the old adages. You know, you're talking about a gay couple who has, in a lot of ways, more affluent, wealthier, you know, double-income family household kind of thing.

LYDEN: No kids used to be the old adage.

PARDEE: No kids.

LYDEN: Right.

PARDEE: Well, yes. It's - again, it's aging.

LYDEN: And that's changed.

PARDEE: And I think, as time has gone on, that's been debunked by some experts in this field. But there's a lot of benefit, in general, because we remain - or I should say gays and lesbians remain tastemakers in a lot of ways. We're often early adopters in new technology. You know, we have our eye on media and pop culture.

LYDEN: Fashion?

PARDEE: Fashion, of course. Yes. We set the agenda, in a lot of ways.

LYDEN: So is there a company - since you've been covering this - that's been the biggest surprise in terms of coming out with a marketing plan that's specifically for the gay population?

PARDEE: I think there's a couple of them. Earlier in the year, J.C. Penney - the big retailer, the old, old retailer - signed Ellen DeGeneres as its spokesperson.

LYDEN: Yeah.

PARDEE: And that was a surprise for a lot of reasons, because J.C. Penney isn't known to have a whole lot of appeal to gays and lesbians. And for them to make that kind of statement - because it really is a statement in 2012 to hire an openly gay spokesperson - it was remarkable.

And that was just one example of what J.C. Penney did this year that was surprising. But also, the Chevy Volt ad that you mentioned at the top of the segment, here, that was a big surprise, because I think that marks the first time that a big auto marketer kind of stepped up to the plate and not only winked at the gay audience, but it really - it came out and it acknowledged us in a very specific and a very outward way.

LYDEN: Has there been any evidence so far that this is actually working, that it's produced revenue for J.C. Penney's or Chevy Volt?

PARDEE: Well, J.C. Penney - I think they're having troubles of their own because, at the same as they announced Ellen as their spokesperson, they sort of unrolled this new sales and promotions schedule that really hasn't quite worked for them. So that's a different story. But in terms of Chevy, it's also a little early to tell.

But both marketers have received a lot of good favor. And, you know, polls show now that more than half of Americans do support marriage equality. So they only stand, really, to gain from these kinds of representations.

LYDEN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Michel Martin's away. I'm here with Thomas Pardee. He's a writer for Advertising Age, and we're talking about the trend of more companies marketing towards gay consumers.

You know, Thomas, when African-Americans were first seen as a viable group to be marketed to, there was a certain fear among some brands that they'd be considered the black brand, you know, a sort of a stigma. Does this exist in any sense, as far as you're aware, for marketers looking to sell to gays and lesbians?

PARDEE: You know, common wisdom shows us that marketing to African-Americans or Hispanics and marketing to gays and lesbians just isn't the same. We're talking about an apples-and-oranges situation. But, at least in the case of LGBTs, I would say no. You're not seeing that kind of a stigma, and I think it's sort of a self-selection.

The marketers who would take that quote, unquote, "risk" to market to LGBT consumers, they know their market enough to know that, you know, now is the time, and their consumers, in general, are going to be receptive to this kind of advertising. Also, they're not going to see a lot of it. A lot of it's going to exist in smaller markets, markets that are more specifically LGBT.

LYDEN: I was just trying to think of some other brands that maybe had specifically appealed to LGBT audiences. Can you think of brands that are sort of being specific like that?

PARDEE: Well, there's one brand that's always been on the side of acknowledging LGBT consumers, and that's Absolut vodka. They are the primary sponsor for Logo's "Rupaul's Drag Race" series, which is phenomenally successful and sort of a lynchpin of gay culture in a lot of ways right now. And they are - you know, they're in this from the ground floor. Their name is all over that show. Their name is all over the Logo Network, and they've been doing this for decades.

LYDEN: Well, you bring up something else, that marketing specifically towards a show like that and on Logo reaches audiences far beyond just the gay audience. That show, "Rupaul's Drag Race," beloved of college dormitories in many parts of the countries...

PARDEE: Right.

LYDEN: ...because kids like to watch it.

PARDEE: They do. And, you know, I think more than half of their audience, I believe, is actually young and female. So that has reflected in some of their content changes over the past six months. They've recently unrolled a new lineup of shows and, to quite a controversial point, many of them aren't gay-specific in that they don't feature or focus on a gay character, primarily. They are sort of more gay appeal, or peripherally of gay interest.

LYDEN: You know, that made me wonder about older, more establishment gay periodicals and organizations. I'm thinking of the newspaper, The Advocate, wondering as if the mainstream moves in to market to the gay audience, the traditional gay publications have a tougher time with market share and ads.

PARDEE: A few months ago, I spoke with Aaron Hicklin, who's the editor-in-chief of Out magazine. This was before they farmed out their entire editorial operations. But they had brought in new ads in the past couple of months. And, you know, no magazine is doing stunningly well, but certainly Out outfaces its own specific challenges as being a gay media company in an age where that's just a very difficult sort of place to align yourself in this market, because you have a generation of gay people who don't necessarily want to be known as specifically gay or gay first. They're happy to be out and proud, but they claim that that's not who they are. It's just a part of them.

LYDEN: Thomas Pardee is a reporter for Advertising Age, and he joins us from our bureau in New York City. Thomas Pardee, thanks for being here.

PARDEE: Thank you.

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