Ford Drops Ads in Gay-Oriented Magazines

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Ford Motor Co. has dropped advertising in gay-oriented publications after the threat of a boycott by the conservative American Family Association. The group has criticized the car manufacturer for supporting what it considered an immoral lifestyle.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Ford Motor Company says it has decided to stop running magazine ads for two of its luxury car brands in gay publications. The news comes a week after religious conservatives backed off a long-standing threat to boycott the car company. Ford denies making any deal with the American Family Association and says its decision was based on business. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY reporting:

On the cover of this month's edition of The Advocate, a national gay and lesbian newsmagazine, there's a photo of actor George Clooney. A headline says, `The interview inside,' quote, "offers lessons for fighting the right."' Turn the page and there's a two-page spread featuring a silver, metallic-blue Jaguar with the slogan `Gorgeous Trumps Everything.' This year, both Jaguar and the Land Rover have run ads in gay-friendly magazines. Researcher Gary Gates, who writes about the economic clout of the gay community, says Ford is among an increasing number of companies that have targeted gays and lesbians.

Mr. GARY GATES (Researcher): They're less likely than their heterosexual counterparts to have children, and so they spend their money differently. And that's very attractive to marketers, and particularly marketers of kind of big-ticket items like automobiles.

CORLEY: Ford's advertisements and some of its gay-friendly policies, like same-sex benefits for its employees, have raised the ire of groups like the American Family Association. The conservative Christian organization threatened to boycott Ford last spring, but agreed to a six-month suspension. In a statement issued last week, the association said it was ending its boycott since Ford was addressing the group's concerns in good faith. Ford says there was no quid pro quo agreement with the AFA, but a number of gay organizations are concerned. Jeff Montgomery is the head of the Detroit-based Triangle Foundation.

Mr. JEFF MONTGOMERY (Triangle Foundation): Most problematic, I think, is that there's been no real clear indication from anyone at Ford about what they did or did not agree to with the AFA. And that's the cause of greatest concern at this point.

CORLEY: In a memo to the head of a Ford workers' group for gay, lesbian or bisexual employees, company officials say that another Ford brand, Volvo, has decided to advertise directly to the gay community, but Jaguar and Land Rover would no longer do so. Ford spokesman Mike Moran would not be taped for an interview, but he said plans to cut back on marketing for those two brands had been in the works for a year and a half, since business conditions for them have been difficult. Jeff Montgomery says some gay organizations have considered launching a counterboycott against Ford. He says he doesn't think that's a good idea.

Mr. MONTGOMERY: When the AFA announced this boycott originally last spring, you know, we and others were quick to point out that the AFA's history of boycotts has not been very effective actually and is really rather silly. So on the one hand, it would seem to me kind of disingenuous for us to launch a counterboycott because so many of us have decried the effectiveness of them.

CORLEY: What is certain, though, is the decision to pull the car ads. The president of the company which publishes The Advocate, Mark Elderkin, says he expects Jaguar and Land Rover ads won't be absent for long.

Mr. MARK ELDERKIN: Oh, absolutely, we think it's a great fit for some of the Ford brands. And if we look at the success that some of Ford's competitors are having in the market by going after the gay market big-time online and in print, then, you know, I imagine Ford will come back when they see the success that their competitors are having.

CORLEY: And it's business, Ford says in its memo, which will determine where its brands are advertised. The company says it's not looking to make a social statement one way or the other. Cheryl Corley, NPR News.

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