Thursday, April 14, 2005

More Color in the Rainbow

Increasingly, advertisers are targeting more of their $1.1 trillion annual worldwide ad budgets toward gay consumers. Recently, those marketing campaigns are featuring more colorful consumers.

Inter-racial couples rarely appear in general advertising, which seek an "ideal" representation—largely defined as young, white, thin and attractive. Largely advertising directed toward gay audiences does not veer far from that formua: consumers are generalized as male, white and WeHo/Chelsea/Queer As Folk (including the bad haircut) type clones. But the messages are already non-traditional and are somewhat better at including inter-racial pairings. So if you flip through some of the more recent issues of Genre, Out and Instinct you'll see more Asian, black and Latin models in the sponsored adverts.

The latest gay-targeted ads by Bridgestone/Firestone feature more white-white and black-white couples of both sexes. The above ads were in the April issue of Instinct and at, respectively. In July 2001, Bridgestone became the first tire company in the gay market and their campaign has been well-received.

“A lot of brands are willing to go after these niche markets to grow their business, even if it’s just a two-percent growth,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group, market research consultants. “They’re focused on the micro-lifestyles of the consumers, and same-sex families are a micro-lifestyle.”

Commercial Closet is a non-profit that tracks both negative and positive LGBT depictions in advertising. The archives record at least 62 inter-racial pairings; they found a total of 268 depictions of people of color in adverts. Anecdotally, advertisers appear more likely to pair inter-racial female couples than males, like the print campaign for Volvo at left.

While it's becoming more common to see GWM/F couples in advertising images and some inter-racial pairings, you will not see many pairings of persons of color. It would be great to see more, but the dearth doesn't necessarily bother me. The fact that it is already gay targeted with Asian, black and Latin faces speaks volumes.

Advertisers are trying to sell product; the ad campaign and models are just one factor in a buying decision. By merely showing gays and people of color, the brands are acknowledging that money comes in many more colors than green. Print ads and commercial spots should be more inclusive, but need not become a census or litmus test. As activists have learned, gay identification is less important for many black and Latin men.

Years ago, I was buying 2xist underwear because the ad campaign was hot, and the product looked good on my boyfriend me. It wasn't necessary to see a black face (or abs) on a billboard, but it would have been nice. Now, the 2xist ads feature models of color.

Adverts like those at left by the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau are the exception, and address the micro-lifestyle. Two Labor Days ago, I remember getting off the plane at ATL-Hartsfield and walking up to the National Car rental counter. The esplanade featured a huge banner like the print ad at fright, welcoming all to the Black Gay Pride.

Tourism bureaus in cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, New York and San Juan have become more savvy in attracting black and Latino gay dollars. For instance, Hertz and Air Tran are official sponsors of the 2005 Atlanta Black Gay Pride.

So while mainstream advertisers have far to go, it's still refreshing to open a mag or website and see people like us.