Ads out of closet, into mainstream with gay themes

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 6, 2013 at 1:43 pm •  Published: March 6, 2013
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Bob Witeck, who consults for Fortune 100 companies on LGBT marketing and communications strategies, put the buying power of U.S. lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults at $790 billion last year. He estimated, roughly, the U.S. LGBT adult population at 16 million, though others say their ranks could be as many as 25 million.

There's no demographic evidence or social science that points to the LGBT segment as notably higher earning or wealthier than anybody else, though they're often louder in protesting offensive ad messaging and loyal to brands and companies that support them.

"Things have changed significantly in terms of risk and reward," Witeck said. "Businesses don't view this as a risk model any longer."

Particularly, he said, when it comes to portraying marriage.

"Marriage, at one time, was the third rail," Witeck said. "That terrified companies. Most of this happened when the president said he supported marriage equality."

A consumer lust for "truth-telling" isn't lost on major advertisers, including those that once restricted themselves to trotting out gay-friendly fodder as one-offs when Pride Month and its multicolored flag flies freely each June. One recent pride standout in advertising, restricted to digital markets, is an Oreo cookie with a mountain of multicolored filling.

The company fielded queries from consumers who thought it was available for purchase in stores. It wasn't.

American Airlines, in 2010, ran outdoor advertising at bus stops and subway stations in New York showing two men on a beach with the slogan: "Here's to his and his beach towels.Proud to support the community that supports us."

Generally, Witeck said, putting a human face on gay couples and families in advertising is where much of the effort lands today.

"For the gay consumer and their families and friends, and lots and lots and lots of Americans, they expect to see those couples appear everywhere, but they don't want them trotted out with a pride flag," Witeck said. "Amazon didn't ballyhoo the message. They just landed it."

Mark Elderkin, CEO of the Gay Ad Network, which focuses on the LGBT niche market, said mainstream gay messaging has "passed the tipping point, where there's more to gain than there is to lose" for advertisers.

While there are groups of "vocal antagonists," he said more advertisers bolstered by broader media exposure for gay characters and storylines in non-ad content — "The New Normal," ''Modern Family," ''The Ellen DeGeneres Show," CNN's out-of-the-closet anchor Anderson Cooper — have explored non-traditional families and included LGBT imagery in "normal" settings.

"It seems to be moving quickly forward. It's companies that want to be more on the leading edge, more for the next generation of this country," Elderkin said. "It's not your parents' brand anymore. It's your brand and your kids' brand."

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Follow Leanne Italie on Twitter at http://twitter.com/litalie



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