Gay marketing comes out of the closet: Advertisers are recognising that the 'pink pound' is undervalued. Mark Simpson tests its strength

'THEY are easy to define and reach. Their income level is higher than the average and they travel enormously,' said a spokesman for the Netherlands tourist board, explaining its decision to target this group.

He might have added that they have the best education and highest disposable income of any group in the US, prompting the New York Times to acclaim them as the market of the Nineties. Who are these dream consumers?

Finally, and quite literally, homosexuals have earned respect - for their cheque books at least. Benetton, Viking Books, Remy Martin and Rizzoli to name just a few are all queuing up to tap gay spending power by advertising in the burgeoning gay press. Even Philip Morris, a longtime supporter of Senator Jesse Helms, who has spoken out against homosexuality, is buying space in the gay press to push one of its brands. It would seem that the grind of recession has sharpened business sense and blunted prejudice.

There are signs that market-hungry British advertisers may follow this pragmatic American example. In the past few months, advertisements for Absolut vodka have begun to appear in the British gay press, particularly Gay Times, a news and arts magazine, and Boyz, a gay scene and lifestyle newspaper distributed free at gay clubs and pubs.

Terry Smith, advertising manager at Gay Times, describes this development as a breakthrough. 'We've had ads from record companies and the occasional gay-related film promo but this is the first of its kind and it seems to have provoked some inquiries from others.'

Oliver Peyton, Absolut's UK distributor, denied that he was specifically chasing the 'pink pound'.

'It's just another market,' he said. 'We're not targeting gay consumers, we're just not ignoring them as others have tended to do in the past.' He is unworried about any chance of Absolut being branded a 'gay vodka'. 'Frankly I don't care. We're after a stylish, tasteful, young image - not Sun readers.'

Mr Peyton said he had never felt it necessary to seek permission to run the ads from the parent company in Sweden, but he was fortunate in that Absolut in the US has been a solid advertiser in the gay press for years. The June issue of the leading lesbian and gay magazine the Advocate carried six pages of Absolut advertising in support of the annual Gay Pride celebrations.

What is surprising is that the Absolut campaign stands alone in Britain. The expanding commercial gay scene of pubs and clubs is a significant market for beverages and tobacco. The artwork for a new gay disco in central London, Village Youth, says it all: two idealised men, both with cigarettes and beer cans, are embracing.

Many breweries, such as Whitbread and Charrington, already profit from strings of pubs primarily frequented by gays (Charrington has six in central London alone), but neither has yet placed a single ad in the gay press.

Frazer Thompson, of Whitbread's marketing division, explained his company's low profile. 'We just don't know enough about that community and besides no one from the gay press has contacted us,' he said. 'But I wouldn't rule out placing ads in the gay press if it could be shown to be good value.'

Nevertheless he seemed concerned that such an ad should not be seen by straight men. Fragile male egos apparently still have to be nursed by breweries. Flowers beer, a Whitbread brand, was promoted last year with the slogan: 'Not all Flowers are pansies.'

Adam Lury of Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury, who was behind a campaign for Fuji Film that incorporated social issues such as racism and disability, considers this kind of anxiety outmoded and believes the public is nowadays sophisticated enough to realise that a product might be bought by more than one type of consumer. 'I don't think that people would make the mistake of thinking that only gay people drank a lager that had advertised to gay men.'

The benefits to advertisers in the US gay press would seem to be considerable. Market research shows that more than 90 per cent of gay men and 82 per cent of lesbians read magazines. William Tragos of TBWA Advertising, which represents Absolut in the US, believes that gay magazines are 'among our best buys because the readers have shown a much greater than average loyalty to our product'.

This might be due to a conscious decision to support a product that acknowledges its gay consumers and puts money into the gay community via the gay press.

At the root of the market's attractiveness, of course, is a lifestyle that tends to generate more disposable income. According to Adam Briggs, lecturer in advertising at the City of London Polytechnic: 'Gay men, and to a lesser extent lesbians, tend to have more money to spend on going out because they don't have families; and because they don't have families they tend to be inclined to go out more.' Mr Briggs also considers that their fashion consciousness and concentration in urban areas makes gay men and lesbians a kind of walking billboard. 'One of the best forms of advertising you can have is trend-setters adopting your product.'

John Hegarty of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which made the legendary 501 campaign, agrees: 'Gay men and blacks tend to be fashion leaders and sensitive to style-led advertising, so we keep half an eye on what they're doing.'

In November, advertisers will get a chance to gauge the size of the market more conclusively when a two-day Gay Lifestyles exhibition will be staged at Olympia in London. There will be about 100 exhibitors, mainly from gay-owned businesses that are also aimed at gays.

Brian McLaughlin, who is organising the show, believes that the gay market in Britain has come of age: 'It's no longer hiding - it's very open. All that's needed are one or two companies to start the process and the others will scramble after.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 per annum + commission: SThree: Sthree have an exciting opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £32,000+

£18000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat