Marketing To “The Gays”

by Bob Schwartz

In the 2005 comedy The Family Stone, Sarah Jessica Parker plays an uptight New York businesswoman. She is at a family dinner with her fiancé’s gay brother, who is planning to adopt a baby with his partner. Trying to prove her open-mindedness, she says every wrong thing, and finally blurts out: “I love the gays. Gay people. They know that.”

This article appeared in a recent Billboard:

Why The Wanted Play Gay Clubs: Marketing, Music And The LGBT Community’s Mainstream Music Clout

When the Wanted was looking to book its first major U.S. gigs in January, the British pop group didn’t just call up Live Nation or AEG to reach the tween- and teen-girl fan base courted by the generations of boy bands that had come before them. Sandwiched in between 10 midsize-club dates, the group made a quintet of special appearances booked by a boutique PR and events company called the Karpel Group to help reach what has arguably become an even more powerful audience when it comes to modern pop stardom: the gays.

The article is a straightforward business and marketing story: here’s an identifiable market, here’s how the artists and labels are marketing to it. Among the reports:

For music, bloggers like Perez Hilton, Andy Towle (Towleroad) and Jared Eng (JustJared) wield a lot of influence and Sirius’ Out Q (hosted by former Billboard editor Larry Flick) has been a satellite-radio mainstay since 2003. Even Clear Channel has a Pride radio network that serves 19 markets with gay-friendly pop music as well as across iHeartRadio’s digital network.

And this:

Gay buying power, often touted for the consumer group’s supposed affluence, remains a bit of a misnomer. “There’s no data that suggests gay people are wealthier than anybody else,” Witeck Communications’ Bob Witeck says….

They also not only appreciate being marketed to directly, they expect it — particularly when it comes to music. Labels are starting to develop dedicated gay-marketing strategies for certain artists, much as they already have for reaching Hispanic or African-American audiences.

And this:

“Five or six years ago it was almost uncomfortable. Now I sit in label meetings and someone in the room will say, ‘We really have to drill down on this market,'” says Scott Seviour, senior VP of marketing and artist development at Epic Records. “On a business level and an industry level, there’s a greater respect for that consumer. You’ve seen them break an artist and make names. They’re passionate and they can move the needle.”

Business is business, markets are markets, and if you can identify and reach consumers who might buy and promote your products, that is the game. As is pointed out, the practice of marketing to all sorts of groups is common. And in a consumer-driven economy, being recognized and courted is at least a show of economic respect, if not of social acceptance.

But there are caveats too. Being targeted is not necessarily a sign of enlightenment, though it is better than ignorance, invisibility or hate. There is also a general challenge with identity marketing. It’s a thin line between identity and stereotype, a line that’s always in danger of disappearing—if it’s there at all. It can be legitimate and effective to target consumers on the basis of what you know about them and how that works with the products you are selling. But it is easy to fall unwittingly into treating people of any kind as a market and not as people.

The proposition “If you are a (fill in the identity), then you will/must like/want this” is problematic. That’s why “the gays” and “they” and even “gay-friendly” are so cringeworthy. Substitute your own or anybody else’s identity there—woman, black, Jew, etc.—and you’ll see.

We’ve come a long way culturally, moving closer to seeing and treating all people as individuals. It’s too late to turn back or slip back now.