The April, 2004 issue of WARD'S AutoWorld1 has an article about marketing cars to self-identified gay people in the United States.2 The author, Christie Schweinsburg, considers the ways automakers have capitalized on the sexual identity of gay Americans by making implicit or explicit reference to gay relationships or gay culture. Leading the pack is Japanese automaker Subaru, whose VP of Marketing, Ric Crosson, claims that the company did not choose the LGBT community, but rather, the Lesbian community chose Subaru first. "They had already selected us as a car . . . that fit their lifestyle," said Crosson (p.37).
Not far behind investing in marketing to the gay community is American auto manufacturer General Motors, which began its pursuit of cars for "different people," with the introduction of the Saturn brand. GM continues its courtship of the gay community with costly product placement of GM SUV's in television shows such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
Not wanting to miss out on a market rumoured to be enormous, Ford has also followed suit, with subtly gay-oriented advertisements in gay publications such as Out magazine for its subordinate brands, Jaguar, Volvo, and Land Rover.
This pursuit of the 'gay dollar' stems from an apparent exaggeration about the expendable income and necessary affluence that attends attraction to the same sex. And though she correctly calls such affluence a "myth," Schweinsburg doesn't seem to grasp the mutually-destructive relationship triad between American media, American businesses, and the self-identified gay consumer.
When I first saw gay-tailored advertising of everyday products, I found it hilarious -- like, what am I supposed to be saying to myself? "OOOOhhh! So Coors Light is what 'real' gay men drink, eh? Wow, all this time . . . I never knew . . ."
Then, as I thought about it, I found the practice insulting. Think about it. You read an advertisement of a banner that says something like, "Company X is a proud sponsor of [insert favorite gay-related event here]. We salute our friends in the gay and lesbian community . . ." and so forth. So you read that, and you're supposed to obediently buy their product, as if it were somehow the responsible thing to do. As if their relatively-paltry contribution to some 'AIDS charity' that is already alleged to be mismanaging its funds, is generous in the face of the enormous sums they hope to reap from their sales. As if the fact that I experience same-sex attraction has anything at all to do with what car I should drive. Or what cologne I should wear. What beer I drink.
Does Subaru really expect me to be SO insecure about myself that I will feel immediately compelled to buy whatever car they tell me to buy merely because they have taken out an ad in some gay-oriented publication? I mean, am I supposed to be THAT desperate for affirmation that any company that tells me, "You're OK. We love you!" is my 'friend'?
Sadly, this is precisely what such companies' marketers believe, and sadder yet, it's with good reason that they believe it. Their reasoning is based on real data provided to them by research groups which are themselves a part of the gay community. On many occasions I have received telephone calls or mail pushing surveys on me, asking me personal questions about my income, financial situation and spending habits, with a cover letter stressing the importance of establishing the 'gays' as a market force to be reckoned with. But I find this offensive; how dare marketers presume that I am interested in helping the cause of gay-oriented marketing! How dare they presume that my consumption habits are, or should be, the same as other people who happen to be attracted to the same sex? Am I, by sheer virtue of my sexual orientation, a member of a community? Can I opt out? Please?
I am an extreme minority of openly-not-straight MSM's though. Most MSM's I know have no qualms about identifying as 'gay', and participating fully in 'gay society'. So although I find gay-tailored marketing to be insulting and manipulative, most self-identified gay people probably find it wonderful.
Marketing people are not fools. They use data to drive their marketing decisions. Placing an advertisement in a gay-oriented magazine, or co-sponsoring some event is a strategically keen way for Subaru to sell more cars. A car company's 'support for the gay community' is financial; and it is a financial investment they expect to recoup tenfold. If sales do not increase as a result of 'support' for a gay cause, you bet your ass they will find other causes to 'support'.
Perhaps I seem a bit too cynical here, so let me be clear. I'm not saying that car companies don't have employees who care -- or even owners who care -- about gay causes. And certainly, acknowledging their gay customers kindly rather than hatefully is a positive thing. But companies aren't people; American companies exist to make money, and there isn't much reason for a company to 'support' a cause unless there's something in it for them.
You want me to buy your car? Then get a good Consumer Reports score. But don't patronize me.
1. SEE: http://www.wardsauto.com for more.
2. Titled "Straight Eye for the Gay Buyer", by Christie Schweinsberg, p. 36. The article's title makes obvious reference to the TV Show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy