Check out the pages of the gay press, and the same ads stare
Big brand names like Virgin Megastores, Benson & Hedges and Benetton are
dwarfed by those promoting contact clubs, chat lines and gay holiday
But while the gay press may struggle to attract the large mainstream
advertisers, event sponsorship seems to have a bigger pull for brand
London’s Gay Pride, the carnival on Clapham Common, has pulled in
sponsorship from Holsten Pils, Evian and Oddbins, while Mardi Gras in
Manchester signed up Citroen as backer.
Even though the future of Gay Pride is currently in limbo, sponsorship
is not an issue, according to Mike McCann, president of the Gay Business
Association and the Pride Trust’s former financial adviser. ’There has
never been any difficulty in getting people to sponsor events,’ he
’Companies are aware of the market now and once they take the first step
in this area, they tend to come back for more.’
The difficulty with such events is getting them on a professional
footing so that sponsors feel confident in the organisational ability of
those in charge. Fused, the lifestyle exhibition targeted specifically
at the gay community, fell by the wayside because of this lack of
Other factors included insufficient knowledge of the different groups
which make up the gay community and of their cultural differences, and
the event organisers visiting companies too late in the day, with most
marketing budgets already tied up. Perhaps most damning, according to
one firm visited, was the fact that when potential sponsors asked what
their involvement would be, the reply was: ’We thought you might have a
good idea about what to do’.
By contrast, Citroen in Manchester has been involved in the sponsorship
of Mardi Gras and has been impressed by the organisation and its
business potential. Citroen sales manager Paul Crow claims to have sold
39 cars as a result of its sponsorship.
The relationship was slow in building, but the promoters and organisers
of Mardi Gras convinced Crow the market was a lot bigger than he had
For instance, it allows him to present Citroen as a car to be considered
by consumers in the government’s Motability scheme, which funds a
vehicle for the disabled.
Crow built up his involvement with gay sponsorship with a number of
ventures: ’Walk for Life’, ’Treats in The Street’, and finally a ’King
and Queen’ competition, with regional heats in Manchester, Blackpool and
Liverpool and the finals held at Mardi Gras.
’We approached it as we would any marketing exercise,’ he says. ’You
should not just put money in, but work at it. The gay community is
cynical if you are straight, and tends to ask: ’Why are you doing this?’
I am after the pink pound and they appreciate being told so.
’Turning off our regular clientele is a danger, but something like this
could only happen in Manchester - where people don’t give a toss about
what others think. I am out to exploit a niche in the market. The value
is worth far more that what we spend, I look on Mardi Gras involvement
as the equivalent of three weeks’ advertising.’
There is a danger, though, that companies see gay and lesbian
sponsorship as amorphous; that it’s just about getting into the pink
pound and they do not identify the different segments within this
Ian Howarth, an associate director in the consumer division at PR
company Text 100, says: ’It is as cynical as any other sector and more
Within the gay community there are the young and the old, the unemployed
and the high-flyers. They are more cynical to targeting by the big
brands because they know their value. If they see big brands entering
the market they immediately want to know why.’
Sally-Ann Batt, who has a sponsorship consultancy based in Manchester,
represents two of the most high-profile gay and lesbian festivals in the
UK and has succeeded in attracting private sector support to this
She believes that the market has a reputation for innovation, leading
the way in establishing new brands, especially in the fashion, cultural
and leisure sectors.
’I encourage companies to look more strategically at ways to maximise
the marketing benefits by working alongside the gay and lesbian
community and am of the belief that each of the festivals offers
different marketing and PR opportunities.’
Queer Up North is the largest lesbian and gay arts festival in Europe,
and takes place for three weeks in May 1998 at a number of venues in
It is at the cutting edge of arts and culture, bringing arts companies
from around the world.
It attracts an audience made up of ’early adopters’ and ’innovators’ and
does not just comprise the gay and lesbian community. It is a perfect
vehicle for brand association as well as for companies which are looking
to position or reposition themselves at the cutting edge of the
The Lesbian and Gay Mardi Gras, meanwhile, which attracts over 250,000
people from all over the UK and Europe is considered to be much more of
a large scale community event and offers brands an opportunity to
consolidate their position and gain brand loyalty from one of its target
For example, says Batt, if a car company can achieve sales through
backing Mardi Gras, it has to demonstrate the tangible benefits of gay
and lesbian sponsorship and brand loyalty.
But is the gay market really as valuable as it likes to make out? The
Pink Pound page on the Net warns of the dangers of placing too much
emphasis on disposable income.
According to ’Overlooked Opinions’, a readership survey in The Gay
Times: ’Although many reports from the US make great play of large,
above average earnings of gay consumers, figures in the UK indicate that
income levels might be closer to those of the general population. It is
the disposable income of gay couples without the expense of children
that gives rise to the notion of the Pink Pound in specific areas such
as travel, entertainment and alcohol consumption.
’However, lesbians tend to earn approximately pounds 3000 per annum more
than heterosexual women, with the difference attributed to the high
instances of full-time workers in the lesbian population.’
These figures don’t deter the likes of Channel 4, which is planning a
gay themed evening for the spring built around US comedy, Ellen. The TV
station is looking for an overall sponsor and separate airtime
Both the Ellen character and its star, actress Ellen DeGeneres, came out
as lesbians in the US this summer.
’It will be a great opportunity for a gay advertiser or an advertiser
seeking the gay market,’ says C4 programming manager Julie Oldroyd. ’I
have already drawn up a shortlist and will be going out and talking to
people in the next few weeks.’
Although previous gay nights have pulled in ads from the likes of EMI,
Polygram, gay chat lines, Citroen, Ford, VW and Barclaycard, the hope is
that the channel will prove more successful in this area in the
’There is a large untapped market out there, but perhaps we have not
been as proactive as we could have been,’ admits Olroyd. ’Some of the
programmes are controversial, but this night could be a test case for a
number of advertisers.’
Ellen was given a boost in the US by the coming-out episode, with an
equal rights body using it to launch a new campaign. Even so, pressure
groups forced at least one company, Chrysler, to pull out. So many will
be watching UK reactions closely.
’It’s likely to appeal to a huge cross section of advertisers,’ says
Oldroyd. ’There are very few who would be reluctant to go in there.
Those that are, are likely to be reluctant to get involved with anything
controversial, not just the gay market.’
The one area of difficulty is showing advertisers what type of audiences
they are likely to reach. ’Obviously you don’t get listings in Barb,’
she says. ’You have to make the assumption that this would be what they
watch. It is a difficult area.’
Research about the gay community is a thorny issue for clients, media
planners, and those selling space. How, after all, do you convince
directors of the validity of a spend when facts are hard to come by?
David Porter, a director at The Media Business, finds the situation very
frustrating. ’My criticism of the gay press is that they need to do some
real research that will get the industry to sit up and take notice,’ he
says. ’It needs them to work together. The interesting issue will be how
the data is researched and collated, since a lot of the market is not
’out’. I know the gay press has highlighted trying to identify those who
have not come out as a pressing issue.’
The situation is often paralleled with that of the youth market, where
data proved hard to come by until investment was made in this area.
Chris Payne, group agency manager at Chronos Publishing, which publishes
The Pink Paper, Boyz and Positive Times, admits the shortfall but says
’we can only do so much’.
His job is to sell not only the market segment of lesbians and gay men
as consumers, but also the medium - lesbian and gay media - to agencies
and clients at brand manager and brand guardian level.
He cites the existence of Roar data as a step in the right direction,
and like many other publishers in this area is carrying out in-house
research, but would welcome some TGI data. Even so, he does not think
that big brands are put off by lack of data so much as by sales
’There is a difference between sending out a media pack expecting people
to come through your door and explaining the benefits that can be
achieved without damaging the brand in any way. It is like dealing with
objections generally; you do so in a way that adds value. Also, this is
a lifestyle rather than a sexuality issue. It is a youth market but with
the same gender sexes.’
Certain brands attract a cult following, but not necessarily through a
hard sales message. Absolut vodka is one example, Holsten Pils
Absolut’s attitude is that it has never targeted the gay market, but
knows that it would be foolish not to recognise that a proportion of its
target market is gay. It is always nominated as a gay friendly product,
but just claims to have been in the right place at the right time.
Holsten, meanwhile, is known as the number one brand within gay bars, so
when it sponsors events like Gay Pride or Mardi Gras, it sees its role
as putting something back into the community.
Instead of a big standard marquee, it set up a sky dive simulator at
this year’s Pride event, and reaped the PR benefits.
’We went in, along with names like Bass and Budweiser, and because we
put so much in we got a lot of coverage,’ says Andrew Edge, marketing
manager on Holsten Pils. ’It’s estimated that 50% of those who attended
are not gay, it’s just a good day out. We sampled 80,000, got a good
brand profile and, from our point of view, entertained people.’
He is not convinced that more research would make any difference to the
marketing of drinks brands, claiming that at least part of their
involvement is due to gut feel. It might, however, sway the
’It would be a useful marketing tool,’ says Edge. ’It is still, for many
people, a little bit of a taboo subject, though. I think attitudes have
changed, but you can do TGI runs on football fans and find people still
shy away from the events.’
Maybe what is needed is more of a united front between events requiring
sponsorship and the gay press. There are obvious benefits. ’There was
major brand involvement at last year’s Gay Pride, in sponsorship, some
of which has translated into advertising, although not at the rate we
would like it,’ says Kim Watson, marketing director of Millivres, which
publishes Gay Times, Diva, Vulcan and Zipper.
Partly, this is a circulation problem, because even at their highest the
figures for gay magazines may never match those of more mainstream
publications like GQ. A few more facts and figures about the market
might help. The only question is, who is going to take the plunge and
GAY BIG SPENDERS
Homosexuals National Average
US pounds 33,593 pounds 19,463
UK pounds 14,969 pounds 16,500
Source: Overlooked Opinions, Gay Times
Readership Service, ’American Demographic’, New Earnings Survey.