Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Is Your Car Dealer Gay-Friendly? Automakers' Efforts to Target Gay Consumers Are Realized When They Enlist the Support of Local Dealerships

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Is Your Car Dealer Gay-Friendly? Automakers' Efforts to Target Gay Consumers Are Realized When They Enlist the Support of Local Dealerships

Article excerpt

On any given night on the streets of the heavily lesbian Chicago neighborhood of Andersonville, the cars are parked bumper-to-bumper. A disproportionate number are Subarus--Foresters and Outbacks tagged with rainbow decals, pink triangles, and bumper stickers promoting choice, peace, and vegetarianism. A fair share of them came off the lot of Dan Wolfs Subaru of Countryside in suburban LaGrange.

Subarus' popularity in Chicago's Girls Town has something to do with the sporty but substantial construction of the all-wheel-drive autos. It also has something to do with the fact that Martina Navratilova is sponsored by the carmaker. And it has a lot to do with the manner in which Dan Wolf Subaru has been following the automaker's lead by reaching out to the local gay and lesbian populace.

Ever since Saab in 1994 became the first car company to openly target the gay market--followed quickly by Subaru, Saturn, Volvo, Volkswagen, Land Rover, Toyota, Audi, and Jaguar--it's been incumbent upon dealerships to prove just how gay-friendly the companies are.

For Dan Wolf, whose father started the Subaru dealership in 1971, that means being an active supporter of Chicago's Lesbian Community Cancer Project. "Being involved is more than advertising in a paper," Wolf says. "Being involved is getting out there."

And though Wolf says he can't quantify the financial returns on the sponsorship of the calmer group, he's confident that they're there. "I think we're getting people we wouldn't have gotten otherwise," he says. "This isn't a quick marketing tool or a gimmick. It's a long-term commitment."

Marketing to gay consumers, who have an estimated $485 billion to spend, has got to go further than gay-friendly advertising to be successful, explains John Butler of Washington, D.C.-based Witeck-Combs Communications, which helped Ford Motor Co.'s brands navigate a course into the community.

"It's great to have a successful marketing and advertising strategy and campaign, but it's also important to make sure on the back end you've got dealers who understand who their customers are," Butler says, noting that Ford offers diversity training at dealerships. "Dealers and salespeople have approached us and wanted to know how to do more in the market. …

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