Driving Sales: Car Companies Find Success Advertising to Gay Consumers and Supporting Groups That Work for Equality

By Kuhr, Fred | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), November 9, 2004 | Go to article overview

Driving Sales: Car Companies Find Success Advertising to Gay Consumers and Supporting Groups That Work for Equality


Kuhr, Fred, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


A decade ago, Subaru--the car company that has reached icon status among gays and (especially) lesbians--had no intention of specifically targeting gay consumers through its advertising or promotions. But when the company dewed into a massive project to find out just who was buying their cars, they discovered a surprising demographic: a high-density pocket, mostly female, from the lesbian mecca of Northampton, Mass.

"Lesbians were fiercely loyal customers of Subaru, and their word of mouth was like gold," says John Nash, whose New York based Moon City Productions oversees GLBT marketing and advertising for Subaru. The car company began to aggressively court gay and lesbian consumers, with notable advertisements with such slogans as "It's not a choice. It's the way we're built."

During the past few years, other car companies, including General Motors and Volvo, have realized the value of the gay market. Yet they are also realizing that gay and lesbian car buyers are more likely to support companies that support them.

General Motors, for example, recently held a press event targeting only gay media outlets. Ford Motor Co. offers its customers a way to donate to gay organizations. Subaru sponsors community events like the AIDS/LifeCycle charity bicycle ride in California.

The automotive industry is much less skittish these days when it comes to targeting gay and lesbian consumers. "Most companies don't want to be a pioneer, but at this point they don't have to be. There is safety in numbers for these companies," says Michael Wilke, who tracks gay images in advertising and marketing with his online clearinghouse, The Commercial Closet.

Automakers are also targeting gay and lesbian consumers through ads that mean one thing to gays and another to straights. The most noted example was the "Da Da Da" television ad from Volkswagen that showed two 20-something men driving around in their Golf. The ad debuted during the coming-out episode of Ellen DeGeneres's Ellen sitcom.

Subaru's print ad showed three different cars with three different license plates--P-TOWNIE, CAMP OUT, AND XENA LVR--with the tagline "Different drivers. Different roads. One car." That also extends to Subaru's high-profile use of out lesbian tennis star Martina Navratilova as a spokeswoman. "Subaru picked her because site was viewed ms an athletic woman," says Nash, who is openly gay. "That she is a lesbian was a back-story to them. But they also knew that as a lesbian, she would appeal to a certain segment of the market."

General Motors (part owner of Subaru) this fall held its Out on the Road event, the first-ever automotive program specifically designed for the gay press. GM invited gay media reps to San Francisco to showcase its cars and show that "GM is formally acknowledging the value and power of gay consumers," according to the event's invitation. GM scheduled appearances by Queer Eye food guy Ted Allen and actor Antonio Sabato Jr. as well as a display of classic GM cars.

GM also sponsors such gatherings as the annual conference of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and Phoenix's Out and Equal, says Adam Bernard, a manager in product planning at GM. "We have to go beyond advertising," says Bernard, who is openly gay. "We have to be involved in the community itself. It's about our products, but it's also about our culture. It's about letting people know that GM is more than just a big, faceless company; it's about giving back to the community."

Ford has taken a similar approach. The automaker's Volvo brand is now a "platinum sponsor" of gay tights group Human Rights Campaign. Two other Ford brands--Jaguar and Land Rover--are sponsors of the media watchdog organization Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Ford not only sponsors HRC and GLAAD events, but also allows buyers to fill out a coupon that instructs Ford to donate up to $1,000 to the organizations. …

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