Driving the Gay Market: In 2006 Ford Motor Co. Slashed Its Advertising Budget for Gay and Lesbian Publications. Was It Fear of a Boycott or Simply Market Conditions? Bernice Yeung Investigates

By Yeung, Bernice | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), November 6, 2007 | Go to article overview

Driving the Gay Market: In 2006 Ford Motor Co. Slashed Its Advertising Budget for Gay and Lesbian Publications. Was It Fear of a Boycott or Simply Market Conditions? Bernice Yeung Investigates


Yeung, Bernice, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


IN AN AWARD-WINNING AD aimed at gay consumers, a clean-cut 30-something with chiseled features, tousled hair, and the faint air of an Ivy League rowing team captain sits on the edge of a cream-colored couch. His hands are clasped to his chin; his ocean-blue eyes are fixed in a penetrating, slightly mischievous stare. The cow reads: "All these years and you never even suspected.... It wasn't obvious, but the signs were there.... There's something you should know about Volvo."

Now, that's a good ad. It not only wins points with LGBT consumers; it sets a precedent for other businesses. "The automotive industry is influential in advertising," says Howard Buford of Prime Access, the advertising company that created the Volvo ad. "The more [a consumer] is validated from the auto industry, the more you'd expect it to go across the board."

The Volvo ad, which featured the then-new 2005 S40 T5 and ran in a number of national gay publications, including this one, was pulled from rotation two years ago. And Ford Motor Co., which owns Volvo, has since stopped all gay-specific ads throughout the company. While Volvo ads have steadfastly remained in gay print media, Ford's two other premium brands, Jaguar and Land Rover. slashed their advertising budgets. Consider these estimates by Ad Insights, which tracks the dollars spent in The Advocate, Genre, Instinct, Metro Source, and Out: In 2005, Jaguar and Land Rover together spent about $536,000 in gay media ads; in 2006, that number had dropped to $7,000; and this year, they pulled the plug entirely.

Ford's exit drew attention and raised a slew of questions. Why did Ford pull its ads? Would other carmakers follow? And, if the automotive industry is the pacesetter for other advertisers, was this the beginning of the end of mainstream ads in gay media?

Good questions, particularly since Ford was traditionally one of the top spenders of any auto manufacturer on gay media. In 2006, according to Prime Access's "Gay Press Report," the number of overall automotive industry ads in national gay magazines fell 57%, primarily due to Ford's absence. There is a silver lining, however. Toyota and General Motors have moved aggressively into the first and second spots for auto advertisers in gay media. And the report shows that gay and lesbian magazines have attracted a stead), increase in other types of gay-specific advertising--up 33% since 2003--though gay-specific car ads have fallen by the same amount.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

As to why Ford balked, industry observers point to a confluence of reasons. Some analysts attribute their gay media pullout to declining sales. Ford spokesman Jim Cain says the company's advertising decisions were driven primarily by the bleak state of the American auto industry. "We're under financial pressure," he says plainly. "It's belt-tightening."

The company's financials certainly back Cain up--Ford lost $12.7 billion in 2006, and U.S. sales dropped 21% this September. However, Jaguar's overall ad budget for national magazines, even as its gay outreach plummeted, rose some $13 million between 2005 and 2006, and Land Rover's spiked to $40.5 million last year, up from the previous year's $29.7 million.

Perhaps there are other reasons for Ford's gay-only belt-tightening. In May 2005, the American Family Association threatened a boycott of Ford based on the company's outreach to gay consumers. After six months of meetings with the automaker, the AFA claimed that an agreement was reached. Repeated attempts to contact the AFA for this story were unsuccessful: however, according to its Web site. Ford would "cease all advertising in homosexual Web sites and media outlets (magazines. television, radio) in the U.S. with the exception of $100. …

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