[Editor’s Note: This article is a part of ADText.]
Before the emergence of mass advertising in the latter half of the 19th century, salesmen directed their pitches to individuals or small groups of consumers. The specific interests of the audience were taken into account and the message content adjusted accordingly. When advertising in the form of print ads replaced direct sales pitches, it became much harder to tailor the content for the audience. Messages became “one size fits all” with all the issues that entails. Just as a baseball cap that fits most people will not fit some, the uniform messages of mass advertising sought out a lowest common denominator. Such messages worked for many, but their content was irrelevant or even offensive to some.
Changes in the “one size fits all” approach to advertising were made possible by the proliferation in media that cable TV ushered in. Instead of three big networks, advertisers now have many more outlets for TV commercials. Big name magazines like The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, Time, Newsweek, and Forbes have been joined or replaced by magazines aimed at specific audiences. A well stocked newsstand today offers magazines on topics like knitting, fly fishing, Do-It-Yourself projects, auto mechanics, health, and the like. Radio and the Internet operate similarly. These specialized media outlets make it possible for advertisers to direct specific content to more targeted audiences.
A growing awareness among marketers of the diversity of American consumers encourages them to pay attention to ethnic, racial, and cultural differences. Multiculturalism has emerged as one of America’s most important social agendas in the 21st century. In advertising and marketing, it simply makes good business sense to take the culture of the consumer into account.
Advertisers know that all consumers are not the same in the 21st century marketplace. Special attention is directed to certain “niche” markets because of their size, buying power, and cultural differences. Hispanic (or Latino) and African-American consumers represent the two largest niche markets. There are others as well, such as Asian Americans, gays and lesbians, and seniors. Many advertisers tailor their messages to the particular interests, market behaviors, and sensitivities of these groups. What is being learned in niche marketing is spilling over into “mainstream” advertising, which increasingly attends to cultural differences among consumers.
This unit examines advertising and multiculturalism by looking at how advertisers and marketers think of and address three important groups: Latinas (Hispanic women), African-American women, and gay men. These are by no means the only groups recognized in the contemporary marketplace. However, the lessons learned by examining these specific groups provide frameworks for thinking more broadly about how advertising sometimes does, often should, and most likely will address the issue of the diversity of consumer culture.
2. Navigating This Unit
President, Axis Agency, a Unit of Weber-Shandwick
Latin American and Latino Studies Program
University of Illinois at Chicago
Department of Advertising
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Marketing Director, Global Oral-B Power Brushes
Procter & Gamble
Presentation by Professor
It is a new experience for me to address an audience in marketing, rather than the usual academic audiences that I am accustomed to. When I first accepted the invitation, I was very excited to know that you were interested in US Latinas as a group. But then, as I started to think about what to write about, about how to describe this very heterogeneous social group to you, it became much more of a complicated and difficult task. Should I give statistics? Should I summarize all sorts of social factors and living conditions that US Latinas face? Should I denounce the racism and sexism that they (we) still confront? How do I describe the diversity of Latinas from within? How can I capitalize on these 30 minutes and be able to offer you some new way of thinking about US Latinas?
I decided to have my current students help me in this endeavor. I am now teaching a course entitled “Latinas in the United States,” and it is one of my favorite courses. First—because everything we learn and discuss in class is usually experiences and social issues that the students themselves have faced individually or have witnessed in their own families or among friends—discussion is always rich and exemplifies the diverse ways in which individual young women, mostly in their early twenties, deal with their identities and social positions as US Latinas. I asked them to write a short essay in class about how they see themselves as US Latinas and to focus on how they stand in relation to their traditional culture versus what they consider modernity, or being a part of a modern society, such as the United States. Most of my students are Mexicanas, first or second generation (they were born here from immigrant parents or immigrated here when they were very small), and they are indeed struggling with these issues, within themselves and with their parents. Today, then, I will examine, summarize, and interpret some of the observations they made about their own lives. Hopefully, this will give you a better idea of who the “real” Latinas out there are, what they are thinking, what their needs and wants are, and how they see themselves in the context of tradition and modernity.
Let me begin with some statistics. There are 17 million Latinas in the United States, according to the 2000 US Census, and this total does not include the additional undocumented immigrants also here. (Out of the estimated 12 million total undocumented immigrants, we could easily add at least 5 or 6 million females to our original figure of 17 million). And while 20 million is less than 10% of the total US population (which is about to reach 300 million!), it is still a very significant sector of this country. First, because US Latinas tend to be younger than the rest of the US population—their median age is 27, versus 35 for all US women. In addition, 17% of Latino households are headed by single females, compared to 12% of the total US population. Among Puerto Ricans, 25% or more of them are households with single females as heads, while only 9% of Mexican households are headed by single females. These differences based on national origin are significant and important to take into account as we interpret or try to segment this larger group into smaller units. It suggests that Puerto Rican women may be more independent and make their own decisions in terms of consumerism since many do not have a partner to consult with, which would not be the case for as many Mexicana women. In terms of the labor force, 53% of Latina women participated in the labor force compared to 58% of all women in the US. South American women had the highest participation rate at 59% while Cuban women had the lowest at 49%. While only 8% of US Latinas make $50,000 or more in annual salary, there has been an increase in Latina-owned businesses and entrepreneurial and professional activity. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, there are an estimated 553,618 majority-owned, privately-held Hispanic women-owned firms in the US, employing 320,000 people and generating nearly $44.4 billion in sales. The greatest growth by industry in the number of Latina-owned firms from 1997 to 2004 is in the transportation, communications, and public utilities industries, with 72.5% growth, followed by services (62.4%) and construction (50.6%).
Yet the dismal reality is that most US Latinas are still in the lowest wage scales among workers. Only 23% of Latinas are employed in professional occupations and/or management positions, lower than the total US population at 36%. (Yet this is higher than the rate of Latino men in professional jobs, which is only 15%.) 35% of Latinas are employed in sales and office jobs, and 26% are in service occupations, compared to only 8% of all women in the US. This higher number of Latinas in the service sector means lower wages and less opportunities for advancement. According to the US 2000 Census, 22.5% of all Latinas lived in poverty in 1999, compared to only 9% of white women and 12.4% of Asian-American women. African-American women have the highest poverty rates at 24.1%. For women of color in particular, there are fewer economic opportunities in communities of color, lower wages, racial discrimination, occupational segregation, lower levels of educational attainment, lack of job opportunities, and inadequate social support. In 2003, only 21 Latina women served on the boards of Fortune 1000 Companies and only seven Latina women were executive officers in these companies. Most Latinas still work in service occupations and low paying domestic service jobs.
These figures reveal that while US Latinas have a high participation in the labor force, they still receive lower wages in comparison to other groups, particularly white women. In contrast to this sad reality, there are a number of literary texts, pop novels, and advertising outlets that portray Latinas as young, professional, well-to-do women. Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’s novel, The Dirty Girls Social Club (2003), is a powerful example of this misleading representation. While it is true that this author is trying to challenge dominant stereotypes of Latinas as maids, agricultural and factory workers, or as women in poverty, it is also true that the percentage of young Latina professionals is not as pervasive as she represents it. In her novel, the six characters all drive luxurious and expensive cars, wear fur coats and designer shoes and purses, and always dress as if they’re ready for a fashion show. This is one example of the ways in which some Latina writers, including advertising executives (Arlene Dávila’s Latinos Inc.) want to represent only the middle-class, up and coming Latina in order to erase the dominant associations in the US between Latinos and poverty.
It is also important to note that the immigrant sector has increased in the last twenty years or so, and now 40% of the total US Latino population is foreign-born. This is important, too, as marketers should take into account the fact that these adults come into the US speaking Spanish as their dominant and native language, and bringing with them their own sets of historical memories, cultural identities, rituals, and traditions.
First- and second-generation young Latinas in their twenties, therefore, have to constantly negotiate between their parents’ values, cultural traditions, and ways of thinking and their socialization and integration into US society. A poem by Judith Ortiz Cofer, a US-Puerto Rican writer who lives in Georgia, illustrates the pressures that she felt being in the US and studying for an academic career while her mother’s voice from the Island beckoned her to leave it all aside and return to her hometown:
So Much for Mañana by Judith Ortiz Cofer
After twenty years in the mainland Mother’s gone back to the Island To let her skin Melt from her bones Under her native sun. She no longer wears stockings, Girdles or tight clothing. Brown as a coconut, She takes siestas in a hammock, And writes me letters that say: “Stop chasing your own shadow, niña, come down here and taste the piña, put away those heavy books, don’t you worry about your shape, here on the Island men look for women who can carry a little weight. On every holy day, I burn candles and I pray That your brain won’t split Like an avocado pit From all that studying. What do you say? Abrazos from your Mamá and a blessing From that saint, Don Antonio, el cura.” I write back: “Someday I will go back To your Island and get fat, But not now, Mamá, maybe mañana.”4
While the mother has returned to the island of Puerto Rico after having lived in the US for twenty years, the daughter is in the US studying and moving ahead with her education and her career. However, her lifestyle is totally contrary to what the mother wants from her, which is to share with her the lifestyle of the island, to gain some additional pounds, and to “taste the piña [pineapple]”—in other words, to enjoy the natural resources and beauty that the island offers its residents. The daughter responds by playing off the concept of Mañana [tomorrow], which has been so widely used to stereotype Latinos in the United States as lazy, too laid back, and not productive enough in contrast to the white puritan work ethic. Judith Ortiz Cofer promises her mother that one day she will return to Puerto Rico, “but not now, maybe mañana.” That is, she rejects in fact the very values and language that the mother imposes on her, ironically through the very concept of “mañana.”
The references to the priest and to Catholic religion make sense here, as the Catholic religion has been an extremely strong influence on Latinas’ identities and their attitudes toward their bodies, their sexuality, their needs and pleasures. Yet young US Latinas, as their essays elucidate, tend to be moving away from institutionalized religion, although they still believe that spirituality is an important aspect of their cultures and their development as human beings.
In the twenty-eight essays that my students wrote, a number of interesting examples and anecdotes illustrate the difficulties and challenges that these young women face as they try to negotiate in their own, personal lives, their own space vis-à-vis their parents’ demands for traditional values and lifestyles and at the same time their need to be independent, professional women.
As to maintaining traditions, most of [the students] (except one) still live with their parents, even if they’re from 23 to 28 years old. In contrast to the prototypical college student who leaves home for college at eighteen, most of these young women attend UIC because it is close to home and they can still live with their parents. In many cases, parents have not allowed them to leave the Chicago area to attend college. One student commented that while she considers herself to be modern, going to school and working, she still lives at home “because she feels she owes it to her parents for all the sacrifices they made in supporting her in everything having to do with education.” Her mother, in fact, has told her: “I want you to be who I could not become and I want you to have what I could not have.” Yet this young woman goes to school, works, comes home, and helps to take care of her younger siblings. She still struggles to convince her parents that she wants to travel and see some new places. Similar conflicts emerge when these young women need to focus on their classes and keep good grades, but, as one student put it, “when at home [her] parents expect her to clean, wash, and help around the house.” It is difficult, she writes, “when I try to explain … how stressed and tired I am, they get all mad at me and that just puts more stress on me …”
Some of them feel very proud to be Mexicans: they participate in the holidays and festivities for Cinco de Mayo, Mexican Independence Day; they speak Spanish at home and with friends and relatives; and they help to cook tamales during the Christmas season. Many of them go to church on Sundays with their parents or belong to other Christian religions. A 22-year-old Ecuadorian student shared her strong traditions in church. She is Evangelical and teaches Sunday school to 5 to 12 year olds. She is the secretary and helps to organize events; she does the accounting and makes sure they have all the paperwork they need for everything. She doesn’t drink or smoke, and [she will not] go to parties or date until she graduates from UIC. Yet she also states that her “family is pretty modern in the sense of technology, but not in its values and traditions,” and she considers herself “independent” because she makes decisions on her own. Others have stated that “My family is very traditional. My mother has strongly imposed moral values, customs, and religion on to me.”
Yet this is the same woman who says that she is not “scared by the word sex, that [she’s] comfortable with homosexuality, that [she doesn’t] mind the comfort that an Americanized lifestyle brings along, yet all of these things are ‘evil’ to her parents.” Some of these students don’t think divorce is wrong, especially when they see their own mothers “stuck to their husbands even though their marriages bring them more suffering than happiness.” Most of them have their own car and work one or two jobs, besides going to school. They all are very motivated to graduate and to find good professional jobs that will allow them to live on their own. A 21-year-old Puerto Rican student wrote that she “can’t wait for the day when I can Adiós to subsidized housing and hello condominium.” Or another student who wrote that what she wants in life is to be “a successful woman, to be able to have a nice place to live with nice furniture and to be able to get these things ‘on my own.’” She concluded that everything she has, including her car, “I have because I’ve worked for them.” Or the young Mexican student who is struggling with her parents because they tell her that she can’t move out of the house until she is married. She tells them that “I want to travel by myself, live on my own, or even do something that is out of the ordinary, such as getting a tattoo or even a piercing.” Most of the students want to become “strong, independent women.” They do not want to depend on a man, and they want to buy their own home or condominium before they get married. Some of them don’t even want to get married—they see it as “oppression”—or at least they want to wait until they’re in their thirties. One of them has her own business, and she hires her younger brothers and cousins to work for her. Yet her father is highly patriarchal, and he is the one who manages the money that all family members make in their jobs. A 20-year-old Mexicana student considers herself “a modern woman” because she “doesn’t know how to cook. Maybe three dishes I could probably know how to cook. I don’t believe it’s a woman’s job to stay at home to do chores. If the woman works, both spouses should have 50/50 responsibility and housework.” Yet this same young woman “loves telenovelas and listening to Spanish rock music. [She] likes going to Mexico and spending time with [her] family.” A 28-year-old Mexicana student also commented that “I have a hard time with the traditions that many Mexicans are accustomed to, I consider myself to be a modern Latina. I feel that when I am in a relationship or get married, everything should be equal among male and female … I have some immigrant cousins that feel that I am way too modernized and way too independent, because I don’t follow the traditions that Mexicans have. But it is really hard to find a Latina born in the US who will really be willing to follow traditions that basically allow men to control women and be machistas. I have even been called ‘conceited’ because I am the way that I am.”
Another Mexicana student who came to the US at sixteen years old says that she struggles to maintain the customs and identity she had in Mexico (such as how to learn to cook, to respect and not to question elders’ decisions, to attend church and prepare herself to be the wife every man wishes he had), yet the fact is that she is very motivated to be educated, and by studying she has learned “not to go with the flow and accept what I am told but to think for myself.” She wrote that she has to confront her uncles who tell her that she should get married and forget about school. They tell her to shut up when she talks about how rude they are to women. This very sensitive student concluded her essay by saying that in the long-term future she wants to go back to Mexico and help women who do not have the options that she has had. Perhaps this is her way of integrating her Mexican traditions with her education and modernization.
It is clear that most of these young Latinas know that they can maintain certain traditions—such as getting married and having a family—while also pursuing a professional career for themselves. Some of them noted that this double goal may “take feminism back.” Some of them plan to stay home until the kids go to school full time and then they would work toward their jobs. Another student indicated that her priority is “the well being of my family and continuing my education.” She is aware that the “idea of marriage back home is very important,” but she views marriage “not as a problem, but as something that I don’t need in order to feel like a whole person … The idea that women need a man to be safe in the world, and that there should always be a male figure in a woman’s life. Mentiras [lies]!” She wants to prepare herself for life, rather than looking for someone who can take care of her. She wrote: “I want to be able to buy my own house, I do not see the need to depend on someone else for the things I desire and need.”
In terms of the use of Spanish—while overall Spanish use has increased in the United States since the 1960s and 70s, when it was still considered a family language mostly—it is interesting that most of these first- and second-generation Latinas do not identify Spanish as their first language. Many of them regret that they don’t speak Spanish that well and would like to be able to teach Spanish to their future children: “As a child, my first language was Spanish. I consider it now my second, and that’s because I only use that language to talk to my parents or family who are non-English speakers. I have trouble speaking and pronouncing Spanish words.” Or, another student who wrote: “I’m the oldest grandchild and I can understand Spanish fluently but I cannot speak it properly. I wish my family would have taught me more Spanish so that I could feel more comfortable speaking, but I am trying.” Or, another Mexican student who confesses not feeling “comfortable speaking Spanish, so [she’d] rather not speak it because [her] friends’ parents can tell [she doesn’t] speak it that well.” Others were brought up learning and speaking Spanish at home and their language is a strong source of pride. Another student said that her children will have to know Spanish, “because [she] feels sorry for those ignorant people who claim they don’t know Spanish, but their parents can’t even speak English.” While this particular group of US Latinas seemed more at ease with English, Spanish still remains a central symbolic icon of their national identity and culture, a language that embodies their traditions and history, a language that they still identify with.
In terms of sex and sexuality, a couple of Latinas wrote about their resistance to the dominant stereotypes and images of Latinas as sexual objects. A student wrote that she is “tired of being seen as a sex symbol”; she wants to be able to walk down the street without a man harassing her or thinking how she is in bed. She wants to be able to wear what she wants without “people thinking that [she is] an easy girl.” This same student considers herself a modern Latina because she stands 100% for what she believes, fights against oppression, and she wants people to believe that Latinas are powerful, independent, intelligent, and that they want to be seen as individuals with all of these qualities, versus the stereotypical roles that are assigned to them. She is “sick and tired of the media portraying Latinas as sex symbols.” She writes that “we need more women to be role models of intelligent women who don’t fall into the stereotypes.” Another student wrote that she needed sex and that a woman should be able to be pleased as much as or even more than a man does. She confessed that this idea does not conform to her family’s values and morals, yet she was very strong in asserting her own needs and pleasures as a woman.
Finally, some students commented on their own identities as consumers. One Mexicana student wrote that she has worked at a retail store and this has made her aware of “all the luxuries that are out there.” She commented that “Latinas should not be carried away with all the modern clothes, brands and styles so much to the point that we forget or deny where we come from.” This suggests that in many ways consumerism is seen as an assimilationist behavior, something that is different, or contrary, to their Mexican identity. A Puerto Rican student wrote that she prefers the Pumpkin Spice latte at Starbucks over her mother’s Café Bustelo, but that it is a personal preference. I believe, however, that there are social meanings attached to our purchases—whether these are class-based, through choices of some styles over others, or whether we purchase to believe that we have attained the American Dream. Indeed, some cultural theorists have proposed that acts of consumerism are “good for thinking” (García Canclini) and that the power of purchasing objects has become a way for immigrants—and particularly for undocumented ones—to feel that they belong in the United States and that they have achieved a certain power and agency in this society. In fact, consumerism has become a way to compensate for the lack of political and civil rights. For my group of Latina students, my sense is that economic power is and will continue to be more significant for them as they become professionals, marry, and begin a family. For now, they expressed a strong sense of pride in having worked for the material possessions they have and for the sense of independence and freedom that this power grants them.
The New York Times published an editorial on July 21, 2006, bringing attention to the painful statistics among adolescent Latinas in the United States. It states that based on research, “Hispanic teenage girls (one in every six) attempt suicide more often than any other group. They become mothers at younger ages (about 24% of Latinas are mothers by the age of 20, three times the rate of non-Hispanic white teens.) They tend not to complete their education. They are plagued by rising drug use and other social problems.” Some of these problems are related to the fact that most of these young girls are first-generation, born in the United States with parents who are foreign born, and they are expected to “adhere to old culture traditions, including tending to other family members, and putting themselves last” (New York Times). These are some of the realities that young Latinas face. Even my own group of 28 students, who have been privileged with admission to a four-year university and who are moving up in society, were quite aware of how their own lives challenged the dominant stereotypes of the young, pregnant Latina who drops out of school. For them, trying to respect their cultural traditions and their parents’ values, while at the same time participating in the individual freedoms that modern life in the US offers them, has been an ongoing struggle. I exhort you all to think about these conflicts and realities as you design and conceptualize advertisements for Latinas in the United States. While this is a very diverse group in terms of generation, immigration history, social class, race, and levels of education, I hope that the ideas that my Latina students shared with you today help you in rethinking new ways of reaching out to this very important segment of our US population.
Presentation by Professor
This research comes out of work that I’ve done into the historical development of the African-American consumer market. In initiating that project, I asked myself: What historical baggage do African Americans carry with them as consumers that impacts how they interpret advertising and marketing communication messages? I come from the standpoint that statistics don’t tell the whole story. Specifically, there’s historic baggage that relates to African Americans’ involvement with and/or linkage to the advertising or marketing or communications industry. It’s historic in terms of how communication over the whole of the 20th century, if not before, still informs how we interact with, how we perceive advertising messages today. And that’s one of the things that I want to address. I’m approaching the topic from the standpoint that we are More Than We Have Seemed. With that overview in mind let’s get started.
In 1970 two men came together with an idea. Edward Lewis and Clarence Smith came together with the thought of starting a publication: a fashion and beauty magazine directed at African-American women. This wasn’t a new idea—similar things had been attempted in the past on different scales in the 1950s and 60s. We’d seen similar labors (even as far back as the 1930s) to form such a magazine, with all of those efforts lasting maybe only a few issues or a year or two. Regardless, all previous efforts had failed. This one was different. Their goal was to create a magazine to reach out to this visibly developing socio-economic group of African-American women—women who were gaining more jobs, women who could not see themselves reflected in existing female magazines of the period. And this magazine would be that effort—Essence.
Since the first issue appeared in May 1970, Essence has grown to become one of the most successful African-American focused magazines in history. What we’re doing here is reaching out into an overlooked group, a group that can’t see themselves reflected anywhere else. So what Essence does, then and now, is make visible this developing population. It makes visible to advertisers and to marketers a developing population that is gaining in education, in money, in influence, and it offers them a targeted publication with which they could reach into this market. Prior to this, if you wanted to reach into the African-American consumer market via magazine you had a singular choice, Ebony magazine—a general level periodical aimed at all African Americans, similar to Life magazine. But Essence gives us, gives advertisers something different to reach into the African-American consumer market, and it gives African-American women a place where they can see themselves reflected, where they can see their interests taken seriously. It’s a place where advertisers can get in touch with them in a targeted and specific way in a slick and sophisticated publication that shows that African-American women are not what they have seemed.
So, let me offer you a quote from African-American writer James Baldwin. James Baldwin said when he reflected on the American racial crisis, “If I’m not who you say I am. You’re not who you think you are.” If we are not how you have depicted us, not how you have shown us, then you’re absolutely positively not who it is that you think you are. Baldwin was speaking directly to the Caucasian population of America because for decades this negative representation of the African-American female had come through marketing communication, literature, music, movies, over the whole of the communications landscape in American life. It was a highly pejorative and highly stereotypical image of African Americans and African-American females, and Baldwin says that’s not who we are, so, ergo you’re not who you think you are. He encourages whites and others to realize that blacks are not who they witnessed in the various misrepresentations and so the majority of society is not what it thinks itself to be. Further, he encourages the elimination of these images from literature, from music, from movies, and, our purpose here today, from marketing communications. Then, to put in its place genuine reflective imagery, positive imagery, and representations of the African-American population that were true to their desired vision.
So where did we stand before Baldwin wrote that line? What is it that gives him that impetus? What is it that catalyzes his particular writing and that particular quote? Well, if we look at the landscape of commerce. If we look at the landscape of marketing, we’re talking about an area in which negative images have been used throughout the history of the medium. I’ll offer you some things from marketing, and I’ll offer you some things from popular culture. In this particular case, here we have an advertisement for Sunny South cigarettes: dark, wide lipped, mouth open, participating in an activity, croquet, that is ostensibly not something that African Americans do. See, the woman being shown is so ignorant as to have hit her own foot and broken the croquet mallet while others are attempting to play in the background.
These kinds of images are included in advertising, in cartoons, in literature, in children’s games, and music. For example, a game here from Parker Bros.—“Ten Little Niggers” or the sheet music for the “Nigger Toe Rag”—this is the whole of communication. Virtually all forms of communications incorporated these stereotypical representations and images. They proliferated to such an extent that even if you’re growing up in a family outside the South in the 1910s or 1920s and beyond; even if your family is not teaching you specifically that African Americans are inferior, African Americans are ignorant, African Americans are lazy; even if that’s not being taught to you specifically, the message is coming through. The message is coming through in the games that you play, in the music that you listen to, in the books that you read. That message is there that African Americans are less-than; that African Americans are different; African Americans are not worthy of the same privileges as other members of the population.
And so it’s this type of imagery that Baldwin was talking about and it’s this type of imagery that is part of the baggage that African-American consumers, African-American female consumers especially, still carry with them in 2006. So I’d like to offer a baseline, a point of departure for our discussion. The aforementioned examples were where we existed in terms of our general communications. But I’d like to offer you personal communications as the baseline. What you see here is an image from a post card, a relatively common postcard from the early 20th century. And on the front of the postcard is a picture from a lynching. An African-American man has been brutally and violently lynched, hung up, with his body mutilated and burned. At the bottom is the back of the post card and I’ll read, if you’ll permit me, the note: “This is the barbecue we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe.”
This brutal type of imagery is the baseline that people have to draw from as they are creating their marketing messages. But if this is what is acceptable as we mail messages back and forth to one another, then what else could we possibly use to sell spaghetti, to sell soap, to sell cigarettes? If this is the bottom, what else can we do? And certainly somebody who is writing, creating, and crafting advertising in the 20th century says, “Well, if that’s the bottom, then what’s wrong with Aunt Jemima, what’s wrong with Ten Little Niggers? What’s wrong with the image of an African-American child being chased by an alligator while eating a watermelon if this is our baseline?” So, to appeal to white consumers, advertising and marketing materials often used images of African Americans that would be familiar, comfortable, and presumably resonate with them. Images of African-American women as washerwomen and as cooks appear across a variety of products and images to silently communicate messages about product quality (I’ll get to that) and to communicate messages about ingredient or construction authenticity. So rather than just being a meaningless image, Aunt Jemima becomes shorthand for a manufacturer to say our pancake mix is as tasty and genuine as if you had an African-American cook in your kitchen preparing them herself.
But to offer you a bit more history on our subject matter here. As a social category African-American women have a history as long as our country. African Americans had a presence in what would become the United States even before it was founded and African-American women have long been a visible part of the American landscape. They are not a marketer’s creation. It is a group to which African Americans, both then and now, willingly and/or voluntarily belong. So, even though they are stereotyped in marketing and communications as washerwomen, cooks, or domestics, they have existed in this country in a multifaceted variety of roles. Advertising copywriters, however, have treated them as objects, not subjects. Reflect for a moment on Aunt Jemima. Out of the thousands of advertisements in which she’s been depicted, and the tens of thousands of images which we’ve seen of her, we have never seen her serving pancakes to members of her own family. We never see her serve pancakes to anybody else she might be related to. She’s the perfect servant: skilled, happy, and asexual enough to not be a threat to the white woman of the household. Ads have long depicted her as serving food to the Caucasian population, like other “happy, darky servants” such as Uncle Ben and Rastus, the Cream of Wheat chef.
Again, blacks were objects, not subjects in and within consumer communications. But, ironically it was within their capacity as domestics that African-American women first gained the attention of advertisers. It started around the mid-1940s. African-American women began to appear on the research landscape for marketers and/or advertisers and they began minimally being accounted for in advertising plans. How did that happen? Well, it happened as market researchers went out and interviewed women about their consumer purchases, about what it is that they buy for their families what it is that they buy for their homes. Researchers found a curious thing. They found that African-American women—domestics—have a significant degree of influence over what’s purchased for white families’ homes. A white woman speaking to a marketing researcher in the 1940s said, “Advertisers probably don’t realize how often the choice of a brand or household work depends not on the lady of the house but on her Negro house girl.” So advertisers begin to think: if we’re going to have some influence on the white household we’re going to first have to have some influence on the African-American woman. It’s at this point that we start to see greater numbers of advertisements appearing in African-American newspapers and on African-American radio programs saying “Be aware of us when you go shopping for yourself, but, maybe more importantly, be aware of us and our products when you go shopping for the white family that you work for.” But, as a group, advertisers don’t demonstrate a broad vision of them as a unique consumer population with their own interests and with their own desires until the late 1950s when Ebony magazine comes along as a successful advertising periodical. Ebony started in 1945, but it takes some time to launch as a successful advertising tool, so it’s not until the early 1950s that African-American women as a specific consumer group really begin (with their own internal desires) to appear on the landscape of marketers’ attention. It is not until the 1970s with the arrival of Essence, though, that we really reached out to them aggressively as a specific, targeted consumer group. It’s not just Essence—I want to point out that Essence is just a category, because Essence is simply making visible something that already existed. But it’s Essence, as a targeted periodical that through its success demonstrates that to reach out to the market is unquestionably important and valuable.
I’d like to continue with some history and to talk about the type of character depicting black women. Because the effect of this is something we experience today. For African-American women in the landscape of consumer communications images, two major images have predominated. First would be that of the mammy, which we are all relatively familiar with. This is the most well-known and enduring caricature of an African-American female. Usually an older, obese, sometimes overbearing individual, who cares for her white family much more than she cares for her own. Typecast as an excellent cook, she is a faithful and tireless servant for whom service to whites is her entire reason for being. This is what she lives for. Ads never show her with a family of her own; she is never shown eating the supposedly wonderful food that she makes; we never see any of her children eating her own pancakes, nor do we see her using her own syrup. And do you step back to think about why that is? No, because her only reason for being, the only reason for her pancakes, is service to her white family. This is easily the most widely recognized image, and Aunt Jemima is our most familiar example. But we see it in other places as well.
We see it in ads for Sanka, or we see the use of dialect here: “You ain’t goin’ to let the Mister drink coffee at night is you?” We see it in Lux toilet soap: Lux soap won’t shrink wool, wool being the hair of the African-American child. The African-American woman is used to sell a slew of products. It’s a very enduring representation.
Second is that of a Jezebel, young African-American females who are lascivious, seductive, and the antithesis of white women. Their only positive quality, the only thing that they have to move and make a way through the world is not their intellect, not their insight, it’s their bodies. That is the only thing that they can use. It’s not self-respecting, not controlled, not sexually pure, not modest. Primarily seen in literature and motion pictures, she is the woman who tempts good men, both black and white, into behavior in which they would not otherwise engage. You probably can’t read it, but the top of this book says, “He was white. She was beautiful and bad.”
This one is growing in use and growing in popularity. It’s making a return, very often visible in music videos associated with certain genres of music, saying young black women are nothing more than objects of sexual gratification. Next is an image for an advertisement from Akademiks. Consumers are told via the headline, “Read books, get brain.” And if you’re not in the know, “brain” means nothing to you. But “brain” is a euphemism for oral sex. So, with that knowledge you’ve got a young African-American woman on her knees suggestively posed, mouth open, in preparation for something—probably not reading. Or for Freshjive skate products. I’d be very interested in how this helps you skate.
What are we talking about here? What’s the impact of the repeated use of the images? They’re some of the standard stereotypes of African-American females, and their repeated and continued usage has led to an African-American population that is particularly sensitive to how it is that they are portrayed. And, when there is something that they do not like, they will make their voices heard in a blog, in chat rooms, or eventually, if it comes to it, a boycott. You get significantly negative attention for your goods, your product or your service. But here’s the problem, the sometimes frustrating part: you’ve got to allow for a range of possible responses to these images because there’s a significant segment of the African-American female population that looks at these images and says, “That’s me! Okay. Alright.” There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. Sometimes you can see agreement across various demographic breakdowns in the African-American female population, but not always; there is a greater range of African-American females used in consumer communication and more African Americans present in advertising and media than in any other point in history. You’re going to see more flexibility. Now, because there’s a greater emphasis on blacks being placed in various positions, be it doctor or lawyer on television programs or in books or movies, these types of images don’t cause such a concern. So, we can avoid this kind of stereotype label by providing the right context, the right cultural symbols such as music, artwork, clothing, flags, kinship network, particular holidays. Media placement is obviously significantly important because what’s suitable for a magazine like XXL or The Source certainly wouldn’t be suitable for Essence. And so today, perhaps unlike 20 years ago, with the right context the heavy set black women is not immediately categorized as Aunt Jemima and she can play a multitude of accessible roles, such as that of the loving mother in the movie Soul Food. In the right context, she’s that loving grandmother. In the wrong context, she’s Aunt Jemima reborn.
The goal is for you to understand, as a marketing organization, as an advertising organization, that range of imagery and that you understand the consumer group that you’re targeting. You can recognize African Americans as a diverse consumer group and do so in a non-patronizing manner.
However, some people are beginning to argue that we’re seeing a return to the overuse of the heavyset black woman. I offer you just a few images, such as in the commercial for Dairy Queen. In the ad for DQ, a heavyset African-American woman is having luggage dropped upon her by a white gentleman who’s trying to maneuver his beverage and his luggage. His luggage is continually falling down. Or, this commercial for Universal Studios seems to convey the idea that her breasts are as big as your head. I offer you just two brief commercials as further examples. Regardless of the product, some critics, like New York Times writer Jeremy Peters, are arguing that we’re moving beyond the use of this character and going back to this as caricature.6
Again, one reason why we’re seeing this renewed image is because we’re seeing it coming from African-American actors themselves, like Tyler Perry with his character Madea. Advertisers and marketers might logically say, “If it’s okay over here, why not? Why can’t it be used in our marketing communications as well?”
With just an isolated viewing, there’s nothing wrong with them—images like these are acceptable. However, if we continue towards the trend that we’re setting and get to a level of overuse … if they move from humorous character to that of caricature … and these types of images for Pine-Sol, for Twix, or for Universal Studios, might find greater theoretical objection. Or, they might find real consumer attention and/or criticism.
So, beyond this possible step backward, where do we stand today in terms of African-American women as a consumer group and their depiction in advertising? As a consumer group I’ll just offer you a few demographic breakdowns and considerations. Black women are certainly single mothers, but a large percentage of them are married, overwhelmingly to black men. They are a diverse group in terms of education, and increasing numbers are very educated. They seek new life experiences. They seek insight from trusted companies that have been part of the community. Psychographically speaking, we’re seeing them as more willing to try new things than female members of other ethnic groups. Immigration has led to a consumer population that is increasingly diverse. We’re going to have to begin to account for Afro-Caribbean women, and we’re going to have to particularly account for African women, not just African-American women.
Advertisers and marketers have to be cognizant of the history that I’ve talked about here today: the historical treatment of African-American women as consumers. Maybe our marketing organizations do not, but our consumers have a very long historical memory; they’re very aware of these problems, and they will voice their problems aggressively. And we’re talking about a market that is large. Of the nearly 1 trillion dollars that African Americans spend as a consumer group, African-American women spend 300 billion dollars and influence much more. We’re talking about a large group; we’re talking about a powerful group; we’re talking about an influential group; we’re talking about one that is looking for these kinds of positive representation from advertising and marketing imagery. So, African Americans continue to view and look at advertising, both females and males, and say, as Tom Burrell once observed, “How are they using us now?” Today, one of the ways we’re seeing blacks used is in a range of diverse, realistic images, especially from industries like pharmaceuticals, cellular companies, food companies, and the like.
So a number of industries are doing particularly well in this area, but we have to push the envelope forward to engage with the consumer and to engage their community such that we can become and remain one of those trusted companies that is gaining access to 300 billion plus dollars.
I know that you’ve lived in a lot of countries, including Africa, Europe and the United States. I’d like to ask you to think about how the American consumer is different from consumers in other countries.
I think the American consumer is different from consumers elsewhere in a number of ways. The first thing is that the American consumer probably has the broadest variety of choices available to consumers anywhere in the world. And as a result of that, they’re discerning consumers, they’re demanding consumers, accustomed to having a lot of choices, accustomed to saying, “If I can’t find it here, I’ll go elsewhere.” They have a lot of different outlets to go to and are really spoiled, if you will, by choices. From the standpoint of a marketer, we have to work harder in the US because this is a consumer who has numerous options. In terms of comparison to other parts of the world, I would say that other consumers are maybe a little bit more savvy, and there’s a difference between demanding and savvy.
Spell that out for us.
Demanding is “I want to have all my key needs met.” Savvy is recognizing that “I may have to give up one thing for another, that I may have to make a choice,” and being very, very, very smart about where to go to get the best value. The value being a balance of the price versus the quality of what they’re getting.
You’re saying Americans are better at …?
Americans are very savvy shoppers, but if I were to kind of tease it out, if it were a continuum, I would say Americans are more demanding than savvy. They have more choices. Then I would say, Europeans are probably more savvy, but still somewhat demanding, and I think when you get to Africa and Third World countries, they lean much more toward savvy.
Can you give an example from Europe or Africa that shows a difference from how an American consumer might approach something?
I think the American consumer has a lot of information at her fingertips so she is able to research her purchase beforehand to drill down, to identify what meets her needs most specifically. And she usually then will still have a couple of choices or places that she can go to look for them. If I think of the other extreme in Africa, the research is more word of mouth. They may not necessarily go for what is cheapest. A lot of times they’ll go for what lasts the longest or what translates most into value for them. Sometimes availability is also a factor: “If it’s there, I’ll buy it.” If you live in a land where there are sometimes shortages, availability is a big driver. I think in those countries, consumers are much more reliant on word of mouth. It’s more common for people to say, “I would never buy anything when I didn’t know of someone else who had tried it before”—so probably a little bit less susceptible, if you will, to the marketing message. They often require an additional reassurance. The marketing message needs to be accompanied by an endorsement from somebody, from a source that they trust.
How about European consumers?
I think European consumers probably lean towards where American consumers are. They are probably a little more likely to trust their own instincts versus a marketer’s message or a recommendation from a friend. Again, I’d say Europeans fall somewhere in between.
All this points up the fact that consumers just aren’t the same everywhere. There are important cultural and behavioral differences between them. How does the American consumer need to be spoken to? What kind of language is appropriate, what kinds of things need to be said, and what does it take to convince them to buy something?
I think more and more, it’s becoming less of a selling message and more of an understanding of what resonates with her from a personal standpoint. With the American consumer, I think it’s going much more from a mass message to a more personalized message. She’s not as interested in what’s good for everyone as she is interested in what’s good for her. And so, for a marketer, the challenge is making the message as personalized as possible while still having the breadth of appeal. I think the American consumer is able to see through the marketing-speak and pick out the real. They’ve been exposed to marketing for so long. They are much more likely to pick out what’s marketing-speak and what the product is really, truly offering. She looks for what the true benefits are and for what is really relevant to her and screens out the rest. She screens out anything that isn’t as relevant.
You’re using “her” to refer to the consumer. Is there a reason why?
It’s something we do here at Procter & Gamble; we tend to think of the consumer as “her.” In most households, it’s the woman who is the primary shopper. So it’s easier to say “she”—but obviously that’s a broad generalization. Consumers are not always women.
When you think about American consumers, what important subgroups do you see among them?
You can segment American consumers in so many different ways. Income bracket is one subgroup, ethnic origin is another, geographic location—consumers differ in terms of their buying or purchasing habits based on where they are where they’re based—and their life stage. People in the Midwest tend to live more in suburbia. A suburban consumer has very different buying habits from an urban consumer, just based on space constraints, etc. And life stage is a huge one, of course. It’s important to know where they are in their life stage. Their needs are going to change dramatically as they move from one life stage to another.
How important is ethnicity in segmenting consumers?
Ethnicity is a very important differentiator, probably much more so than we as marketers thought. We are learning that there are very significant differences in terms of the cultural outlook of consumers. Our cultural DNA, if you will, determines many of our habits and behaviors, including how we shop, why we shop, and what for us constitutes successful and positive shopping and usage experiences.
Can you give some specific examples of what you mean by these differences?
For example—and these are of course generalizations, and they are based on data that we have—Caucasian consumers tend to shop either alone or with immediate family—kids, husbands. For Caucasian consumers, shopping is more of a task. For a lot of ethnic consumers, shopping is a social activity. They will go out shopping with a friend, or with a couple of friends or family members, or maybe with a sister. You see that with Hispanic and African-American consumers. The size of households also differs. Hispanic consumers, and some African Americans, have larger households and therefore tend to buy in bulk more often. What consumers look for also differs by ethnicity. I’ll use the example of Tide washing powder. For many Caucasian consumers, it’s “a job well done.” The product is clean, and that’s what constitutes a great usage experience. For a lot of ethnic consumers, the scent is almost as much a part of the successful usage experience. It’s a signal of the cleaning job done, and they’re looking for a better experience.
Where do you see these differences coming from? We say it’s cultural, but why are there these differences?
I could point to cultural origins and the importance of different experiences based on cultural origins. In certain cultures, experiential things—such as art and music and other things that point to more of an experiential lifestyle—are emphasized. And I think that’s where a lot of that comes from. African-American culture is based on African culture. Hispanic is based on Spanish and Latin cultures. Both of these cultures are very experiential and emphasize not just getting things done, but getting enjoyment out of the everyday. Art, music, dance are all very key, very important parts of every day life. In more Northern cultures, the Industrial Revolution shifted the focus away from some of those things. So that emphasis on the arts and the emphasis on more experiential values are higher in those countries that were industrialized later.
And in these other countries that don’t emphasize the experiential so much, what is it they emphasize?
Functionality, task completion. Again, if you think about the Industrial Age, it’s really about accomplishing more with less than enjoying the journey. It’s more about the goal of getting from point A to point B. I think the emphasis there is really on delivering the end goal.
Are we talking about Caucasian versus non-Caucasian people?
I’m not sure it’s that defined. I’m sure there are gradations in between. I know that even within the “Caucasian” community, there are people who have more of an “ethnic” mindset. People of Greek or Italian origin and other southern European countries tend to be, again, more experiential.
Let’s talk specifically about the African-American woman as a consumer since this is the focus of the Symposium. Tell us about your experience of working with her and marketing directly to her. What’s special about her, how is she different from other consumers?
She is unique due to the unique experience she has had as one of the first immigrants to the US and the very different experience of her forced immigration. Earlier I talked about American consumers being extremely discerning due to the number of choices that American consumers have. To some degree this is even more true with African-American consumers. Many African-American consumers are single heads of household, and they have a bigger burden to make the right choices for their families, both in terms of quality and cost. So we tend to see them as being much more discerning consumers, much more likely to walk away from a store if the offering isn’t exactly what they expect, or if it’s not what they’re looking for. They also tend to value luxury goods, goods that they were not allowed to possess in the past. With African-American consumers, success is measured somewhat externally. It’s not just how you feel, it’s also how you appear to others. Because of that, African-American consumers over-index in luxury goods, over-index in terms of their purchases of higher-end products, cars, beauty, and fashion products as well. They often have more of an emphasis on and interest in beauty. Perhaps it’s also something of a defensive measure to even out the playing field in a world where, historically, they were ignored and ostracized. It gets them noticed and respected.
Can you say what you mean by that?
There’s a big emphasis on appearance across the board. This is an ethnic consumer, where success is not just being the part but looking the part as well. They are more likely to spend, or spend disproportionately, on what it takes to achieve that. They buy high-end fashion goods. There is a whole African-American hair care industry built on the fact that African Americans spend disproportionately higher per capita than general market consumers, and that’s really driven by the fact that African-American hair has special needs and is difficult to care for. I think the statistic is that, with the general market, consumers will use three or four products in their hair whereas an African-American consumer would use double that.
Oh, really? What would those products be?
The products would be different than what you’d see for general market. There are straightening products, relaxers, which you typically wouldn’t use as general market consumer. Moisturizers, conditioners, hair oil or grease to give the hair a sheen. There are hair straightening tools. There’s a whole plethora of products.
What are her psychological orientations? What drives the African-American consumer? What motivates her? What does she really care about? How do these things translate in the marketplace?
There are a number of different things that motivate her. First and foremost, what grounds her and roots her is her family and her community. Her definition of family is broader than with general market consumers. It includes extended family. If she’s talking about family, she’s likely to be talking mother, grandmother, sister, brother, or cousin. It’s a broader definition than the nuclear family. Her community, or the social network in which she lives with other African Americans, is another extension of her world. Her church, which is also part of her community, is also a very key grounding factor for her. Her spirituality is important to her, and that is not necessarily interchangeable with religion per se. Spirituality is about a very deep awareness of herself—who she is, her purpose here on earth, and what she needs in order to be happy. Education is a key driver for her. More and more African-American women recognize that education is the key to achieving their goals, and she is more likely to focus on education for herself and her children. It’s not unusual to see an African-American woman go back to school later in life to complete her education. A final, but very important, influence is social responsibility. Having benefited from a communal outlook, where she may have received help from relatives and friends in times of need, African-American women are more likely to pay attention to social responsibility and giving back to their community and their church.
She is more likely, despite being busy, to volunteer and do things for her community and her church. She feels that’s a key part of the African-American experience—helping others as you were helped. It’s a key part of who she is and what she needs.
Given all of this, how does it work best to speak and talk to the African-American woman consumer? How does she need to be addressed? How does she need to be talked to? What things need to be emphasized?
The first thing we have to realize as advertisers is that this is a consumer who places a great premium on respect. And what that means for her is recognizing her as an individual and recognizing her as unique. Many African-American women have been disrespected by society for so many years, and they are very conscious of how people address them and whether they are respectful.
What would respectful talk sound like?
Respectful would be talking to her as an equal and not talking down to her. It means not trying to oversimplify or use speech patterns or colloquialisms that we as advertisers imagine she would use. We haven’t yet earned that right with her. It means not using language or terms that are offensive to her.
Is this an extensive list, or are we talking about racial slurs and so forth?
I think it’s racial stereotyping. Respecting her as a woman is really key. The second piece is authenticity. She’s very suspicious of anything that doesn’t come across as genuine. She’s suspicious of people who try to talk to her and pass themselves off as being more familiar with her than she believes they should be. This comes from years and years of being told certain things which she later found out to be untrue. It comes from the whole African-American experience. She has a healthy distrust of anything that appears to be coming from an institution. She’s more discerning in that sense. She’s listening for anything that sounds like a false message. Authenticity, anything that sounds genuine, is something that she would accept. In terms of overall tonality, it’s really important for her that it’s engaging as well. It’s a message that either makes her laugh, feel good, or in some way engages her or strikes an emotional chord.
What are some of the major differences between African-American women and Latinas?
African-American and Hispanic women have a lot of similarities, but are also different on a number of fronts. They’re very similar in that a message needs to be engaging to catch their interest. With both, the respect piece is really important. How they might react to it is different, but they both have been stereotyped. For both, the respect, authenticity, and engagement are critical. I think where they may be a little different is on the authenticity, with the Latina woman being probably more likely to accept a message at face value than the African-American woman. I think that’s just a function of their relative time in the US, if you will. Also, for the Hispanic woman, her fulfillment comes mainly from doing things for her family and from seeing her family benefit. For African-American women, who are very family focused as well, personal fulfillment is very important, too. In this way, they are more like Caucasian women.
What advice, based on your experience, would you give to marketers about addressing and attempting to sell things to the African-American woman? If you were giving general advice and could make two or three points, what would you say to them?
First, I would say take nothing for granted. Both African-American and Hispanic consumers are so much more than what they appear to be on the surface. They don’t necessarily show the world the face they show to their communities, their families, to people whom they trust and who are closer to them. And so taking the time to peel back the onion and really understand what motivates and drives her is very critical.
Any other piece of advice to other people hoping to address these markets?
They are an incredibly lucrative market, with great rewards for businesses who get it right. Ethnic consumers are incredibly loyal, both African-American and Hispanic, and once you have them, they’ll stay with you for life. It’s a worthwhile investment to make as a marketer. In terms of the long term costs, maybe investing a little more up front, but it will build a relationship for the long term.
How would you advise African-American women to behave in the marketplace in order to be heard and in order to get what they want as consumers?
Well, I really wouldn’t offer advice to consumers on that front. I think their job is to be who they are, and our job as marketers is to listen and to deliver. I don’t think consumers should have to do anything, frankly. They are the bosses. They get to decide. They vote with their feet, and they vote with their dollars.
The Emergence of Gay Marketing
At least since the 1969 Stonewall riots, businesses have existed that openly catered to gays and lesbians. Generally, these businesses were small, located in urban centers with large gay populations, and owned and operated by individuals identifying themselves as members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community. Although most urban centers still have locally owned businesses serving their neighboring gay communities, the close of the 20th century witnessed a dramatic shift in the nature of gay consumerism. Gays and lesbians had emerged from invisibility to find themselves being courted by national advertising firms as the hottest new niche market. Quite unexpectedly, the “love that dare not speak its name” was all the talk on Madison Avenue, and a group of people who were so long ignored were now the darlings of Fortune 500 corporations. Concrete images of local gay communities were supplanted by an abstract image of a national LGBT community and a national gay market.
Today I will discuss the historical genesis of this “gay market” as well as the ways in which marketers (both gay and straight) have constructed a particular image of gay men as “dream consumers”—affluent, educated, trendy, with a significant amount of disposable income and a willingness to consume based on identity. I will also discuss the role surveillance has played in refining and segmenting this gay market, resulting in the fragmenting of the larger LGBT community into ever more specific consumer identities. I will conclude with some thoughts as to the political and social consequences of this continuing segmentation of the gay market.
Targeting the Closet: Surveillance and Gay Marketing
Those writing on surveillance have noted the shift from mass marketing and homogenous advertising to niche marketing and more personalized advertising.9 This interest in targeting ever more specific market segments originates from the corporate understanding that not all people have equal worth in the marketplace. For instance, Peppers and Rogers propound the economic advantages of collecting detailed information on individual consumers when they assert that “some customers are simply more valuable than others”10 and corporations can increase profits by “treating different customers differently.”11
Despite its economic motivations, such target marketing was only made possible with the emergence of new information technologies. As Jon Goss observes, systematic customer segmentation, though first conceived of in the 1950s, was “not practicable on a large scale until the 1970s, when theoretical, technological, and institutional innovations permitted the accumulation and management of electronic databases on consumer behavior.”12 As this shift to target marketing was fundamentally intertwined with developments in information technology, it is not surprising that the Internet would become an ideal medium for the deployment of such marketing techniques.
Marketing explicitly to gay and lesbian consumers—often referred to as “gay marketing”—has an even more recent history. Reg Whitaker contends that the emergence of marketing to gays and lesbians “could only happen once gays and lesbians began to come out of the closet and self-conscious gay and lesbian lifestyles and cultures began to appear in a fashion clearly visible to the straight world.”13 However, the development of gay marketing is actually much more complex than Whitaker acknowledges, involving not only the emergence of a self-conscious lifestyle based on sexual identity, but the construction of the image of the affluent gay consumer by actors within the gay community.
The gay press can trace its roots back to a lesbian bar in Los Angeles in the summer of 1947, when a twenty-six-year-old secretary calling herself Lisa Ben (an anagram of lesbian) distributed copies of a new publication called Vice Versa, the first underground gay paper. By the 1970s, every major city in the United States had local gay news publications, and these “gay papers” proved vital resources in gay political organizing and civil rights efforts.14 Financially, these publications were supported by advertisements for local gay-owned businesses as well as personal classifieds.
However, this started to change in the 1980s when a group of publications, led by The Advocate, re-conceptualized themselves as national publications reaching a dispersed audience.15 Local advertising and personals would not be sufficient to fund this transition from a local publication to a national publication (with hopefully much larger profit margins). This prompted these aspiring national gay publications to work in tandem with newly formed gay marketing firms in conducting consumer surveys that would demonstrate the economic clout of the gay community, and thus entice major advertising firms to court gays and lesbians as the latest niche market.
In 1988, Simmons Market Research Bureau conducted the first marketing survey of readership of eight papers produced by the National Gay Newspaper Guild. Notably, this survey was commissioned by Rivendell Marketing Company, which was endeavoring to sell advertising space in gay publications.16 The survey, though later criticized, produced the original data on which the image of the affluent gay consumer was based: “Simmons reported an average per capita income of $36,800, versus $12,287 for the population as a whole,” as well as a significantly larger proportion of gays and lesbians holding college degrees (59.6% versus 18%) and professional positions (49% versus 15.9%).17
Two years later, a Chicago-based marketing firm, Overlooked Opinions, conducted its own survey, mailing out questionnaires to those who either read gay publications or indicated their interest in the survey at Gay Pride parades.18 Based on 1,357 responses to the survey, Overlook Opinions determined that 34% of gay-identified households had incomes of over $50,000 (compared to 25% for the general population), and 26% of gays and lesbians had graduate degrees (compared to 5% for the general population).19 Then, using the classic one-in-ten gay-to-straight ratio extrapolated problematically from the work of Alfred Kinsey, Overlooked Opinions calculated the total income of the gay community as $514 billion annually. Of course, this figure, as later critics would attest, had little validity. Dan Baker notes, Overlooked Opinions’ survey data “disproportionately represented the politically active and the affluent,” thereby generating an estimate of gay wealth that was greatly exaggerated.20 In 1993, Yankelovich Partners conducted a more accurate survey, finding that the incomes of gays and lesbians were comparable to the general population, and, in fact, gay men had an average annual income slightly lower than the total of all men ($37,400 compared to $39,300). However, the Simmons Market Research study and the Overlooked Opinions survey had already received significant publicity, fostering an image of gays and lesbians with higher incomes than straight individuals.
The data from these problematic surveys quickly gained currency, and were reiterated throughout the marketing trade press, including Advertising Age. The very repetition of this discourse of gay wealth seemed to lend it an air of validity. Compounding this notion that gays and lesbians earned more money than their straight counterparts was the stereotypical image of gay and lesbian households as DINKs (Double Income, No Kids), which in the mind of mainstream marketers constructed an entire population with significant discretionary income and a tendency towards conspicuous consumption. However, as critics Gluckman and Reed point out, while “anecdotes about free-spending, double-income gay households do accurately represent one segment of the gay community, they have unfortunately been presented as descriptive of all gay men and lesbians.”21
This consumer population was rendered even more appealing to corporate America by arguments that their very social and political marginalization made them more susceptible to the advances of marketing firms. For instance, Hazel Kahan and David Mulryan, proponents of gay marketing, argue that this vulnerability represents an additional benefit of targeting the gay community “because these consumers are disenfranchised from mainstream society, they are open to overtures from marketers.”22
Unfortunately, this fallacious image of gay affluence has, in fact, proven politically damaging to gay civil rights efforts, as was demonstrated in Colorado in 1992. In that state, champions of the anti-gay ballot initiative Amendment 2 used the figures from the Overlooked Opinions survey to support their argument that gays and lesbians do not need special rights and to fuel hatred of gays and lesbians.23
Despite this, by the mid-1990s, this construct of the gay market was in place and the race was on to court these economically affluent, but politically impotent, “dream” consumers. By the end of the decade, major advertising agencies, such as Countrywide Porter Novelli in Britain, had established special divisions to target the gay market.24 This image of gay affluence also prompted major corporations to sponsor gay social events, as long as those events were not overtly political. For instance, in 1994 Miller Brewing Company along with Continental Airlines signed on to be among the first major corporate sponsors of Gay Games IV and Cultural Festival in New York City.25 Mostly notable, however, has been the explosion of corporate advertising in gay magazines by such companies as Seagram and PepsiCo, which has fostered the production of several upscale, glossy national gay and lesbian publications, including Out and Genre (both launched in 1992), which were quickly followed over the next few years by Ten Percent, POZ, Urban Fitness, Men’s Style, Wilde, and 50/50. Even the well-established and first national gay publication, The Advocate, experienced a complete revamping in the 1990s, transforming into a glossy, high profile publication, cleansed of all its sexually explicit and politically radical content.26
Once major marketing companies began examining the gay niche market more systematically, however, it became clear that not all gays and lesbians earned more than their heterosexual counterparts. For these firms, it became increasingly important to identify and segment affluent gays (notably white, well-educated, professional gay men) from less economically desirable segments of the gay community (including women, working-class gay men, and gays and lesbians of color).
This demonstrates a fundamental flaw in the logic of this target-marketing model: the reduction of people to a singular axis of identity. For instance, the reduction of gays and lesbians to their sexual identity alone fails to recognize the ways sexuality intersects with race, ethnicity, class, and gender. Furthermore, this marketing practice partially calls into existence the very thing it sets out to find. As Katherine Sender explains, “the gay community, on a national scale at least, is not a preexisting entity that marketers simply need to appeal to, but is a construction, an imagined community formed not only through political activism but through an increasingly sophisticated, commercial supported, national media.”27 Indeed, lesbian activist and critic Alexandra Chasin argues that gay men and lesbians only started to conceptualize themselves as part of a national community as recently as 1977, as a result of a nationwide gay boycott of oranges and juice from the Florida Citrus Commission, whose spokeswoman, Anita Bryant, led an anti-gay rights campaign in Dade County, Florida. As Chasin points out, this sense of membership in a national gay community was facilitated by a growing gay media:
[T]he national U.S. gay community came into being through the imagined comradeship of gay men and lesbians reading an increasingly commercial gay press. In that press, gay men and lesbians read for news of the growth of the movement, they read for news of consumption opportunities that reinforced their belonging in the community, and they read vernacular language that helped delineate the boundaries of the community.28
Today, this national gay media is dominated by non-political lifestyle publications that function primarily as vehicles for advertising to the gay market. This gay media is also undergoing significant consolidation in ownership. The two national gay publications with the largest circulation, The Advocate and Out magazines, are both owned by LPI Media, and LPI Media was itself acquired last fall by PlanetOut Inc., owners of two dominant online portals targeted at the LGBT community, Gay.com and PlanetOut.com. In examining these online portals, we find the perpetuation of this image of the gay male dream consumer as well as the pervasiveness of consumer surveillance.
Dream Consumers in Cyberspace
Even a cursory examination of Gay.com and PlanetOut.com reveals that these sites primarily speak to their patrons through advertisements, whether those ads are for their own services (e.g., online personals) or Fortune 500 corporations. On both portals, advertisements take a variety of forms, including banner ads across the tops of the sites, pop-under ads in separate windows, skyscraper ads along the sides of the page, big box ads incorporated into the page content, and corporate-sponsored articles.
A two-month analysis of the advertisements appearing on these portals found that the bulk of advertisements were either explicitly oriented to gay and/or lesbian consumers—including ads for Atlantis Travel and Out&About Travel (both travel firms catering to gay and lesbian clients), Starwood hotels and resorts, Kleptomaniac.com, Key West Tourism, and Vonage Broadband Phone Company—or employed windowing techniques, such as showing solitary individuals coded as gay (such as in an advertisement for Careerbuilder.com) or a reference that could be read as invoking gay sensibility (such an ad for Smirnoff Vodka with the caption “Straight or twist □ discover life with a twist!”). A smaller percentage of advertisements (approximately 25%) showed only the product or service offered with no reference to sexual identity, including ads for The New York Times, ING Direct, CarsDirect.com, American Express, and Chase Bank. Although the majority of explicitly gay ads were for gay-oriented businesses (such as Out&About Travel), there were several such ad campaigns for Fortune 500 companies, including Bridgestone Firestone Tires and Citibank. The majority of Fortune 500 companies employed windowed ads, or ads with no overt reference to sexual identity.
In a recent interview, Lowell Selvin, CEO of PlanetOut, noted that “[s]mart corporations, smart ad agencies, smart moviemakers and smart TV producers know [that the most successful ads are] tailored to the gay and lesbian audience.”29 Those advertisements “tailored” to gay and lesbian consumers generally signaled their orientation by depicting two members of the same sex touching in an intimate fashion next to some provocative caption. For instance, an advertisement for Bridgestone Firestone Tires features two white men familiarly close next to the caption “You know how to accessorize.” An examination of all ads appearing on these portals reveals an imaginary composed primarily of men who are both white and young.
This analysis was conducted during the months of July and August, 2003, and involved checking both the Gay.com and PlanetOut home pages at least once per day, tabulating the number of individuals appearing in ads, determining the race and ethnicity of those individuals based on visual cues as well as their gender and broad age category (i.e., child, adolescent, young adult [approximately 20s and early 30s], middle-aged, elderly). Over this 62-day period, a total of 360 advertisements were viewed on Gay.com and 180 advertisements on PlanetOut. On average, it was found that on the Gay.com home page, five ads appeared featuring people, while on PlanetOut three ads appeared featuring people. On both sites, 80% of the individuals appearing in ads would be male, 80% would be white, and 100% would best fit into the “young adult” age category. Beyond those celebrity images appearing in ads (such as in an advertisement for the Very Best of Cher CD), there was an utter absence of representations of middle-aged or elderly individuals in advertisements on both sites.
This pattern of using young white men in advertisements targeting LGBT communities has been noted in other media, including mainstream and specialized magazines.30 Gay scholars have discussed how pervasive images of white, upper-middle class, “straight looking” people often appear at the expense of those more distanced from and threatening to the mainstream, such as the poor; ethnic, racial, and sexual minorities; drag queens; and butch lesbians.31
This dream consumer image is even more prevalent on PlanetOut Inc.’s corporate website and in their marketing literature. In their 2002–2003 sales kit,32 PlanetOut Inc. perpetuates the problematic image of gays and lesbians as prosperous dream consumers, ignoring the complex ways sexuality intersects with other axes of identity:
Trendsetters who make products hip. Affluent buyers with disposable income. And a group that rewards companies that honor diversity.33
In their sales kit, PlanetOut Inc. characterizes itself as the largest gay marketing firm in the United States, reaching “20 times more gay and lesbian people than the top three national gay magazines combined.” PlanetOut Partners offers its corporate clients the opportunity to “bring your best customers to you online and off through year-round participation in events that reach millions,” including Gay Pride marches, the annual Gay Games, and gay and lesbian film festivals. In addition to “rich media” online advertisements, PlanetOut Partners offers advertisers marketing research on the “gay community” and direct marketing support through a “variety of member and subscriber mailing lists available for rental.”34 Mark Elderkin (the founder of Gay.com) clarified that in providing direct mailing lists to corporate clients, PlanetOut Partners employs a “list broker,” allowing corporate clients one-time use of the mailing list without actually selling the list itself.35
To further entice advertisers, PlanetOut Inc. constructs a demographic profile of their membership reinforcing this affluent gay consumer model, indicating that 29% of patrons are in the desirable age category of 18 to 24, 37% have annual incomes of more than $50,000, and 85% are male.36 Based on my correspondences with PlanetOut Inc. representatives, this image of trend-savvy dream consumers reflects less how PlanetOut Inc. views the LGBT community, and more what they believe will attract corporate clients.
PlanetOut Inc.’s new Sales Kit reveals the inextricability of surveillance and target marketing when they proclaim that they can target messages to individuals based on the demographic information and usage information they have collected and that their marketing database allows them to deliver unique messages directly to specific customers.37 Of particular interest is what PlanetOut Inc. claims such precise targeting accomplishes:
We have become the leading experts in targeting offers to Gay Americans and converting our members into paying customers. We know what it takes to turn an advertising impression into a sale and a how to convert a visitor into a customer.38
Arguably the information gathered automatically by these portals as well as the personal information disclosed during the registration process play vital roles in this conversion from patron to paying customer. Of concern to critics is how aware these sites’ patrons are of how their personal information is being used.
Another concern of critics is that this ever finer market segmentation and individualization will lead marketers to speak to certain demographic groups within the LGBT community while ignoring others. This in turn may lead to increased fragmentation within a community that is only tenuously united by its exclusion from mainstream society.
Fragmentation of the Community: Constructing the “Bear” Consumer
This practice of fragmenting the LGBT community into ever finer consumer identities continues with the emergence of the gay male “bear” community as the latest group of dream consumers. What started as a social movement in Northern California in the mid-1980s and proliferated across much of the Western World through the Internet during the 1990s has now become the latest consumer identity within the LGBT community.
The bear movement initiated when a group of gay men found that they did not conform to the beauty ideal of mainstream gay male culture, where the emphasis was on youthful looks and hard, lean bodies. Feeling marginalized within the gay male culture, these men formed their own inclusive community which celebrated nonconformity to the dominant models of beauty. Identifying themselves as “bears,” these gay men adopted a model of beauty epitomized by facial hair and body hair, heavyset bodies, and a working-class aesthetic as reflected in the preference of flannel-shirts and jeans over designer labels. The bear was articulated as a more “natural” image of masculinity than that of the “twink,” blond surfer boy, or the gay urban professional.
The bear subculture spread primarily through the Internet as sites appeared in the late 1990s dedicated to bear culture, such as Bear411 (perhaps the most well established), and more recently BigMuscleBears.com and BearWWW.com. Soon annual social events, known as “bear runs,” were being organized in most major American cities. At these events, large numbers of gay men identifying as part of the bear community gather for a weekend of socializing and community affirmation. The largest of these events attract thousands of individuals, many of whom now travel from overseas to attend. Within recent years, these annual events have appeared in Western Europe and Australia, such as MadBear in Madrid and FurBall in Amsterdam.
As this image of the bear gained currency within the gay male community, enterprising individuals began to see the financial potential of a glossy lifestyle magazine targeted at this population. Of course, like its gay mainstream counterparts, this national publication would be financed by corporate advertisers and serve as a vehicle for marketers to tap into this particular niche market. Initiated by two individuals who have long identified with the bear community, Steve Harris and Mike Goldberg, A Bear’s Life is the first national glossy magazine specifically targeted at the bear community. To entice advertisers Harris and Goldberg argued that those advertising campaigns targeted at the larger LGBT community fail to resonate with members of the bear community:
These men are more comfortable wearing jeans and flannel shirts than Armani suits, more likely to drive a truck than a BMW, enjoy drinking beer, attending football games, going camping, and engaging in other activities traditionally identified as masculine. These men are rejecting any limitations on gay identity and redefining what it means to be gay. As such, they no longer identify with many of the images advertisers have historically employed when marketing to the gay community.39
To further draw advertisers to the magazine, they construct an enticing demographic profile of the bear consumer. The average age is 37. The average annual income is $47,000, and the average household income is $102,000. Sixty percent are college graduates, 85% own a home computer, 95% have access to the Internet, 75% routinely make purchases online, and 33% own homes. However, if we look at the source of this data we see that these figures are as problematic as those in the original surveys used to construct the image of the affluent gay consumer. These estimates are based on information collected from 4,862 respondents who attended bear social events in the United States and Europe. This automatically precludes those identifying with the bear community but lacking the financial resources to attend these events, which can prove immensely expensive. In essence, we see the same pattern recurring with the construction of the gay male bear consumer as we did with the gay male dream consumer.
As evident in the emergence of the bear consumer, sexuality intersects not only with race, gender, and class, but also with body type in formulating an individual’s identity. What gets lost in this niche marketing approach is that identities are not fixed, rigid, or pre-formulated. Rather, identity arises out of a constant negotiation of self with a particular cultural context. Thus, under one set of conditions a person may be rendered a gay consumer, but under another set they may be a female consumer or a Latino consumer. Marketers need to keep in mind that in soliciting a particular identity, they also play a role in calling that very identity into being.
Critics are concerned as to what impact such marketing segmentation will have on the political organizing of marginalized communities. My concern is that the constant surveillance and segmentation target marketing entails will undermine political cohesion between diverse sexual-minority communities. Doubtlessly, as marketers come to better understand the immense economic disparities within LGBT communities, the profit imperative will motivate them to play upon those disparities in order to market to more and more specific groups of consumers and ever finer constellations of taste.
Commercial Closet has an ad library of over 3,000 ads, going back to 1917 with GLBT media.
The big question has always been, “How many are there?” There’s not a simple answer for a number of reasons. First of all, are we talking about identity or are we talking about behavior? They’re not the same thing. Identity means “I identify as a gay person,” whereas behavior means I might fall in love with or have sex with somebody of my same sex even though I might not call myself gay. In fact, the health care community has a term for men who have sex with men (MSM) who do not necessarily identify as gay. This is, of course, a significant issue in dealing with health care.
It’s also difficult to know how many gay people there are because of the shortcomings of research. Research has been in short supply over the years. For one thing, it’s expensive. For another, the taboos that continue to this day turn interest away from the question. Major research organizations like Nielson, which tracks television viewing, won’t ask the question of sexual orientation because they’re afraid of upsetting their respondents. It’s considered a hot button question, and they don’t ask it. Still they’re exploring how to deal with the need for this information, but obviously it won’t happen until enough advertisers are demanding the information and are willing to pay for it. That’s the bottom line at present: research is insufficient and challenges stand in the way of doing good research.
Research companies, such as Nielson Media Research, Simmons, and Voter News Service, collect demographic information that is used in determining the number of gays and lesbians in the US population.
John Campbell [in this symposium] talks about what good research might mean and mentioned a number of “convenience samples” in some of the examples that he cited. These were occasions when people were polled at a particular event, or when people were polled because they subscribe to a particular publication. What you get is only information about those publications or events rather than anything truly projectable across a wide population. We’re starting to improve a little bit on that. Neilson is beginning to take steps in that direction. Simmons has begun to do the same thing. For some reason, market researchers often throw everything they know about their industry out the window when it comes to dealing with issues about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities. (The term LGBT is interchangeable with GLBT—one puts lesbian first, the other puts gay first.) So, as a result of both politics and taboos, the US Census (the most important source of demographic information), does not ask about sexual orientation. As a result, we’re looking at smaller surveys and various types of other information not necessarily intended to track exactly how many people are in this category. What we have started to find in the last couple of years is more proprietary research and, to some degree, online research where this question has been asked. For example, Voter News Service has tracked people after voting.
In all this, we are seeing consistently between 6% and 7% of people self-identifying as gay or lesbian. This is the number that the marketing community is starting to use regularly. Now there are all types of ways to look at that information as well. The one-in-ten number is better known thanks to Kinsey,41 but we now know that this is an unreliable number. What we can also presume, but not prove, is that the proportion of gays and lesbians in urban environments is probably higher than in suburbs and rural areas. The conglomerate number of 6%-7% is probably conservative, but it’s a relatively good number because it reflects the proportion of people who are willing to self-identify on a survey. The reason it’s conservative is that there probably are more people who are not willing to self-identify as gay or lesbian.
So from a marketer’s standpoint, they discover who would be willing to self-identify as gay or lesbian. What that means to marketers is that the people who self-identify as such are, for the most part, going to be the most reachable people. The others are perhaps, but almost certainly not exclusively, accessing gay and lesbian media. This is a way, of course, to deal with a known group of people. If you speak to people already subscribed to a publication, who go to certain web sites, or who access gay and lesbian media, that becomes a reachable group for marketers.
Now, while I did say that the census doesn’t ask sexual orientation, what did happen for the first time in 2000 was that the census did, in a round about way, find out about gay and lesbian people by asking about unmarried partners in the household. I won’t go into the details of the actual wording, but there were other options that made it so explicit that there was no confusion about what that meant. It wasn’t a friend, it wasn’t a relative, it wasn’t anything other than what we can call an unmarried partner—somebody who is a partner who you aren’t married to because there is no law that allows it.
Gary Gates is a leading expert on the demography of the gay and lesbian population.
What they got was the best information that marketers could ever have on the gay and lesbian community, at least within the parameters of couples in households. What they found was 1.2 million people, which is by far the largest sample size ever among research with relevance to the gay and lesbian community. That’s 600,000 households. Because of the sample size, it allowed researchers to drill down within the sample and to study a lot of other issues with a high degree of reliability. They got information of all kinds that they’ve never had in previous surveys—about race, participation in the military, household income, and so forth. Some really good information has emerged and other demographic relationships are being processed and figured out as I speak. The Gay and Lesbian Atlas42 by Gary Gates breaks down a lot of this demographic data by state and city. You can access his findings through the Urban Institute. Today’s marketers are avoiding the academic question of how many there are by asking, How many can we reach? How many are willing to self-identify?
There are also interesting findings about identification of sexuality and how that relates to other identities such as race. For people of color, the priority might be a question of other identities. Do you identify first as a person of color and second by your sexuality—or, as it turns out less frequently, in the other way. The truth, of course, is that we can’t overlook people of color in looking at the GLBT population. However, historically and stereotypically, everyone has looked at it as a white population. And of course, the GLBT community is a perfect example of what is going on in the population in general. We are racially and ethnically complex in the same way the general population is. We can’t only think of these issues as pertaining to a white population—even though advertising and the media more generally always represents the gay community as white, as young, and as male.
Conventional wisdom holds that the GLBT community earns more money than anybody else. Initially this was based on incomplete survey information that was specific to a particular magazine or an event and that was not really projectable across an entire population. And so what started out as convenience samples provided the information that advertisers first used to target the GLBT community for luxury goods—Movado, Gucci, Waterford crystal, Godiva, Jaguar, and other luxury brands. Marketing to gays and lesbians began as marketing to luxury consumers.
I have been expecting some downscaling in representations of gays and lesbians since my days covering this at Ad Age. Gay people also buy toilet paper, soap, and tampons like everybody else, but we haven’t seen much of the advertising from those companies reflecting this. We’re just beginning to see some of that happening, especially with packaged goods to a small degree. I expect more of this as companies become more comfortable with the GLBT community, especially as they have more reliable demographic information. As they’ve grown more aware and comfortable with the community, there has been more questioning of the validity of those numbers. A researcher, Lee Badgett from Massachusetts, has also looked at the demographics and concluded quite differently from the usual assumptions that gay men may earn slightly less than straight men, and that gay women may earn slightly more than straight women. These differences are probably more of a result of differences in lifestyle than anything else. Straight women tend to be homemakers and lesbian women enter the work force. Gay men may be held back by a glass ceiling for not being married and not fitting into the old boy network—two things which have been traditionally associated with progress in major companies and the higher salaries associated with it.
The idea of double income, no kids (DINKS) is also seemingly undone by the US Census information, which found that one in five male couples has kids in the household. This may result from previous marriages or through adoptions. One in three female couples has children. These are not insignificant numbers, especially when you consider that they were previously thought to be relatively childless households. So clearly this kind of new information is changing the way people look at the community.
Marketers also often focus on how much gays earn versus how they spend their money. These are very different questions. We may never have an exact number as to what the average is if the research is not ever to be fully believed. However, there are a couple of things that need to be kept in mind about how gays spend their money differently from everyone else. If you’ve got two males in one household, that’s going to equal more money than a male-and-female household where the female either isn’t working or is almost certainly earning less money than her husband. By contrast, in a two-female household, the couple is probably earning less than a male-and-female household because of the higher earning power of the straight male. So we have to consider households versus individuals in order to understand what we’re really talking about when we say gays earn more money.
The Prime Access advertising agency develops multicultural campaigns aimed at urban audiences.
Also, as far as the depiction of how gays spend their money, it’s a very important question. Howard Buford of Prime Access once gave a very good anecdotal explanation. He says that if you’re a long distance company and you’ve got two potential clients—a woman who earns a lot of money and lives in the town that she grew up in versus an immigrant who comes to the country from elsewhere and is in a low-paying job—which is your better client? Someone who lives in the town that they grew up in and thus has little need for long distance, no matter much money she may earn, is simply not as good for business as the immigrant who is separated from his or her family and may not earn a lot of money. He will almost certainly spend more money on long distance. This example illustrates the importance of looking at how people spend their money versus how much they actually earn. Certainly for gays and lesbians, this is an important question. Travel, for example, is an established category in the gay community. Once again, still considering we have fewer children in the household, gays have perhaps more discretionary income than the average person. Where do they spend it? Well, they might spend it on travel, for example.
Another way to approach marketing to the gay community is to establish yourself as being the leading, most important, or most sensitive, caring brand to the community. This can be done quite easily in some cases. For example, fast food, which is a very large ad category, is completely missing in the GLBT community. A company such as McDonald’s, or some other company which may have good internal policies in place for members of the GLBT community, could perhaps win the favor of gays by being the first and only company in the category to come after the market and thus win its favor. However, that bar is much higher today than it would have been five or ten years ago. It would have been easier back when the GLBT community was looking for validation from society and from major companies through their advertising. A great example of this validation is Absolut vodka, which, over 25 years ago, was the first major corporation to advertise to the community. They’ve continued to do so and have unmatched brand recognition and appreciation within the community. Their action was not necessarily an easy thing to do at the time, especially when you consider the invisibility of the market along with the taboos and politics associated with it.
The stereotypes of the GLBT community are another important factor to consider in terms of marketing to the GLBT community. It’s ironic that the stereotype of the gay male actually works in favor of marketing because the stereotype of gay men is that they like fashion, they like computers, they like music, they like home decorating, and they like gourmet foods. These are all ad categories, aren’t they?
This doesn’t work so well for lesbians, however. The lesbian stereotype is all about what they don’t like—make up, fashion, etc. Again, these are ad categories. So this certainly puts lesbians in the very difficult situation of overcoming the perception that they don’t earn enough to be important consumers and that they’re perhaps more than a little anti-consumerist. Again, these are the stereotypes. The shortage of research along with the lack of interest in even conducting it leaves lesbians very much behind as a consumer group. More research is needed here as well as with people of color who are also gay or lesbian because the added layers of identity certainly can affect brand preference and spending power.
There’s a turning point in the history of all this that occurred in 1992 when Out magazine appeared. Because up until then, The Advocate magazine was just starting to think about being a national magazine, and everything else in the media was local. There were efforts with a magazine called After Dark, a theater magazine that started to transition more and more into a relatively specific magazine for gay men. Although it wasn’t supposed to be aimed at them per se, these were their readers. Advertisers started to recognize that fact and began placing ads directed to gay men in the magazine as well as in The Advocate.
Alcohol was also an early advertiser in the community— Pernod Ricard and Absolut before it, the beer companies, Miller and later Coors Light and Bud Light. What’s intriguing is how and why that happened. Up to then, there was not an identity, on a national basis, of the gay and lesbian community quite yet. What was in place, the very first thing, along with a couple of newspapers, were bars. They were the community centers for gays and lesbians. Alcohol companies had sales information to this effect as early as the 1970s and 80s. This information was there for them without ever actually having to do research. It is the major reason why alcohol companies have been so well-represented in the gay community and have remained an aggressive and competitive category. The representation exceeds over fifty brands of alcohol in the last ten years. By also being sin products, they didn’t have to fear retribution from conservatives or religious folks who wanted to target advertisers who marketed themselves to this perhaps controversial audience. They had the data and they had the freedom.
Out magazine comes along and it’s a turning point for a couple of reasons. The magazine was conceived as a national magazine and the first advertising-friendly publication to the gay community. And what that really meant was a ban on sexually oriented advertising—anything that constituted a 900-number for people to call to find companionship and that sort of thing. They also, to some degree, remained a step away from politics, the hot button issues that advertisers didn’t want to get involved with. So Out was very successful in creating the first advertiser-friendly media vehicle. They basically brought in all kinds of companies who had never before considered the gay market. There was an explosion of advertisers in various categories, including fashion, alcohol, non-alcoholic beverages, tobacco, entertainment, and, not surprisingly, AIDS drugs. There are a number of brands represented today that have been present in the market for over ten years. More recently, there has been growth beyond these initial categories to include travel, financial services, automotive products, personal products for the hair and face, and so on. Even packaged goods, like Diet Pepsi, and other brands like Altoids are starting to come in as well.
Because of the focus in this symposium on women, I want to show that women do actually show up in some of this advertising. There are also examples of people of color showing up in advertisements directed to the GLBT community.
It is the case that gay-community-owned businesses or GLBT-targeted ads tend to be better about showing the diversity of race than is advertising overall. Still, there is certainly plenty of room for improvement. For example, the integration of race is usually in the form of a biracial couple. The ad in Figure 10 is a rare example of two Asian males, but this is something which we don’t see very often.
IBM has a website for their gay community.
IBM in Figure 11 is doing something unique by focusing on their employees. These are actual people who work for the company, and we see the diversity of race and gender in their ad. IBM has been a leader in both its internal policies and its marketing.
You can see diversity here in the representations, but it is more the exception than the rule when we talk about GLBT media as well as mainstream media. And once again mainstream media tends to not be nearly as good as GLBT media in reflecting racial or gender diversity.
Looking at the challenges of trying to speak directly to gays and lesbians through their own media, what we find is that creating dedicated advertising that is reflective of what we look like or what our personalities might be like and so forth has certainly increased over time. In fact, this last year for the first time, more than 50% of GLBT-targeted media was created in dedicated format. Advertisers are leaning more and more in this direction. It’s conventional wisdom that if you are creating advertising that speaks directly to the audience, you will get them to pay closer attention.
Now, once again the diversity that is represented is quite limited. Advertising creatives will say to themselves, “Okay we’re going to do a gay and lesbian ad.” There is no such thing as black gays, black lesbians, or other people of color in any significant regard. I’ve heard this so many times from creatives. This not only affects gay and lesbian media, but it affects us all in a broader sense as well. It affects the thinking within those groups as well. I have found that some people of color think that there are no black people in the LGBT category. So it is a perpetuation of a problem not just to the gay and lesbian media but more broadly. And it’s a problem for racial diversity when the person of color is depicted in the ad with a white person as a biracial couple, but that is starting to change.
Another issue is the expression of gender. Major corporations are using the term gender expression in their employee policy manuals to protect transgendered people. But there is a broader question here; creatives should keep in mind how people express their gender: Are men masculine enough and are females feminine enough by other people’s standards? Are we getting traditional and normative, or are we breaking out of that, to some degree, in how we may represent ourselves and how we’re being represented in advertising? Right now advertising tends to stick to traditional-looking people unless they’re using a stereotype for the purpose of humor, particularly in general advertising. So “sissy” guys will show up just for a laugh. Lesbians, when depicted in general advertising, are found in the fantasies of straight males. Authenticity is completely a side consideration at this time, and the lack of diversity in representation of gender expression is not fair. An example of the opposite in television is Will & Grace. The Jack character and the Will character are different gender expressions. Jack is more feminine, and Will is more masculine. At least in that situation there is a little bit more variety. This is the kind of thing that could show up in advertising with an increased level of awareness of what’s going on.
The Commercial Closet Association’s site contains not only a library of GLBT-concerned ads, but also a Best Practices guide for all advertising.
At Commercial Closet, we’ve produced a set of “Best Practices” for advertising and marketing. It recommends attending to the variety that exists among gay and lesbian people. It also recommends against assuming that gay and lesbian people who work in advertising are necessarily able to speak on behalf of an entire community. The community is extremely diverse, as diverse as society itself. What one person thinks is okay or what makes one person laugh is not necessarily the same for the next person. Doing testing is really important to get a sense of your messaging and imagery and in order to see if you’re hitting the mark or if you are upsetting somebody. Of course this applies to any advertising to any group, but particularly to the LGBT community, which is not really well understood or thought of very equally.
In conclusion, I want to add a few other points about gay and lesbian media and the challenges of reaching the gay and lesbian market. GLBT media started out as local outlets and then moved to more nationalization with Out magazine and The Advocate in the early 1990s. The largest circulating gay magazine ever has been Out. It used to be at 136,000, the biggest circulation a gay magazine has ever had, and it’s not even there any more. There are other national magazines out there today. Some of the earlier ones are not in existence anymore. It’s been a very difficult marketplace over the years and there’s been a lot of media consolidation going on. Out and The Advocate, which used to be competitors, are now jointly owned, and Gay.com and PlanetOut are now jointly owned as well. In fact, they’re all one company, so the two biggest gay magazines and the two biggest gay websites are a single entity, LPI media. There’s very little competition at this time in gay media. The secondary outlets are much smaller than their national market competitors. And when you look at broadcast media, there’s very little in the way of radio. There used to be some local radio shows, but there aren’t any left at all now. Sirius satellite radio, which launched a couple years ago, is the only one of the two main satellite radio companies that has a dedicated gay and lesbian channel. That’s the one exception in radio.
Television is an area that is interesting right now because Viacom, the company that owns MTV networks, launched Logo last year in the summer. This network is nearly the first commercial broadcast entity to reach the gay market that does advertisements. It is available in 20 million homes, which, for a start up cable network, is doing pretty well. And they have already won a lot of new advertising from brands that have never been in the gay market before. This is exactly as I’d anticipated, because Viacom not only has deep pockets but also extensive relationships with advertisers through Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, and all the other networks that they already own. Sears, Sprint, and a number of companies that we’ve never seen before are now advertising to the gay market through Logo. Because of the lack of media penetration into the gay market, it really is a challenge to reach this broad group of people, which, if you go with that 7% estimate, is 15 million people or so in the US population.
As I mentioned, the biggest magazine had only reached a circulation of 136,000. The websites did considerably better. They’re getting an estimated 45 million members of the population, but this is definitely not going as far as we can go. Special events like Pride and the Gay Games are great opportunities for companies to reach a broader group of people who may not be exposed to the gay and lesbian community.
So one last point on sponsorship. Commercial Closet Association is, by the end of this year, going to be publishing a report on corporate sponsorship that looks back at the last five years. It shows that sponsorship has grown substantially each year. Last year, for example, the spending exceeded $8 million—still just a drop in the bucket in terms of sponsorship, but it is going in the right direction.
William M. O’Barr is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University where he has taught since 1969. He holds secondary appointments in the Departments of Sociology and English. He has been a visiting professor at Northwestern, Dalhousie, and Oxford Universities. He has been recognized for his outstanding undergraduate teaching by both the Duke University Alumni Association and Trinity College (Duke University). His course, Advertising and Society: Global Perspectives, is one of Duke’s most popular undergraduate courses. His many seminar courses include Advertising and Masculinity, Children and Advertising, and The Language of Advertising.
He is author or co-author of ten books, including Culture and the Ad: Exploring Otherness in the World of Advertising, Rules versus Relationships, and Just Words: Law, Language and Power. He has conducted anthropological research in East Africa, Japan, and the United States. In addition to his interest in social and cultural aspects of advertising, Professor O’Barr has researched law in a variety of cultural settings.
In 2000, he founded Advertising & Society Review and served as editor from 2000 to 2005. He is author of Advertising and Society — An Online Curriculum which will consist of 20 units published as supplements to A&SR.
1. The author wishes to thank Rudy Rodriguez, director of Multicultural Marketing for the General Mills Corporation, who served as co-convener of a symposium on this topic in October, 2006. Details of the symposium, including streamed audio are available at: http://www.aef.com/on_campus/symposia/2006/6000.
2. Armando Azarloza spoke with William O’Barr by telephone. He was unable to attend the symposium on “Multiculturalism in the Marketplace” in October, 2006.
3. Frances Aparicio spoke from these prepared remarks at the symposium on “Multiculturalism in the Marketplace” in October, 2006.
4. Judith Ortiz Cofer, Terms of Survival (Houston: Arte Publico Press, 1987).
5. Jason Chambers prepared these remarks to reflect his oral presentation at the Symposium on “Multiculturalism in the Marketplace” in October, 2006.
6. Jeremy W. Peters, “An Image Popular in Films Raises Some Eyebrows in Ads,” New York Times, August 1, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/01/business/media/01adco.html http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/01/business/media/01adco.html?]] (accessed January 13, 2007).
7. Susan Mboya spoke with William O’Barr by telephone following the Symposium on “Multiculturalism in the Marketplace” in October, 2006. Her remarks here reflect her presentation at the Symposium.
8. John Campbell prepared these remarks to reflect his oral presentation at the Symposium on “Multiculturalism in the Marketplace” in October, 2006.
9. D. Lyon, Surveillance Society: Monitoring Everyday Life (Philadelphia: Open University Press, 2001); D. Lyon, “Everyday Surveillance: Personal Data and Social Classification,” Information, Communication & Society 5, no. 2 (2002): 242–257; R. Whitaker, The End of Privacy: How Total Surveillance Is Becoming a Reality (New York: The New Press, 1999); J. Goss, “We Know Who You Are and We Know Where You Live: The Instrumental Rationality of Geodemographic Systems,” Economic Geography 71, no. 2 (1995): 171–198.
10. D. Peppers and M. Rogers, Enterprise One to One (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 32.
11. Peppers and Rogers, 53.
12. Goss, 173.
13. Whitaker, 148.
14. L. Gross, Up from Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001).
15. D. Baker, “A History in Ads: The Growth of the Gay and Lesbian Market,” in Homo Economics: Capitalism, Community, and Lesbian and Gay Life, ed. A. Gluckman and B. Reed, 12 (New York: Routledge, 1997).
16. M.V.L. Badgett, “Beyond Biased Samples: Challenging the Myths on the Economic Status of Lesbians and Gay Men,” in Homo Economics: Capitalism, Community, and Lesbian and Gay Life, ed. A. Gluckman and B. Reed, 65–72 (New York: Routledge, 1997).
17. Baker, 12.
18. Baker, 12–13.
19. Baker, 13.
20. Baker, 13.
21. A. Gluckman and B. Reed, “The Gay Marketing Moment,” in Homo Economics: Capitalism, Community, and Lesbian and Gay Life, ed. A. Gluckman and B. Reed, 3–9 (New York: Routledge, 1997).
22. H. Kahan and D. Mulryan, “Out of the closet,” American Demographics (May 1995): 40.
23. J. Hardistry and A. Gluckman, “The Hoax of ‘Special Rights’: The Right Wing’s Attack on Gay Men and Lesbians,” in Homo Economics: Capitalism, Community, and Lesbian and Gay Life, ed. A. Gluckman and B. Reed, 209–222 (New York: Routledge, 1997).
24. S. France, “Niche Marketing: Why Pink Is the ‘In’ Color,” PR Week (July 7, 2000).
25. Baker, 14.
27. K. Sender, Business, Not Politics: The Making of the Gay Market, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 5.
28. Alexandra Chasin, Selling Out: The Gay and Lesbian Movement Goes to Market (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000), 92.
29. San Francisco Chronicle, “On the Record: Lowell Selvin,” sec. B, January 23, 2005.
30. Gluckman and Reed, 3-9; K. Sender, “Selling Sexual Subjectivities: Audiences Respond to Gay Window Advertising,” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 16 (1999): 172–196; K. Sender, “Gay Readers, Consumers, and a Dominant Gay Habitus: 25 Years of The Advocate Magazine,” Journal of Communication 51, no. 1 (2001): 73–99.
31. L. Peñaloza, “We’re Here, We’re Queer, and We’re Going Shopping!: A Critical Perspective on the Accommodation of Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Marketplace,” in Gays, Lesbians, and Consumer Behavior: Theory, Practice, and Research Issues in Marketing, ed. D. Wardlow, 34 (New York: Haworth Press, 1996).
32. PlanetOut Inc., “Sales Kit,” PlanetOut Inc., http://www.planetoutpartners.com (accessed May 15, 2003). This version of the PlanetOut Partners Sales Kit appeared on their corporate website from spring 2002 through summer 2003 and was downloaded on May 15, 2003.
33. PlanetOut Inc., 3.
34. PlanetOut Inc., 4–7.
35. Mark Elderkin, e-mail message to author, March 18, 2004.
36. PlanetOut Inc., 5.
37. PlanetOut Inc., 5–6.
38. PlanetOut Inc., 6.
40. Michael Wilke prepared these remarks to reflect his oral presentation at the Symposium on “Multiculturalism in the Marketplace” in October, 2006.
41. Alfred C. Kinsey, et al., Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1948).
42. Jason Ost and Gary Gates, The Gay and Lesbian Atlas (Washington, DC: Urban Institute, 2004). This book was a groundbreaking work on the demography of the GLBT community. Gates has continued and updated the data in other works.
43. “’Gay Vague’ is a term coined by Michael Wilke at Advertising Age in 1997 for ads that covertly speak to gays or seem to imply gayness with a wink—an intention advertisers often deny, or sometimes don’t even intend. This can include ambiguous relationships, blurred gender distinctions, wayward same-sex glances or touching, camp/kitsch, or coded references to gay culture (but not subliminal). Some ads convey different meanings in mainstream media versus gay media because of who is intended to look at it. An older term, “gay window,” was also used before the 1990s.” Quoted from Commercialcloset.org, “Gay Vague,” Commercialcloset.org, http://www.commercialcloset.org/cgi-bin/iowa/portrayals.html?mode=4 (accessed January 19, 2007).
44. The symbols superimposed on this and successive commercials indicate ratings of the portrayal of GLBT in advertisements. See http://www2.commercialcloset.org/cgi-bin/iowa/portrayals.html for more information.
Fig. 3. Amber Waves, June 2006, http://www.ers.usda.gov/AmberWaves/June06/Features/MeatProcessing.htm.
Fig. 4. Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, Dirty Girls Social Club (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2003).
Fig. 5. Courtesy Brown Daily Herald
Fig. 9. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 10. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 11. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 12. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 13. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 14. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 15. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 16. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 17. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 18. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 19. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 20. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 21. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 22. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 23. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 24. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 25. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 26. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 27. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 28. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 29. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 30. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 31. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 32. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 33. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 34. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 35. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 36. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 37. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 38. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 39. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 40. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 41. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 42. Courtesy Commercial Closet Association.
An expert in integrated marketing, his campaigns are defined by innovation and creative thinking. Whether launching a new product, managing a company’s reputation, or brand building among Hispanics and African Americans, his efforts produce compelling experiences that are consistent with lifestyle, tell a story, and drive unique relevant influences.
Armando has developed award-winning campaigns for a broad range of clients in diverse product categories. He has handled assignments for Azteca America, Univision, Televisa, Nintendo, US Treasury, US Army, Allstate Insurance, Absolut Vodka, Kohl’s, Islands of the Bahamas, Los Angeles Police Department, and Jafra Cosmetics.
Before joining the firm, Armando was Press Secretary to the Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. While in Washington, D.C., he worked on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and the Workforce Investment Act. Armando started his career as an advanceman for First Lady Nancy Reagan. Armando is also active in the community, serving on the board of directors of Padres Contra el Cancer, a nonprofit health organization affiliated with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles that serves the needs of Hispanic children and families with cancer.
Fully bilingual and bicultural, Armando has a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Dr. Chambers has presented his research into the African-American consumer market both nationally and internationally. His work has been published in books and journals in the United States and Europe. He has been invited to speak to gatherings of practitioners and academics throughout the United States, Canada, and Asia. He appeared on The History Channel discussing advertising issues, and his opinions have been sought by a variety of periodicals, including Forbes and Black Enterprise magazines. Dr. Chambers has also served as a consultant on advertising history programs appearing on the BBC. In addition, he has consulted with national nonprofit organizations and Fortune 100 companies as well as advertising agencies on matters of diversity, stereotyping, and various consumer issues.
His first book, African Americans in Gray Flannel Suits: African Americans in the Advertising Industry, 1920–2000, examines the employment and entrepreneurial experiences of blacks in the advertising industry, and will be published by The University of Pennsylvania Press in 2007.
In her previous role at P&G, Susan led a multifunctional team in the development and execution of an African-American strategic plan. Susan was responsible for outreach to African-American consumers by developing relevant advertising and building relationships with African-American vendors and agency partners. Under her leadership, P&G forged an agreement with two leading African-American agencies, creating more effective and integrated ways to meet the needs of African-American consumers.
Susan obtained a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Industrial Pharmacy from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and a B.Sc. in Pharmacy from the University of Connecticut. A native of Kenya, Susan returned to East Africa after college to begin her career at P&G in product development and then in brand marketing.
Susan’s passion and commitment extends well beyond advertising. As the recipient of a Jack Avrett Spirit Award from the American Advertising Federation, Mboya is making a tremendous difference in the lives of young people, especially young women. Susan is the founder of the Zawadi (“gift” in Swahili) program, a scholarship program that benefits needy young women from East Africa with scholarships to top colleges in the US. Susan has utilized her contacts at P&G and in Cincinnati to establish 15 full-time scholarships.
Wilke is Founder and Executive Director of the Commercial Closet Association, launched in New York City in 2001. The nonprofit organization educates advertisers and ad agencies for more effective and informed representations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in mainstream advertising.
Wilke was a business reporter at Advertising Age for four years, he won a 1998 GLAAD Media Award, and he was one of OUT magazine’s OUT 100 in 2001 for his extensive coverage of gay advertising issues. He has also written for The New York Times, Adweek, Brandweek, and The Advocate. Wilke has appeared widely on national TV news, internationally on CNN and the BBC, as well as on Entertainment Tonight and VH-1.
Wilke led the New York chapter of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association as its president from 1998 to 2000.
He studied journalism in New York City and, to this day, Wilke remembers way too many commercial jingles from his childhood.