In the pink

Discrimination against gays is not something that can be easily quantified or tested by market research. Perhaps we should be grateful, because we might not like what we find.

The Bank of Scotland discovered to its cost that agreeing to form a joint venture with homophobic American preacher Pat Robertson would turn out to be a public relations disaster. On the other hand, the Soho bomb was a chilling reminder that prejudice against gays runs deep. Judging by the media reaction, it also touched a guilty nerve in British society.

The Government may have appointed the first British Cabinet Minister who is openly gay, but being gay in Britain is to be part of a different community, which is perhaps why there are so many magazines and newsletters for gays and lesbians. And because of the resistance of mainstream publishers and official censorship, the gay community has a powerful tradition of underground production. That is one reason why the market is characterised by free publications distributed on the gay “scene” – the pubs and clubs that have become meeting points for the community.

The paid-for titles, Gay Times, Attitude and Axiom for gay men, Diva for lesbians, are swamped by the free titles, which include the Pink Paper, QX International, Boyz, Now, Fluid and a host of others. Both free and paid-for titles have a common staple of news, listings and sex. The mix of highly literate, cultural analysis and pornography can sometimes be comic. On one page of QX International, Geri Halliwell is criticised for her stale presentation of the virgin/whore paradox; a few pages later there’s an ad for QXhardcore, with a picture of a man graphically performing a sexual act over a lewd strapline.

This contradiction is typical of the market. Even though Northern & Shell editorial director Paul Ashford says that gay glossy Attitude is not really in the gay market – “We regard our competitors as the GQs and the Esquires,” he says – the magazine has its quota of sex-line ads with half-naked men and suggestive straplines. These sit alongside ads for Dockers, Reiss and Lagerfeld aftershave. Gay magazines mostly live up to the two most common generalisations applied to gay men: that they are uniformly devoted to high fashion and excessive amounts of sex.

Not everyone is comfortable with this image. While most of the gay publishing industry is happy that the demand for highly sexual magazines is being supplied, they also believe there should be room for other types of publications.

Terry Deal, advertising director at Millevers, publishers of Gay Times (which celebrated its 250th issue last month), says that the possibility of a new launch is something which they continually debate. However, Deal says: “We’d love to produce a glossy magazine that did not have any sex in it, but it’s not yet proven whether it would sell. There is no guarantee that we could get advertising support from mainstream advertisers, which is really the crux of the issue.”

Attitude problems

Gay Times certainly finds it hard to attract blue chip advertisers.

Ashford says that Attitude hasn’t had the same trouble, though others in the industry are more sceptical. But the cynicism that is often a characteristic of media is not directed at Attitude. Instead, many within the industry would like it to succeed.

David Bridle, general manager of Chronos Publishing, which produces the Pink Paper, is one of those who sees Attitude as a useful trailblazer. “We would like Attitude to succeed because clearly it has won over agencies to gay magazines in a way that needs to be done. Having said that, past editors have told me that there is a lot of explicit gay imagery which the advertisers simply do not allow, and the higher echelons of Northern & Shell do get involved in what goes on the cover.”

It is certainly an issue which is difficult to get advertisers to talk about. Calvin Klein, a brand which enjoys substantial popularity among the gay community, would not comment. A spokesman for British Airways, which was reported to be considering targeting holidays at the UK gay market following the success of a similar scheme in the US, denied the company had any such plans, and said that no one in the marketing department felt they had the “background” to discuss the issues.

The fragrance arm of fashion-label Diesel advertises in Gay Times, and the fashion side of Diesel advertises in Attitude. Paul Poole, marketing manager for Diesel fashion, says that his decisions on where to place advertising are based purely on a magazine’s ability to enhance the image of the brand.

“We advertise in Attitude because it stands up as a fashion publication in its own right,” says Poole. “I do look at circulation rates, but equally I look at the quality of the publication. We would not take out an advertisement in Gay Times because there isn’t any fashion in it.”

The other question is whether an Esquire-type magazine for the gay market would sell. Attitude claims to have sales of 75,000 in the UK and abroad. But others in the industry believe this is much lower and that no gay publication sells more than 60,000, and they cite the fact that the Northern & Shell title does not have an official Audit Bureau of Circulations figure.

Quality issues

Terry Mansfield, managing director of the National Magazine Company, which publishes Esquire, says his company would not launch a quality gay magazine. “As an international publisher I know it would not sell, there isn’t the market for it. It would be like trying to sell a magazine for ginger-haired women.”

Chronos Publishing’s Bridle says: “He may be right. I suspect the vast majority of wealthy gay men will not particularly need to identify with a magazine to reflect their interests. Where he may be wrong is the younger market, which might look at a product which is akin to FHM in a gay context, and I would be surprised if you couldn’t get agencies to come on board.”

Branding to the gay community

When it comes to naming brands, gender and sex seem to play a significant role. Cars with names like Jaguar and Cougar have traditionally appealed to men.

And where bras used to be given names like Monique and La Senza, now the language of girl power rules with Flaunt and Wonderbra.

Brand names seem to reflect the social trends of our time. But is this also true when it comes to the products, services and companies targeted at the gay community?

One thing is certain: the idea that you can target this market is an appealing one.

This is a market with a high disposable income: gay people are less likely to have children and more likely to have an active and sociable lifestyle. This is also a market that adopts the latest trends early – gays were the first to wear combat trousers and G-Star jeans – fashions which then moved into the mainstream.

The Terrence Higgins Trust former communications manager Tim Lawson says: “Gay people approach the world of brands as if they were browsing through a magazine rather than reading a novel. We get what’s new, get bored, and then we move on to the next thing a lot more easily than straight people.”

With this kind of attitude, clearly there is much money to be made from the sector.

However, this is as complex a sector as any other. Segmenting the market based on need-states, that is, recognising the fact that people want different things at different times – seems the best way of identifying what people will buy. Sexuality is just one of a variety of factors that affect why someone buys a service or product.

Having identified your market, how do you signify your offer?

Where there are lots of similar offers competing with each other, there is a real need for brand names that provide differentiation.

The names of gay nightclubs, for example, vary from the amusing to the suggestive to the downright pornographic: from Fairylea and Heaven to The Locker Room and Fist.

But where there is not the range of services on offer, brand names seem to be less important than the fact that these new services are on offer at all. For example, there has been a growth in the number of companies providing financial services specifically tailored to the needs of the gay market, but they are not differentiated by brand names.

Pensions company NPI has launched a fund designed to attract gay people. It guarantees that it will only invest in companies which have a progressive approach to gay issues. And finance company Ivan Massow successfully offers a whole range of products aimed at giving gay people real choices when it comes to pensions, insurance and savings products.

Another area that has grown significantly in the past few years is holidays – where the specific needs of gays are being met by companies such as Respect and Apollo.

Some brands do, according to design director Jonathan Davis of Talkvisual, appeal to the gay market – not necessarily because of their brand names but because they are “big, kick-ass brands like Galliano, DKNY, Dolce and Gabbana, Westwood and Hackett”.

However, there is a real antipathy towards overtly marketed brands. Davis says: “A lot of people reject the idea of being targeted because they are gay.”

It seems that while brand names can be successfully created to work in the gay market, it needs to be done sensitively. By focusing the creative process on the most compelling needs for this particular group, it will be possible to create brand names that are meaningful and acceptable to the gay market. There will certainly be a need for more brand names as the number of products, services and companies aimed at the gay market multiplies.

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