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Gay Consumers See Themselves as Tastemakers, Prefer Gay-Friendly Companies, Says Study

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday May 13, 2008
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The 2008 Prime Access / Planet Out Gay and Lesbian Consumer Study shows that the GLBT community buys products and services from gay-friendly companies early and often.

The study, based on the results of a questionnaire answered by 1,502 respondents from "the general population," as well as 575 respondents from the "gay and lesbian population" for a total of 2,259 respondents, is touted as "one of the largest and most comprehensive studies of gay and lesbian consumer habits and brand perceptions" yet assembled, according to the overview of the study’s highlights.

The study showed, among other things, that gays and lesbians are strongly influenced as to whether to go out of their way to find a product, and to buy products, depending on whether they see people like themselves depicted in the product’s ads.

Gays and lesbians also regard themselves as tastemakers, claiming to "adopt" products earlier than other demographics and to be more likely to be consulted by others for their opinions.

One of the first highlights of the report is how companies are perceived. Bravo Networks, Showtime, and HBO are all ranked among the top four among companies perceived by gays and straights alike to be "gay-friendly."

Showtime aired the gay drama Queer As Folk for five seasons; HBO claims Six Feet Under as one of its critically acclaimed programs.

Apple Computers also made the top four list; Apple is the sponsor of a long-running series of ads that feature a middle-aged man, played by John Hodgman, who is meant to represent a PC, and a stylish 20-something man, played by Justin Long and intended to represent a MacIntosh computer. The ads are frequently characterized by a flirtatious undercurrent between the two characters.

Levi’s also ranks high in the ratings, possibly in part due to the company having created both a gay and straight version of an eye-catching ad last year. The straight ad was aired on the larger networks, and the gay version appeared on select cable channels; except for the ending, in which a young woman was shown walking off with the handsome, male central character clad in Levi’s in the straight version, and a young man shown heading off with the ad’s main character in the gay edition, the two versions were identical.

Target was another company perceived to be gay friendly, as were American Express, Starbucks, American Airlines, Saturn, Subaru, and Bacardi.

The report also listed companies perceived by both gay and straight consumers to be the most gay-unfriendly, including WalMart, which has been in the news for refusing to offer family benefits to the same-sex partners of gay and lesbian employees; Dunkin’ Donuts; and Exxon Mobil.

Other companies perceived as gay-unfriendly were BP, Gillette, Cadillac, Kraft, Olive Garden, Sears, Quaker, Samsung, Frito-Lay, and Cracker Barrel.

And while three-quarters of the respondents from the general population said that their choice of products and services would not be affected by whether or not a company was seen as gay-friendly, over two-thirds of gay and lesbian respondents said that they would be more likely to buy from companies they see as friends to their community.

Gays and lesbians also overwhelmingly said that the single factor that defines their sense of their own identities was their sexual orientations: far more so than economic status, religion, race, or even gender.

A landmark study on gay and lesbian consumer habits published last year by Community Marketing, Inc., echoed many of the findings by the new report issued by Prime Access and Planet Out, including findings that gays and lesbians express a preference for buying from companies that they see as gay-friendly.

A Brandweek study of the buying power and buying habits of American lesbians claimed last year that the purchasing power of American GLBTs runs into the hundreds of billions--$700 billion, to be precise.

The new Prime Access and Planet Out study’s highlights had a few other surprises, as well, including the result that about three-quarters of both the general population and the gay and lesbian population are opposed to "outing" celebrities and politicians who may be concealing a gay identity... unless, that is, the closeted person in question is against equal civil rights for the GLBT community. In that case, nearly two thirds of gay and lesbian respondents said the celebrity should be outed, while only about one third of the general population said the same.

When it came to politics, 93 percent of gay and lesbian respondents reported that they were registered voters, compared to 89 percent of the general population; 69 percent of gays and lesbians weighed in as Democrats, compared to 38 percent of the general public; and gays and lesbian respondents were more than twice as likely to consider themselves to be liberal than respondents from the general public (62 percent among gays and lesbians compared to 28 percent from the general population).

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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