Think "gay" and who springs to mind? Will from Will & Grace, perhaps? Or Little Britain's only-gay-in-the-village Daffyd? Or the flamboyant Graham Norton? Given that there are an estimated three-and-a-half million gays and lesbians living in the UK, very little is known about these consumers and whether these famous gay icons are representative.
In fact, the main tag the media industry uses to describe this audience is "GLBTs" (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender), as if it is one amorphous group. What research shows, however, is that these consumers are a potential goldmine, with a high disposable income largely free from the pestering power of kids. According to research by GT (formerly Gay Times and Diva magazine, the UK's gay and lesbian community earned more than £70bn in 2005 and spent more than £800m buying CDs. Research by OutNow Consulting suggests that gay workers' salaries outstrip those of their straight counterparts by up to £10,000 per year.
Due to the dearth of research on this potentially lucrative market, David Muniz, commercial director of QSoft Consulting, owner of the Gaydar brand, approached OMD Insight last year to undertake a £20,000 research project, called Outright, in conjunction with Channel 4. He claims UK advertisers ignore this market, in stark contrast to their US counterparts, who pursue the pink pound aggressively and successfully.
Helen Croxson, head of marketing and ad sales research at Channel 4, agrees: "There's a certain arrogance that exists in targeting this market; the thinking is that if you target young men, you'll get the gay men. That could be true, but you also want to make sure you don't alienate them. We did this research to understand our audiences better, but also because it's a sizeable minority that nobody really understands."
Overview of the market
According to Ian Johnson, managing director of OutNow Consulting, more and more big brand advertisers, from Barclays to British Airways, are showing an interest in this group. His research suggests that in most modern economies, gay and lesbian consumers account for 6% of the market, while OMD estimates the UK GLBT market is as much as 10%.
Certain factors make targeting this once-closeted group easier too, such as the introduction of gay partnership ceremonies in December 2005.
The fact that many gay people appear to be coming out at an earlier age, as society becomes more tolerant, is also making them a more defined group.
"They are more reachable than ever before, with a far higher number of media options to render this not just a 'viable' consumer group to target, but an essential one," says Johnson. "The gay market is simply too large and lucrative for big business to ignore any longer."
Beyond the stereotype
The danger of reading general headlines is that they give the false impression that GLBTs are all the same. But as Next Big Thing's founder and trends analyst William Higham points out, segmentation is vital if marketing is to be successful.
"The problem is that the bisexual and transgender segments are so small, it's harder to run research in that area, and the lesbian market is also not as well-researched. Marketers are still very unaware of this market's strength," he says.
Diva and GT research, for instance, showed that lesbians outspent UK gay men in 2005 on mobile bills and magazines; they are also more likely than gay men to take a honeymoon.
But Chris Sanderson, co-founder of consumer insight consultancy The Future Laboratory, believes age is actually the most important demographic.
"Sexual preference is no longer as life-defining as it was for those who lived through social exclusion, prejudice and legal inequality. If your primary target group is under 35, don't even think about sexual orientation when formulating strategy," he says.
The stereotypical lifestyle of a GLBT person, particularly the gay male, is typified as shop-ping for the latest fashion and technology, jetting off on city breaks, enjoying the finer things in life, partying hard during the night and waking up the next morning to cleanse, tone and moisturise.
While an exaggerated portrait, Outright did support many of these stereotypes, showing that some cliches do exist. Gay men are more concerned about their appearance, for example, spending almost double on cosmetics at £30 a month compared to the average straight man, who spends £16.
One of the trickiest challenges for brands and media agencies is navigating their way through these cliches and working out what "gay-friendly" means.
According to Outright's feedback, a large number of respondents have encountered harassment, ridicule and discrimination, while 40% have suffered verbal and/or physical abuse.
Consequently, they are more likely to be receptive to media that is inclusive and sensitive, using positive images of gay people. Jo Rigby, head of OMD Insight, picks out Ikea's discreet references to gay people in one ad campaign showing an all-male dinner party situation as an execution that appealed to respondents.
Outright also reveals that this group is, unsurprisingly, sensitive to stereotypes. "They hated ads that play up to a gay stereotype in order to be humorous," she says. Muniz adds that, although print has traditionally been seen as the way to reach the gay consumer, he believes digital marketing is more effective in today's wired market.
Outright - the results
The online survey canvassed the views of 18,000 gay respondents aged from 18 to 34, recruited via Gaydar, whose opinions were compared to a control panel of 4,000 straight respondents. Despite OMD's efforts to reach across the entire GLBT group, the vast majority of respondents were gay men. Muniz adds that the next challenge for the second round of Outright is to find other segments, particularly among the lesbian audience.
Questions ranged from what they like to spend their cash on, their spending power and how much discrimination they have encountered on account of their sexuality. The research identified three main clusters, identified below.
LIFESTYLE STATISTICS FROM OUTRIGHT RESEARCH
- 70% love a great night out drinking and partying
- 45% spend money without thinking
- 52% love their gadgets and appliances to reflect their sense of style
- 69% are more concerned about their appearance than straight people
- 63% prefer to investigate and book holidays/travel online
- 60% prefer holidays away from tourist hotspots, with 33% feeling more comfortable going to gay-friendly resorts
- Gay people are more likely to splash out on a dream holiday, spending more than £2,000
- Gay consumers take an average of four flights a year, compared to straights who take three
- Out of all holiday types, gay consumers are most likely to have taken a city break in the past year
- 85% say that music is an important part of their lives, with 51% saying they like to be well informed about new music releases
- 47% of unmarried gays would consider getting married, compared to only 37% of straight people
MEDIA CONSUMPTION TRENDS IN THE GAY COMMUNITY
- More than a third of gays and lesbians claim to be more loyal to brands that are "gay-friendly"
- Half believe that, if companies advertise to the gay market, they should tailor their advertising accordingly
- Internet, TV and radio are the preferred modes of communication
- Channel 4 is the gay market's favourite TV channel, followed by BBC1 and, jointly, ITV and E4
- 98% of respondents are online more than twice a week
- 79% listen to radio
- 78% felt Channel 4 was the bravest channel in covering gay and lesbian issues, while 57% said it was best at representing their community
- Men's style magazines have more gay male regular readers (12%) than straight males (9%)
THREE MAIN GAY CONSUMER GROUPS
19% - Famous gay style-setter: Graham Norton
This group lives up to the common stereotype of the flamboyant, exuberant exhibitionist but, as Channel 4's head of marketing Helen Goxson says: "They do not make up the majority; they are just the most visible."
They max out their credit cards to ensure they have the clothes and accessories du jour. They like to stand out in a crowd and be seen at the best clubs, they work hard on their appearance in the gym and listen to cutting-edge music. "This is the group that prompts us to talk about the gay market as one homogenous mass and what people think of when they consider targeting the gay consumer, but we've got to remember that they make up only 19% of the market," says QSoft's commercial director David Muniz.
- TV: Bad Girls, Desperate Housewives, Big Brother, Shameless
- Radio: Gaydar Radio, Kiss FM
- Magazines: Q, GQ, Attitude - they read gay magazines regularly
- Brands positive towards: Bang & Olufsen, Clarins, CK, Alton Towers, Starbucks, Sony PlayStation, Hugo Boss
41% - Famous gay pod: Rupert Everett
This group is the most representative, according to the Outright research. Though slightly less fashion-focused than the style-setters, they still shop at Selfridges and Habitat to fill their apartments with the latest gadgets. They will undoubtedly have technology such as surround sound in their homes and own a state-of-the-art camera. They love music and are seldom without their iPods.
"Gay pods don't go out partying and club-bing as much as the style-setters. They are more interested in spending time with friends and going to movies. They're more likely to be in a nesting phase, too, owning and furnishing their own homes," says QSoft's Muniz.
- TV: The Paul O'Grady Show, Little Britain, Grand Designs, The Simpsons, Will & Grace
- Radio: Gaydar Radio, Radio 1
- Magazines: Heat, Diva, Refresh
- Brands positive towards: Nivea, Lynx, BA, Lacoste, HMV, Virgin Megastore, Canon, Sony, iTunes, Habitat
40% - Famous gay homebird: Stephen Fry
Muniz puts himself in this group, describing the gay homebird as slightly older, more likely to be in a relationship and more financially secure. "They don't necessarily identify themselves in gay mass media and don't specifically read gay press. Targeting them is more about their interests," he says.
- TV: BBC 1 News, Channel 4 News, Newsnight
- Radio: Classic FM
- Magazines: TV Times, Practical Photography, The Economist
- Brands positive towards: Eurostar, Nationwide, Wilkinson Sword, Olympus, easyJet, Tesco.