With consumer spending power so curtailed by the effects of the economic downturn, what marketer wouldn't be interested in targeting a group whose members earn more than the national average, spend it more freely and display significant brand loyalty?
Research by the Office for National Statistics in 2005 found there are 3.6 million gay people living in the UK. Their salaries, according to a study by Barclays in the same year, were significantly higher than average: gay men earned £34,168, compared with an average of £24,236, while gay women earned an average of £24,783 - 25 per cent more than the norm.
These income figures were updated by the Out Now 2008 Millivres Gay Market Study in May, which found gay men earning £31,099 and gay women £23,882. The slightly lower incomes may be reflected by the different sample - the research was drawn from readers of the three publications owned by the Millivres Prowler Group, GT (formerly Gay Times), Diva and the Pink Paper. But they still show that the gay community has a significantly higher income than heterosexuals - men by 20 per cent and women by 17 per cent.
Given that 41 per cent of the gay community holds a degree and that 13 per cent of men and 11 per cent of women are in management, their elevated salaries are hardly surprising.
So far, so promising. But despite the potential commercial benefits to be reaped from targeting the gay community, it's hard to find marketers operating with any consistent strategy in this sphere. Barclays has been sponsoring Stonewall Football Club and the International Lesbian & Gay Yachting Cup since declaring, in 2005, that it wished to be the "bank of choice for gay people". This was the year that legislation was passed that introduced civil partnerships - clearly a motivator for the bank.
Yet marketers of blue-chip brands have been committing more of their budgets to the gay media over the past few years. Although the print titles and websites do still rely on ads from smaller, gay-oriented products, including DVDs, sex toys and dating services, brands such as L'Oreal, Vauxhall, American Express and Johnson & Johnson have also been booking space.
"It's taken three years of banging on doors to get here," Trevor Martin, the marketing and sales director of QSoft Consulting, the owner of the online and radio brand Gaydar, says. "The passing of civil partnership legislation made a big difference - it felt like the establishment was endorsing gay lifestyles and made big brand owners feel more comfortable about being associated with our brands."
Gay magazines have moved down from their former "top-shelf" spot at newsagents. Titles such as Attitude, GT and Refresh, aimed at men, tend to sit next to the likes of Nuts, FHM and Men's Health. The gay women's title Diva can be found near magazines aimed at people from ethnic minorities, wedding titles and, somewhat oddly, puzzle magazines.
Ian Johnson, the founder of the gay marketing specialist Out Now Consulting, believes the market is still so fledgling that major brands that are seen to support it by advertising in the gay press receive a significant amount of loyalty: "Because this market has historically been ignored by marketers, those brands that are seen to be investing in the community can reap the benefits, as long as it's not just a case of running the gay flag up a pole and expecting gays and lesbians to stand and salute."
The sector has re-sponded to the growing commercial attention by diversifying, in both scale and media. QSoft launched a bar and club 18 months ago and is in the early stages of offering promotional activity in these venues as a cross-platform sell to its advertisers.
The maturing of the market over the past few years has also led to the launch of titles targeted at smaller niches. The website Puffta, for gay teenage boys, for example, was launched by Simon Johnson and is now owned by Millivres Prowler Group (Johnson has since moved to become a marketing manager at QSoft). Refresh magazine, launched in 2002, now rivals Attitude for the style end of the market - both titles attract the greatest number of big-brand advertising among gay titles.
But for all the marketers and media buyers who have bought into the argument that gay-specific media is the best place to target gay people, there are others who are sceptical.
Liz Bousfield, the group head at the media agency Mike Colling & Company, believes the gay media may be guilty of the type of stereotyping to which members of the community often object. Bousfield researched the gay market for her client the RSPCA, which was considering targeting the community to appeal for people to leave money to the charity in their wills.
"If there are 3.6 million gay people in this country, then the gay media serves a tiny proportion of them," Bousfield says. "There's a large skew towards the single, about-town gay man who spends all his available time partying. I know gay people don't all behave the same way, but it doesn't seem to be reflected in the media."
Mark Runacus, the chief strategy officer at Hicklin Slade & Partners, agrees, having worked on a campaign for a charity delivering information about HIV. He says: "The suggestion of treating gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals as one group is laughable. Even within gay men, you will find some very clear demographic and attitudinal groups."
Bousfield believes it is more effective to consider the uniting characteristics of income and lifestyle before sexual orientation: "Ads for brands such as Armani or Gaultier are very good at this - you can see that they appeal to people who appreciate the stylish imagery. Whether they are gay or straight is secondary to that. These brands may well book into the gay media, but the campaign encompasses plenty of mainstream media too."
Unsurprisingly, publishers in the gay media sector believe their brands offer the best way to target a community that identifies itself clearly as a group. "This is a very complex sector - it would be naive to think an ad in The Guardian would deliver the gay market en masse," Kim Watson, the media director of Millivres Prowler Group, says.
She quotes research carried out for the group in January that showed a low cross-over between readership of MPG titles and the mainstream press. "A higher proportion of our Pink Paper readers read the jobs section in the paper than that of The Guardian, for example," Watson adds.
And she disputes the idea that the gay media only cater for the most metropolitan, social gay people, pointing to the coverage of community and regional events in the Pink Paper. "This is a publication that appeals to everyone, from gay teenagers to parents and retired couples," Watson says.
Gay parents are a growing group worth the attention of marketers, Watson adds, as are gay professional groups. Diva has been carrying increasing numbers of ads for adoption agencies, although none of the large nappy brands has yet booked space.
The Gaydar owner QSoft is ready to acknowledge that not every gay person will appreciate the idea of cruising its websites for dates. In conjunction with Channel 4 and the media agency OMD Insight, it commissioned research in 2006 to discover more about the community's media habits.
Some of the findings serve to underline some stereotypes and explain the interest of certain sectors' marketers in the gay press - gay men were twice as likely to use moisturisers and face cleansers than straight men, for example. The community's reputation as early adopters was confirmed, with data showing a far higher proportion of gay than straight people owning webcams, MP3 players, plasma-screen TVs and home-cinema systems.
Gay men were more likely to confess to spending in a more impulsive fashion than straight men. They consequently held more average credit card debt (£2,145, compared with £1,807 among straight men).
But the research also unearthed three distinct groups of gay people. Two of these - "Gay Style Setters" and "Gay Pods" - were Gaydar Radio fans. But the third group - "Gay Homebirds" - were unlikely to read a gay magazine or listen to Gaydar, preferring media brands such as Classic FM, the BBC, TV Times and The Economist.
Matthew Todd, the editor of Attitude, believes that some of his rival titles have effectively become a "gay ghetto", either showing highly sexualised imagery or tak-ing an overtly political tone. Attitude, Todd says, tries to offer something different: "Gay men don't just want to drink pink Champagne. Our magazine is about showing how gay people are just part of society.
"We like to take a different stance. We'd cover issues about Section 28, for example, but not in an angry, campaigning way. We like to poke fun out of ourselves and keep a lighter tone."
Attitude has been the gay title that has earned the most publicity outside of its sector, having featured interviews with Tony Blair, David Beckham and Madonna, among other big names. It has also been successful in attracting major advertisers.
The gay media certainly performs a function for its advertisers, but some argue that the most effective targeting solution can be a well-thought-out combination of gay and mainstream media.
"The gay media generally offers the best-value cost-per-thousand, but there are opportunities in mainstream media," Johnson says. "The TV programme Project Runway, for example, has a high proportion of gay and lesbian viewers, so would be a good media target."
The outdoor specialist Clear Channel has created what it claims is a first in its media sector - a package of sites that can be used to target gay people. The Pink Pound Pack includes 800 six-sheet panels within 300 metres of gay bars and clubs across the country. In London, these are concentrated around Soho, the West End and Vauxhall. There are also eight of the larger Mega 6 sites along major roads leading to these areas. Clear Channel offers posters along the route of the 26 annual Pride events nationwide too.
Many marketers remain nervous that aligning a brand with the gay market in mainstream media will offend their heterosexual consumers, a point underlined by the actions of Heinz in June. The company withdrew an ad showing two men kissing after 215 people complained to the Advertising Standards Authority. A Heinz spokesman said at the time that the decision to stop screening the ad was taken because the company was "listening to customer feedback". The fact that the ASA subsequently ruled that the ad wasn't sufficiently offensive to the general public to justify banning it didn't change Heinz's policy.
It's an attitude that is only too familiar to Watson: "We still come across media buyers or marketers who will just say flat out that they're not interested in our media. There are definite 'shock, horror' undertones and it often comes down to the personal attitudes of individuals."
Nevertheless, MPG did "tone down" some of the overtly sexual content in its editorial and classified ads. "We have strict policies on visuals now, to protect our distribution and advertising contracts," Watson adds.
The Ford advertising and sponsorship manager, Mark Jones, is relaxed about any risk of aligning the car brand with the gay market, despite his company's problems on this score in the US (see box, page 13).
"We don't create bespoke ads for gay titles, which you could argue reduces the risk of heterosexual people becoming offended," he says. "The Heinz case seemed to be more about the content than the media placing. But no piece of marketing activity is 100 per cent controllable."
Michael is Joanna's brother. Once he had a crush on Johnnie and would moon around the house pretending he wanted to help with the children - until Johnnie told Joanna to tell Michael to stop it. He isn't old enough to remember the Stonewall riots, when gay men in New York - sorry, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in New York - took on the police and gave them a good beating. And being a bit of a fluffy bunny, he is only dimly aware that the global forces of reaction are gathering to try to take away what he foolishly assumes are his inalienable human rights. That doesn't mean he's stupid. Just shallow. Despite all the carefully cultivated camp glamour, his job is anything but. He's a competent senior manager in the accounts department at a gas company, earning more than £45k, with no-one to spend it on but Michael. He doesn't much like the gay scene, so he doesn't do Pride, he doesn't read the Pink Paper and he doesn't listen to Gaydar. His media consumption seems to revolve around Big Brother and a quick dip into London Lite.
Amro Worldwide is a travel agency set up by Andrew Roberts in 2002 to cater specifically for the gay market. Its marketing edge is that all the hotels it books clients into have been personally checked to ensure gay people will be welcome.
Although he is a supporter of gay media - and advertises in GT and Diva - Roberts branched out into a poster campaign in June this year to coincide with London Pride.
With financial contributions from the six US tourist boards from the regions the ads were promoting, he ploughed £20,000 - three years' worth of marketing budget - into buying up escalator and lift ads at the nearest Tube stations to the parade, Covent Garden and Leicester Square. Out Now Consulting was given the task of managing the process and creating the ads.
"To get sufficient cut-through in the gay press, you need to book a whole page and that is costly, considering the numbers of people you reach," Roberts says.
"By adding these poster sites, we (got) two million people passing our ads over the two weekends - and 100,000 gay men and women."
The creative for the London Underground poster campaign centred on the line "So gay", and subverted its increasingly common use as an insult.
"We wanted to send a clear message to everyone who sees this campaign that it is long past time that 'so gay' should be used as a negative phrase of disapproval," Roberts says. "From where we sit, and for all our many customers, being described as 'so gay' is not a negative thing at all. We think it is just great to be 'so gay'."
Early responses show that the campaign struck a chord - hits on Amro's website were 30 per cent higher than in the month before the campaign ran.
Ford found itself the subject of unwelcome headlines in 2005 when the American Family Association in the US objected to the car giant booking ads for its Jaguar/Land Rover marques (now sold) in gay media, prompting the company to withdraw them. This spat has had no effect on the media buying of its UK operation, however, which has continued to use the gay press, mainly for its sporty convertible models.
The latest campaign in which gay titles were included in the media plan was for the Kuga, a small SUV launched this summer. Ford booked double-page ads in Refresh, GT and Attitude.
But the Ford advertising and sponsorship manager, Mark Jones, explains that the titles' readers were targeted predominantly because of their "appreciation for strong design", according to their TGI rating, rather than their sexual identity. The same ad also appeared in a range of weekend supplement magazines. "It's a similar situation to our sponsorship of the London Pride football tournament," Jones says. "That came about as part of our sponsorship of grassroots football, rather than a specific intent to target the gay community."
The sexual content of gay magazines was "an issue", he adds. "But we had no problems with any of the gay titles we chose for the Kuga campaign."
LEADING MEDIA BRANDS
Prowler - TV Softcore gay adult films. Night-time screening only. Owned by MPG.
Attitude - The most high-profile gay title. Circulation:70,000. Owned by Trojan Publishing.
Refresh - A "lifestyle magazine that happens to be aimed at gay men", owner Wild Publishing says.
GT - The original gay magazine, launched in 1984 as Gay Times. Targets men over 25. Often campaigning. Circulation: 63,000. Owned by MPG.
Diva - Monthly magazine for gay women. Wide age profile, from teenagers to retired couples. Circulation: 55,000. Owned by MPG.
AXM - Monthly magazine for young gay men. Circulation: 45,000. Owned by MPG.
G3 - Free monthly celebrity and listings magazine for lesbians and bisexual women, published by Square Peg Media. Circulation: 40,000.
QX - Free listings magazine for gay men, owned by First Star. Distributed weekly in London bars and clubs. Monthly sister title QX Men is national.
Boyz - Weekly free magazine for gay men, distributed in London and Brighton. Circulation: 25,000.
Pink Paper - Fortnightly free paper, audience is 70 per cent male and content includes sports, motoring and arts from a gay perspective. Founded in 1987. Circulation: 43,000. Owned by MPG.
GaydarRadio.com - 339,400 weekly reach (530,608 monthly), according to Rajar.
Gaydar.co.uk - The dating site that spawned a brand. Owned (as are subsidiary brands) by QSoft Consulting.
GaydarGirls.com - Lesbian dating website.
GaydarNation.com - More of an online magazine than a dating site.
Pinknews.co.uk - News site focusing on political stories with a gay angle and celebrities. Owned by Pink Unlimited.
Puffta.co.uk - For teenage boys. Owned by MPG.