×

Madison Avenue Recognizes Same-Sex Couples as Key Market Sector

Greg DiNoto hadn’t set out to change the course of Madison Avenue. He just wanted to get some attention for his client.

In 1994, DiNoto and a team of executives at Deutsch, an advertising agency that was developing a reputation for using brash humor in commercials, created an ad that was eyebrow-raising: In one of a series of new spots for Ikea, two men talked about how buying a new dining-room table was a sign of their deepening commitment. The ad was the first on mainstream U.S. TV to depict a same-sex couple as consumers whose tastes and wallets mattered.

The ad ran only on local stations in Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. — and only after 10 p.m. But DiNoto, who now heads his own advertising agency, remembers the reception for them. “The reverberations were significant,” he recalls. “There was a lot of press, and a lot of attention paid, both good and bad.”

These days, advertisers ranging from satellite broadcaster DirecTV to giant retailer Target to jeweler Tiffany & Co. know that ignoring gay consumers means cutting themselves off, potentially, from millions of dollars in discretionary spending. All have run commercials in recent years featuring same-sex couples.

The effort to include lesbian and gay couples is part of a broader industry effort to embrace a greater number of potential buyers in ads, ranging from interracial couples (General Mills’ Cheerios) to a family in which the father is an amputee (Procter & Gamble’s Swiffer).

“Some brands want to clearly communicate with younger audiences that they are contemporary, and the LGBT storyline is one of the most powerful things advertisers can use to demonstrate a contemporary point of view,” says Bob Witeck, who heads Witeck Communications, a D.C. consulting firm that helps companies communicate with gay and lesbian consumers.

Disposable personal income for the U.S. lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adult population in 2014 was estimated at $884 billion, according to an analysis commissioned by Witeck. The fear of backlash by other segments of the population has declined somewhat, say marketing executives.

Honey Maid, a brand of crackers owned by Mondelez Intl., last year ran an ad depicting a family comprised of two adult men and their children, along with other clans of differing backgrounds. “No matter how things change … what makes us wholesome never will,” says a narrator as the ad show various scenes of family life. The company also produced online documentaries about the people featured in the ad — a same-sex family, a mixed-race family, a military family, and a single dad. “We, like others, are recognizing the changing family dynamic in society,” notes Mondelez Intl. exec Gary Osifchin.

Deciding to feature same-sex couples in commercials does not come without risks. Wells Fargo launched a heartwarming spot earlier this year depicting a lesbian couple practicing sign language in preparation for their adoption of a deaf girl. “Hello, beautiful,” one of the women signs to the young girl. “We’re going to be your new mommies.”

Wells Fargo devised contingencies in case of negative comments on social media or even customer defections, says John Lake, LGBT segment manager for the financial-services firm. Some negative reaction did surface: Franklin Graham, chief executive of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Assn., urged people to pull money from the company. But Wells Fargo held its ground in statements emphasizing years spent working with LGBT customers and their desire for inclusion. “When you put work out like this, stand behind it strongly,” Lake says. “Don’t throw it out there and duck.”

Wells Fargo offers an accreditation program for financial advisers working with same-sex couples and their financial-planning needs, lending ballast to its marketing, Lake explains. Indeed, consumers are likely to gravitate to marketers whose outreach is authentic, not manufactured.

Pernod Ricard USA’s Absolut has advertised to gay and lesbian consumers for decades, says Jeffrey Moran, a vice president of public relations for the liquor concern. “You want to be spoken to in a language that you appreciate and understand,” he adds. Absolut vodka appeared in print ads aimed at gay consumers in 1979, and has sponsored “pride” and “coming out” events. Of the top 100 Absolut accounts in the U.S., he said, at least 15% are bars and restaurants catering to LGBT customers.

Ad executives expect more commercials to embrace these consumers. “Midcentury brands that have stuck to the same formula have lost relevance and lost an audience, and are becoming quite old and dated,” says Chris Garbutt, chief creative officer at the New York office of ad agency Ogilvy & Mather, which worked with Tiffany on a recent campaign featuring a real New York-based gay couple. “The world moves on,” he adds.

More Biz

  • United States President Barack Obama (L)

    Barack Obama on Kobe Bryant's Death: 'Nothing Is More Heartbreaking'

    President Barack Obama spoke about the heartbreaking deaths of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and the seven other victims of the shocking helicopter crash last month. “That loss is something that I know many are still grappling with — particularly, Kobe, because he was with his daughter and those families and those children. And those [...]

  • Kobe Bryant Dead

    How to Get Tickets to the Kobe and Gianna Bryant Memorial Service

    The Los Angeles Lakers have announced that fans that wish to attend the public memorial of Kobe and Gianna Bryant can register for tickets online beginning Friday. The memorial will take place at 10 a.m. on Feb. 24 at Los Angeles’ Staples Center. Kobe and Gianna Bryant were among the nine killed in a helicopter [...]

  • R Kelly Sexual Assult Accusations Mugshot

    R. Kelly Hit With New Charges Alleging Sexual Abuse Against a Minor

    R. Kelly has been hit with new federal charges in Chicago, alleging that he sexually abused a minor female for four years, beginning in 1997, according to the Chicago Tribune. The superseding indictment, which was made public Friday, alleged Kelly sexually abused a girl who was identified as “Minor 6.” Kelly is already in prison [...]

  • ViacomCBS

    Third Point Adds Stakes in ViacomCBS and Amazon

    Investor Dan Loeb has added small stakes in ViacomCBS and Amazon to the portfolio of his Third Point LLC investment firm during the final months of 2019. Third Point disclosed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Thursday its ownership of shares in the newly merged Redstone empire and the high-flying e-commerce behemoth. Loeb [...]

  • Plume of black smoke rising from

    Universal Music Denies Accusation That It Is Downplaying Damage in 2008 Archive Fire

    The day after Universal Music Group revealed that it is planning an IPO within three years, an attorney for four artists who have claimed to have lost recordings in a 2008 fire that destroyed thousands of assets in the company’s archives has accused UMG of “gamesmanship” and downplaying and refusing to reveal the extent of [...]

  • Eric Braeden celebrates his 40th Anniversary

    TV Iron Man Eric Braeden Marks 40 Years on 'Young and the Restless'

    If not for a tennis game with actor Dabney Coleman in the late 1970s, Eric Braeden might never have landed his signature role as conniving business mogul Victor Newman on CBS’ “The Young and the Restless.” Braeden, 78, has become an Iron Man of daytime soaps who will mark his 40th anniversary on “Y&R” with [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content