Decades after invisibility and reaching critical mass, a breakthrough July 1991 article in the conservative Wall Street Journal called the lesbian and gay community "a dream market." Today the American market is estimated to be valued at $835 billion in 2011 -- based primarily on U.S. population growth and steady 7% representation of gays and lesbians within the overall population.
In 2004, Commercial Closet reported that 36% of Fortune 100 companies advertised directly to the lesbian and gay market. Today, American corporations now spend about $307 million annually in gay print media, according to the 2011 Gay Press Report from Rivendell Marketing and Prime Access, which tracks 109 U.S. gay press publications. Much more is spent in sponsorships and online advertising, which the survey does not track.
Up to another $27 million is spent in online gay media, an estimated $20 million on Viacom-owned LOGO gay network, and over $6 million more spent annually on sponsorships in the gay community, per 2006 and 2007 Commercial Closet reports. A handful of advertisers, such as IBM and American Express, have sought the business-to-business market, targeting 800,000 to 1.2 million gay and lesbian-owned businesses, as estimated by the National Lesbian & Gay Chamber of Commerce.
Research and corporate interest in the gay market is increasing in North America and Australia, and modestly in various European countries (but not much elsewhere). However, due to politics, the closet and noncommittal interest, solid information on gays and lesbians is in short supply and they have remained difficult to survey. No one can say with certainty exactly how many lesbians or gays there are because they are rarely counted anywhere. (The U.S. Census says it cannot ask about sexuality until Congress recognizes gays as a federally protected minority.)
It is important to remember that the so-called "gay community" or "gay market" are not monolithic -- it is more of a confederation of individuals with identities as diverse as the general population. Gay men's buying habits have little to do with gay women's. Transgender and bisexual people may or may not identify as "gay."
Gay men may live in Chelsea, Fort Lauderdale or West Hollywood/WeHo, they may be nomadic truckers, own a home in the suburbs with a partner and child, they may be in a retirement home, or they could be struggling in the ghetto. Lesbians may own a vegetarian restaurant in Northampton, they may run a major media company, own a home in the suburbs with a partner and child, or they could be working at a discount store.
Gays and lesbians are also Hispanic, African-American, Asian, American-Indian, Caucasian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Morman, war veterans, retired, teenagers, Republican, Democrat, rural, suburban, and many other layers of identities. Like everyone else, they face issues of race, class, ethnicity, nationality, age, religion, health, and wealth -- mirroring that of the general population. So as always, be certain whom you want to speak to with your message, do good research, select your media outlets with care, and spend enough money to do your brand justice. And remember, "brand loyalty" is earned over time, not overnight.
But first, some information to help out...
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