Pink and camp; getting it wrong?

It seems South Africa has a long way to go in realising the power of gay spending. Everyone makes the right noises and seems to intellectually grasp that the gay market may be a lucrative one. It’s 10% of the population, by conservative estimates, and with an above average disposable income.

The “Power of the Pink Rand” is based on the assumption that gay couples usually have fewer expenses, such as children or non-working partners. (I’m talking averages here, before the gay dads and women CEOs come after me).

Gay people are also often early adopters, influencing a much larger group to buy the products and services that they do. But how many ads do you notice that specifically target you, as a gay man?

I remember, when I lived in the UK, seeing a poster in the tube station for a well-known facial moisturiser where the copy had been altered from the original “She thinks you look tired” to “He thinks you look tired”. And it wasn’t vandalism! There were two versions of the ad; one clearly for the hetero market, and the other for the gay market.

Now it wasn’t rocket science. How difficult is it to swap out a “she” for a “he”? I’m sure the ad agency didn’t spend weeks on it, or the client go bankrupt trying to fund the incessant brainstorming required. It was a simple gesture. And that simple gesture made me stop and think.

And that, quite simply, is the point of an ad: to make you stop and think “is this relevant to me?” By referencing something relevant to my life and context, the moisturiser immediately seemed more relevant to me.

Chandon: When you know he’s the one

It cut through the clutter because I knew it was talking to me. And it achieved more than relevance, it achieved an emotional reaction. I immediately felt goodwill towards the brand responsible for including me. (It shows how neglected we are as a group, that the mere act of trying to talk to us makes us feel grateful or validated.)

Those familiar with the art and science of branding will know that achieving a positive emotional reaction is the ticket. Consumers are heavily influenced by their emotions when making purchasing decisions; it is not simply a rational equation that goes on in their head.

So why do so few brands do it? We are a market with deep pockets, ready to reward anyone who even bothers to try and compete for our attention. It sounds like an easy and very profitable win.

I would imagine, sadly, that brand owners in South Africa are nervous that being seen as obviously targeting gay people will put off their straight market. Our society may well be so conservative that products or services that are seen to be “gay” are no longer “cool” for straight guys, and there is a kind of polarised view of the market that you can either appeal to straight guys or to gay guys, but not to both.

But more than that; successfully connecting with gay men and women is not as easy as deciding to target them in your media choice. Building an emotional connection with the gay market is nuanced, complex and difficult. The biggest mistake a brand can make in deciding to include gay people in its marketing is to treat the gay market as a single, cohesive and homogenous market segment. It is not a segment.

Avis: Domestic partner benefit

There are as many gay “segments” out there as there are straight segments (though I’m sure certain psychological commonalities would lead gay people to cluster in certain segments), and the gay market covers a great diversity of lifestyles, behaviours, and media consumption habits.

We do not all respond well to brands attempting to connect with us by “pinking” things up.

The fine line that brands need to tread when speaking to gay audiences is to acknowledge their sexuality through a nod to their context (like the moisturiser example, above) without assuming that their sexuality is the defining – or even an important – characteristic of their lives.

The gay market is rich with complexities and character. And it is a profitable place for brands to invest in relationships. But that means putting in the work and really getting to know people.

A quick lick of pink paint may sometimes work, but more often than not it could drastically reduce the size of the market by putting off both the straight consumers and the majority of gay ones.

Targeting gay people should be about making the communication seem personal and relevant, inclusive and cognisant of the fact that some men live lives with men, and women with women; but without confusing that sexuality with the key driving need that your product or service seeks to address. It is both a very big deal, and something quite subtle.

And it really makes sense to get it right…

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