Friday Forum

When Companies Target Gays, Is It Support? Or Savvy Marketing?


FRIDAY FORUM — Skeptics that we are, we have a weird feeling toward corporations who target the gay community. On the one hand, we love the attention, and that they spend large sums to reach the GLBT audience represents a type of affirmation — that we’re important enough to be cared about. On the other hand, such “outreach” sometimes strikes us as a company just going after the gay dollar because it’s there, and they know slick marketing and gay-targeted campaigns appeal to our sense of vanity. When it comes to Absolut, we feel it both ways.

We love that they sponsor our gay pride parades, support gay media, and proudly insert their brand to any gay bar that will take ’em. And sometimes it feels like overkill. But if you look at Absolut’s “commitment” to the gay community (that’s marketing speak for their constant spending in the gay market), you’ll see a trend: Absolut was among the first brands to embrace the gays. Sure, it was because we were an untapped consumer market, but while other companies feared associating with us would drive away their consumer base (and have the American Family Association call for a boycott!), Absolut took a chance.

That was back in 1981, some 28 years ago, and clearly it’s paid off, because now Absolut is honoring 40 years of gay pride (with the Stonewall Riots as the demarcation) with this new “limited edition” (hah) rainbow pride bottle as part of its “Colors” campaign. It’s pretty and flashy and contains the same adult beverage we’ve always enjoyed. Undoubtedly, it’s a marketing gimmick to get gays to buy more Absolut. But is it something more? Absolut’s press folks would like us to believe it represents the brand’s commitment to the community. Are you buying?

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  • marc

    It’s both.

  • PW

    I prefer Absolut’s approach to getting my gay money vs. ads that other companies run with two guys standing next to each other that is supposed to read as gay.

    (I like the disco bottle promotion more than the rainbow bottle, for the record.)

  • strumpetwindsock



    I wouldn’t be offended. It’s them recognizing that we are a demographic large enough and wealthy enough to pay attention to.

    It’s a show of our power, especially when you consider that some of them are surely gritting their teeth and showing up on our doorstep with flowers despite some ingrained homophobia.

    It’s not like they’re picking our pockets and taking our money without our say so.

  • Chris

    I feel like this blog has sort of gotten contrary for the sake of being contrary. Yeah, businesses are out to make money. They don’t do anything just to help anyone ever. You cracked the code.

    But by specifically targeting gays, and advertising in gay publications and at gay events, and by sponsoring gay charities, they’re still giving to the community, even as they expect to get it all back and more. And targeting Absolute with this question is pretty foolhardy, since Absolute tends to be a staunch supporter of gay rights. Why not, instead, target cigarette companies that try to advertise to gay communities, who, by and large, then turn around and give their money to Republican candidates?

  • Alec

    Maybe it would be better to criticize companies that have anti-gay policies. Like when Exxon merged with Mobile and rescinded their domestic partnership benefits.

    That seems more problematic to me.

  • strumpetwindsock


    When do advertisers NOT behave like pandering sluts (the exception being the odd campaign which is actually smart and classy)?
    It’s not like we’re getting treatment that’s significantly different from the straights, or any other target group they try to reach.

  • Puck

    Yes, Yes I am buying, they have a great ads, a great rep and have decent vodka at uni student prices. They are taking a loss on the bottle itself, its much more expensive than their normal one. Ive gone through 3 of them now and will probably be buying a fourth in the next week.

    Some companies do take advantage of our gay dollar, research what other ads they run or what their other commitment policies are, than choose to purchase. It’s like chryslers gay print ads versus their homophobic tv ad. I won’t even look at chrysler car. hmm. maybe thats why their declaring bankruptcy.

  • Tony

    Money = Power. I am glad that they see that we in fact have power.

  • Adam

    @Chris: You nailed it. Nowadays, this blog seems more interested in generating controversy than ‘covering the agenda’, as it were. This particular post–at a time when those of us LGBT individuals in corporate America are struggling to get our employers to market to the LGBT community, get them to sponsor LGBT events, support LGBT philanthropic activities, AND support workplace equality–was particularly vapid. To essentially say, “Don’t bother with us, we know you’re only in it for the money” is to shoot yourself in the foot.

  • Kris.

    Money is power. Corporations rarely hold any social affiliations outside of money, and so, we are a demonstrably powerful consumer market with a higher disposable income and a distinguished market segment.

    Honestly, I don’t care if it’s the money they love, because when it comes down to it, if they love money, they love us. It’s the ultimate realization of our power as a social group: buying power is supreme in the corporate world.

  • Michael G.

    The best part about the new for contrarian sake Queerty is not knowing which writer produces this tripe. In the past, readers could direct their distaste to a specific person. Anonymity is a great shield Mr. Hauslaib.

  • headbang8

    I’m a gay man in the ad biz. I don’t work for Absolut, so I can’t speak with any authority about their strategy. But here’s my take on it.

    Let’s not kid ourselves. There’s no way that a mass-market brand investing in the gay community pays off in standard commercial terms.

    Self-identifying gay men comprise between four and six percent of the male population, lesbians probably about half that. Though gay men drink a lot of vodka, we’d all have to drink it 24/7 to sustain Absolut’s volume.

    We may not be a large target, but are we so cheap dates that an investment will show good return? Queerty will confirm that even the most widely read gay media find ROI difficult to prove. As a population, we’re too diverse, and read/watch too many different things. Gay people, as a group, are actually pretty hard to reach without rather a lot of fragmented media purchases over small publications. Further, we consume mainstream media too, which means that a marketer will reach the gay population without any need to use gay vehicles.

    (I know the Queerty people will crucify me for saying that, but…)

    Are gay men opinion leaders? Have we metrosexualised the Absolut brand, so that it appeals to upmarket straight men? This no doubt formed a plank of Absolut’s strategy.

    But the famous TBWA ad campaigns played a significant role in that, too. As did normal control of distribution channels, in the beginning. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but Absolut’s targeting of those with a taste for the visual arts may have metrosexualised them as successfully as their support for the gay community did.

    I think mass-market companies which address the gay community do so for the same reasons they support any cause. Goodwill.

    Airlines were among the first large marketers to sponsor gay events. Why? Because we travel more than anyone else? Or to create goodwill amongst their significant minority of gay employees? Do alcohol marketers target the gay consumer, or the significant minority of gay bar-owners whose first-pour policy they need?

    Unquestionably, goodwill provides a commercial return, but it’s tough to quantify. Few companies justfy it with hard financial figures–they simply know that it’s a good thing to do, and that the karma will pour good things on their bottom line, someday, somehow.

    That Absolut decided to support the gay community as far back as 1981, suggests that there may have been activist corporate policy at work, rather than shrewd accounting. Remember, intil recently, the brand was owned indirectly by the Swedish government. The Swedes sold Absolut’s parent company to Pernod Ricard in 2008, who obviously recognise that gay solidarity is now part of the brand’s DNA.

  • Powerbottom Philly

    This is the most ludicrous attempt at baiting an audience by Queerty yet, and completely indicative of why I read this blog so rarely anymore.

    Absolut has POURED vodka and money all over the LGBTQ community for a long, long, long time. They’ve sponsored events all across the country. What more do you want? Them to come to your home and rim you? Does that make them gay-friendly?

    Something sinister tells me this is some attempt at an “advertorial” shakedown…And I don’t really like it. Consumers, gay or straight, have enough information at their disposal to make intelligent decisions when they buy products. Any company, no matter what their business, is interested in making a buck. To make a buck, you have to appeal to consumers. You entice, seduce and mesmerize them into buying your wares. At least with Absolut – and other brands we are all familiar with – you know your not pumping money into some Dick Cheney crony pocket.

  • jake

    @Michael G.: It’s not just goodwill – they are not asking the “gay community” to sustain the brand…they are maximizing their reach. Magazines for a primarily gay audience sell space at a much lower rate than other larger magazines for a diverse audience. Are you going to see a big brand at the Superbowl reaching out to a gay audience? No. Speaking specifically for Absolut – they have an image of being all-inclusive, non-alienating.

    It comes down to the bottom line mostly. They want to sell, which is that businesses really want to do with everyone – they don’t have a preference. The power is owned by the buyer, not the seller and they recognize this. This article is actually quite stupid. Business never chooses their audience…they can position, but that may not work. They have to listen to what’s out there.

  • ML

    Stupid story.

    Corporations don’t have friends. They simply choose the markets they wish to exploit in hopes that they will make money. Some choose to court the LGBT market and others don’t. Pretty simple. It’s called capitalism.

  • Attmay

    @Alec: I agree. As long as these companies are not actively anti-gay, I couldn’t care less if they “love” me. I only care that they make a product that is worthy of my money.

  • strumpetwindsock


    As you say, goodwill. The ad doesn’t just speak to gays, but to sympathetic straights as well.

    And it ain’t such a great idea to bite the hand that feeds you. If you’re going to question somebody’s ad campaign, perhaps look at the ads accepted by this site which are geared to a straight audience.

  • strumpetwindsock


    Not only.

    It’s about buying your beer, bacon and shoes too.

    It’s also about keeping your newspapers, magazines and television stations in business.

    Advertising may be lowbrow (usually) but it is a necessary part of the system and most of us benefit from it in ways we don’t know.

    I buy advertising, and I don’t consider myself callous. It works, too.

  • Michael G.


    I am pragmatic about gay advertisements by large corporations. If this ad came from a traditionally hostile corporation, I could see a point to write an article about that ad and company.

    Instead, Queerty is makes a moot point about Absolute to generate controversy, and theoretically, readership. If Absolute had pulled all LGBT ad funding there would be a story. Except, Absolute produces a commemorative bottle (at no extra cost to you), and Queerty shits itself. Absolute is screwed either way because gay guys love to look a gift horse in the mouth.

    My real issue, if you had read my comment, was that Queerty doesn’t attribute these articles to a specific writer. Is this article from the editorial director, the daily editor, or some dumb intern? If you write crap, stand behind it with your name, not your brand.

  • Dave

    They care. And it’s business. But I would never buy a bottle like that.

  • TANK

    Why not? Nothing says gay pride like vodka…or drinking…a lot.

  • hardmannyc

    yawn. This argument was settled long ago. yes, corporations are blood-sucking demons. That said, if they support us, they are relatively beneficent blood-sucking demons.

    When corporations sponsor Pride parades, Circuit parties and buy ads in gay media, they are enabling the Gay Agenda with their marketing dollars. And for that, we thank them with our trade.

  • sal

    hey does absolute have non alcoholic drinks??

  • sal


  • jason

    I’m sorry to say this but we in the gay community are amongst the most vain, consumer-driven individuals on the planet. We’re also mindless appearance fascists. All in all, the gay community has become superficial, vain and consumption-driven.

    Is it any wonder that we are vulnerable to marketing?

  • Jurassic-She-Male

    Duh! No business, corporation loves anyone. They ALL love money and thats it. They exist for money.

  • strumpetwindsock


    Guess what… we all exist for money.

    Unless you live in a cave and eat bugs, that is.

    Money may not be the centre of our lives (actually it isn’t for every company, either) but like it or not, you don’t get far without it.

    And actually it wouldn’t be a very interesting world if there were no advertising, either.

  • Jurassic-She-Male

    I live in a cave and eat bugs. the end.

  • Archrr

    Umm, Absolut is a liquor brand, not an alternative to your local glbt outreach centre. What exactly are they supposed to do better?

  • TANK

    Fund a scholarship for queer youth, maybe. And if circuit parties are a part of the “gay agenda,” count me out. Barf.


    @sal: Non-alcoholic vodka? Seems a bit pointless.

  • GranDiva

    I started as an Absolut queen, but by the time I had to quit drinking, I’d moved through Stoli to Skyy (or truth serum, as certain drag queens know it).

  • TANK

    stoli is infinitely superior to absolut…and not just in price.

  • The Lesbian Mafia

    Absolute tastes like turpentine and is about as relevent at shoe polish.

  • VegasTeaRoom

    Firstly, I love Absolute the company. I was one of their event bartenders in So Cal for years. But ya gotta realize its a COMPANY. And thank God, we have no real counter-market. If 30 million ignorant Bible thumpers put down the good book and picked up a good cocktail we’d be FUCKED!

  • mention

    cheap vodka is better.

  • echelon

    Any company that targets their product/service to a specific community is obviously trying to make a buck. Let’s not be deluded. But there is also a silver lining with Absolut’s support where they have supported Gay Media for decades. Supporting our media is essential for so many reasons. Kudos to Absolut! You can put Anderson Cooper on the bottle and I would still buy it.

  • hardmannyc

    @mention: no it’s not. Trust me, I drink enough to know the difference.

  • Robert, NYC

    I wouldn’t be so cynical about Absolut. Its a Swedish vodka and Sweden as of May 1, 2009 granted marriage equality to its gay citizens. Way to go Sweden and Absolut!

  • bb

    At the end of the day, if I don’t know them personally and if they’re not doing some backstabbing (e.g. sponsoring these events even as they fire workers for being gay), I don’t really care why they’re nice to me. I gotta buy SOMEBODY’s vodka (well, actually, I don’t — whiskey’s my drink, but that’s not the point), and it would be absurd to say that Smirnoff really loves its customers, but Absolut’s just in it for the money. Don’t ever forget that it’s always about the money: when they appeal to you as a man or a woman, an American, a young person, a left-handed person, a grey-haired person, it’s always about the money. I just do my best to give my money to corporations that aren’t going to turn around and give that money to Prop 8, or for that matter toward building more sweat shops, and I’d like to think that the initial willingness to tap us as a group had at least some basis in a belief that we had a right to exist openly as people.

  • TANK

    Well, stay away from jack daniels…as they’re owned and distributed by a homophobic company. Stick to maker’s mark or a small batch bourbon of higher craftsmanship if you’re going to drink bourbon…ideally, you’d stick to scotch…at least I would ;).

  • spindoc

    I don’t care why they are courting us. It is rare that companies move in a new direction out of the goodness of their hearts. Minorities have often not gotten represented in ads, or targeted by companies until they companies see that there is money to be made. Stop worrying about weather or not they love us. I’d rather have them respect us or fear our monetary backlash if they DON’T target us.

  • Puck

    Absolut sponsors lots of Queers on Campus groups, they also provide alcohol for LGBT fundraising venues. They also have a good internship program. Also they are main staple on the LGBT Film Festival Circuit, not really the circuit party circuit

  • Casper O

    I can give you an inside scoop;
    The decision of for that campaign was made before they got sold to Pernod, so i can guarantee that it was a sincere decision as it was still made by the Stockholm office people, who are very gay friendly.

  • Casper O

    and for people who argue if the vodka is any good
    any person who has ever worked in a bar knows that absolut is only good for mixing, and has super results as a mixing vodka. however if you wanna drink pure or stiff drinks, go for something like Russian Standard, cheap but hard to get.

  • dgz

    @Casper O:
    yes; the entire CITY of Stockholm is extremely gay-friendly.

    i can’t believe Queerty is biting this hand that feeds. i feel so sorry for the people at Absolut whose integrity is being mistaken for avarice.

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