When Did Major Advertisers Stop Caring About the Gays?

Head to your local gay pride parade (in a major city) and you’re certain to see some blue chip advertisers showing off how full of pride, and desperate for gay dollars, they are. Last time I checked, Absolut still funneled a good chunk of change putting shirtless hotties in front of their brand name on a float. But across the board, are major corporations — once flush with cash to court your cash — abandoning the queers in droves?

Chiqui Cartagena, a multi-culti marketing exec at the firm Story Worldwide, found herself in New York at the gay and lesbian film festival NewFest … and searching for major advertisers supporting the ‘mo arts. And while Marc Jacobs had his name plastered all over everything, regular staples like American Express didn’t.

NewFest was made possible this year thanks to the generosity, primarily, of the fashion designer Marc Jacobs, with additional sponsorships from Showtime’s “The Real L Word,” Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams, TekServe, Grand Marnier, IFP, The Gem Hotel, Viña Casablanca, Chilean wines Santa Carolina and NYC’s Gay & Lesbian Center, among others. Some of these sponsors are certainly big, mainstream brands, but what is interesting to me is that the top three are either owned by gay men or, in the case of Showtime, do programming specifically oriented to the gay and lesbian community. So I scratch my head, wondering if major brands simply don’t care about advertising to the LGBT community anymore.

What gives?

“Gay-inclusive storytelling is what is suffering,” says [Bob Witeck, CEO, Witeck Combs Communications]. “Budgets are shifting to mainstream agencies who claim to have the LGBT competency in-house, but in reality assign the job to someone on staff who just happens to be gay.” And then, there’s also the issue around push-back from objectors like Bill O’Reilly and interest groups who are anti-gay. “Brands have a hard time navigating what they consider a cultural dialogue or debate, even though public opinion has changed, and acceptance is stronger,” says Witeck.

But I’d also argue that as advertising dollars grow tighter, and each dollar spent is micro-analyzed for return on investment, media buying agencies also start convincing themselves they can still reach the gays by going mainstream. Advertising during Modern Family or Kathy Griffin‘s reality show will reach the gays, so no need to go on LOGO. Details and GQ will suffice, while Out and Instinct aren’t necessary.

That solution ignores one crucial element of marketing to a demographic like LGBTs — or blacks, or Hispanics: That we’re much more likely to spend dollars with companies that specifically cater to our community. Show us your love, and we’ll show you ours.