Advertisers realize need to target new, specific market

As the acceptance of the homosexual, transgender and bisexual community rises, so does advertisers’ realization of the need to target that market, according to a recent study by School of Communication advertising professor Wan-Hsiu “Sunny” Tsai.

Just a couple of years ago, the portrayal of gays in the media were few and far between, but as the acceptance of differences increases in the United States, people are also seeing a greater representation of gays.

Advertisers are noticing that the gay market is definitely one worth pursuing, and that is why people are seeing more and more commercials and advertisements targeted toward this minority group, Tsai said.

The reason for advertisers’ realization is simple, according to Tsai’s study. Gay people, in general, tend to have a higher disposable income than heterosexuals. Therefore, advertisers are portraying gays as an image of stylish consumers with edgy, high-end tastes such as fashion, design and alcohol.

“I showed the ads to my gay and lesbian participants during the interview and asked them to comment and talk about how they see themselves compared to what they see in the commercials,” said Tsai, who interviewed 25 self-identified gay and lesbian participants in her study. “I also asked how that impacted how they see themselves and how society would see them.”

One of the ads Tsai showed her participants was from 1994, in which IKEA showcased a gay relationship. The ad showed a white, middle-aged, gay couple shopping for a dining table together as a gesture of their commitment to one another.

The commercial continues with the men describing their different tastes in decor and how well-built IKEA furniture is, alluding to the stability of their relationship.

“What I found interesting was that a lot of them were just very happy to find visibility,” Tsai said. “There are stereotype issues, but visibility and the political issues as the main parts of the media are very important. So they are very tolerant of the stereotypes for now. They are definitely happy to see that the ads, sometimes, show gay and lesbian couples as just like everybody else.”

Junior Shelby Juarez believes that it is a “big step” that more gays are represented in advertising. Juarez is a member of SpectrUM, a student organization that celebrates diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Once I started looking around, I was surprised that I was able to find so many of these ads,” she said. “They’re working with stereotypes, but you have to think about the fact that it’s OK that they’re gay and that they are on TV.”

Matthew Page, a third-year psychology doctoral student from a religious family, came out at 18 and became interested in researching religion and sexual identity. He said he enjoyed reading Tsai’s study and agreed with the stereotype issues.

“I think that gay men are under enormous pressure to be masculine, and I do not believe gay men typically receive the message that they have to be more feminine after watching these ads,” Page said. “Instead, I think having effeminate gay men in advertisements indicates that society is still largely operating under the assumption that being a gay man means being effeminate. In the gay community, most of us know that that is not true.”