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Brand gay

Gay flag

Colourful, but where’s the pink? Isn’t that where the dollars are?

Gay guys are image-conscious. Whether you subscribe to this or not, one thing’s for sure: it’s one of the reasons they’re a goldmine for the people behind the brands that market to them.

I’m interested in the connection between brands that target the gay male market, how they do this, and what gay guys think about the experience.

Gay males are a target audience for marketers in the same vein as ‘busy working mothers’, 15 year-old girls, lower socio-economic grocery buyers, and cashed-up retirees. In one sense, in the eyes of the brand makers and managers, they are simply a discrete group of consumers to sell goods and services to.

This goes deeper than chasing the lucrative pink dollar. These brands are seeking collective ‘buy-in’.  In 2013, brands want a relationship and a dialogue with their customers. They want to be part of their customers’ everyday vernacular. They want customers to defend their brand. It’s about more than a sale.

I already had my own theories about all of this but I needed more information so I asked a few of my gay friends to identify the brands that they think target gay guys and why.

The results were interesting, but predictable. aussieBum came in at number one. Other brands mentioned were Abercrombie and Fitch (A&F), Calvin Klein, Mens’ Health and DNA magazines, Atlantis cruise lines, Andrew Christian, Absolt Vodka, Blackberry, Audi, American Crew, Diesel, Industrie, BMW, Ben Sherman, QANTAS, Versace, Louis Vuitton, and Saba.

The insight? Not one of these brands could be considered an “everyman” brand. They’re all aspirational. aussieBum’s tagline is If you doubt yourself, wear something else.

The common threads through these brands are those of exclusivity, aspiration, confidence, and image.

“I actually think that goes for all the brands I listed… None of them sell to the average man- that makes them appealing”

You could say that it’s just pure capitalisation of  inner anxieties about self-image and status. Worried about how you look and aspire to look like this model? Maybe this T-shirt is just what you need!

The marketing of these brands is sometimes homoerotic, sometimes not. Often it’s not about marketing collateral or imagery and simply comes down to what our peers are doing, buying, and saying. The right peer-to-peer marketing using the right influential guys, be they famous or not, can do wonders for these brands. Yes they are selling the product or service, but they are also selling an image, the idea of perfection, and the opportunity to escape the every-day, through the purchase of an expensive pair of jeans.

It can work very effectively with the right strategy, imagery, brand identity, and brand ambassador. But it can also backfire. Like when luxury carmaker Jaguar dropped swimmer and brand ambassador Stephanie Rice like a brick in the pool over a homophobic tweet. Or the stunt as part of the Celebrity Apprentice TV show in Australia, where aussieBum agreed to pay $50,000 to a charity if outspoken conservative and homophobic ex-politician Pauline Hanson stripped down to a pair of aussieBum undies and a singlet to wash cars. The fallout on the brand’s social media was immense. Gay customers were asking “please explain?!”

Pauline Hanson aussieBum stunt

Please explain?

Social media has changed everything in the world of branding and peer-to-peer marketing. Promoted or suggested posts on Facebook help gay guys understand what are the right gay-targeted brands to buy and ‘like’. They’re told which of their friends like the brand and with one simple click, they can be one step closer to the people they aspire to be like. Capitalising on the strength of a friend’s endorsement in social media works well for brand buy-in. It’s social peer-to-peer and it can go viral quickly when done right.

So which came first? Collective image-conscious anxieties? Or the marketing that told consumers they weren’t good enough ‘as is’? It’s hard to tell but it’s a classic vicious cycle.

Selling through aspirational imagery and tapping into self-esteem problems to sell stuff is hardly new. They’ve been doing it to women for years.

It’s not a coincidence that the marketing targeting gay guys is particularly aspirational. As a group, they are typically early adopters, trend setters, and big spenders. So in turn, the marketing targeting them includes imagery and a lifestyle that is out of reach for most of us.

What’s driving this aspirational brand buying? Is it a product of a struggle to fight oppression, find an identity and prove themselves to society?

It’s not just about aspiration and image, it’s also about a sense of belonging. We like to belong to something bigger than their own selves, and brands provide a vehicle for this that crosses cultures, languages, socio-economic status, and cliques.

For gay guys, like many other groups, they’re looking to belong to an identity. Gay aspirational brands are a badge to let the world know “yeah, I’m gay, but I’ve also made it”.

It’s not rocket science, it’s just marketing, but it’s working. And good luck to the brands that are doing it. It’s a tough market to crack, but once you’re in, you’re in. The trick is to stay one step ahead.

Stuart Austin
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