Can auto makers afford to ignore a $485 billion market with 15 million consumers who buy new products earlier than most, have more discretionary income than average folks and are very brand loyal? Can anyone?
No, of course not. That's why major companies, United Airlines, American Express and Proctor and Gamble — in fact, most of the Fortune 500 — aggressively are marketing to the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) community.
If you're straight, you probably haven't noticed because their efforts are discreet and highly targeted in order to avoid offending customers who might find such advertising objectionable.
But the buying power of this newly defined market segment is undeniable, (See page 14) it's largely the reason why more gay-themed shows have popped up on both cable and network television in recent years. It's why Viacom Inc. announced it's looking into developing the country's first gay-themed network.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone recently lamented to analysts and investors that the media company shouldn't have abandoned plans to launch a cable network aimed at gays two years ago because it would now be “worth a billion dollars” and would have cost only $30 million to launch.
He has since ordered Viacom's MTV Networks to come up with a business plan for just such a network.
Overall, Americans are deeply conflicted over gay marriage and other issues involving homosexuality. Nevertheless, gays and lesbians are flexing their muscle in the marketplace like never before, and on Madison Avenue and Wall Street, money doesn't talk, it screams.
This burgeoning marketplace clout also means companies have become far less concerned about potential boycotts and backlashes from religious conservatives.
And it's why auto makers also have jumped on the GLBT bandwagon, some earlier and more overtly than others.
It's easy to understand why GM is thrilled to have succeeded in getting its GMC Yukon Denali on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, because now almost every product featured on that show turns to gold.
However, you may be shocked to see how far brands such as Subaru and Volvo are going to cater to the GLBT community, including featuring same-sex couples in their targeted advertising.
All this gay stuff may make relatively conservative middle-aged Baby Boomers (i.e. virtually every top executive in the auto industry) a bit uneasy.
Andrew Sullivan, the well-know conservative — and gay — essayist for TIME magazine, recently summed it up by saying that most political and religious conservatives, “wish we would just go away.”
In today's ultra-competitive marketplace, auto maker executives — no matter how conservative — can't afford to wish gays away. Besides offering the best products, prices and service, companies will have to be open-minded as well in order to win each new sliver of market share.
Those that choose to ignore the GLBT market, do so at their peril.
Drew Winter is editor of Ward's Auto World