Joe Landry, executive vice president of the publishing division at Here Media, which publishes Out and The Advocate, another
LGBT magazine, says he expects more car company business from mainstream brands as fear of a backlash recedes. He argues that advertising in gay media is more effective "since you're hitting your target directly without any waste."
Seitz says that car companies are able to contact LGBT consumers directly with personalized targeted messages through smartphones and other mobile applications. Bell says some targeted ads, for example, allow a customer searching for gay vacations on Google to see a Honda ad targeted to him as a traveler.
Targeting "is how these brands are protecting themselves from conservative viewers and enabling [themselves] to go after the LGBT market," Bell says. "It's behind the curtain vs. out in front."
But Seitz says more auto companies are weighing whether to "go bigger," figuring they have more to gain by being visible supporters of gay rights. Making a bolder statement as Chevy did, he says, ultimately brings bigger payoffs, because it will attract not only the LGBT population, but their allies.
Bell agrees. "LGBT consumers want to know how they fit into the brand's story, which is why stories of inclusion work."
Even when car companies target gays narrowly, the messaging can spread to other channels through social media, says Stephen Macias, senior vice president and head of the LGBT practice at MWW, a marketing and public relations firm.
He cites a celebrated 2012 Chevrolet ad that ran in Detroit-area gay media in conjunction with a local gay-pride event, and was honored by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. The ad depicts a plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt "coming out" to its gasoline-powered "parents."
The headline: "Mom, dad, I'm electric."
"Data consistently shows that LGBT consumers react more favorably when an ad is tailored to the LGBT community," Macias says. "This ad was no exception and was exceptional in its creative work as well." He says his firm's tracking showed no backlash.
Steve Wilhite says marketers have much to gain by being clear about their brand values, and tolerating whatever backlash follows. He was senior marketing executive at Volks-wagen when it ran the "Sunday Afternoon" commercial in 1997 featuring two young men riding around in a Golf, to the tune of the quirky song "Da Da Da."
The spot wasn't intended to appeal to LGBT consumers, but it was ultimately perceived that way when it aired on an episode of the sitcom "Ellen" in which the main character, played by Ellen DeGeneres, announced that she was gay. While some sponsors who were advised of the plotline withdrew their commercials, VW didn't.
The commercial brought a mixed reaction: positive responses from the gay and lesbian communities, and threats of a boycott from Christian fundamentalists.
Wilhite says he told critics that he appreciated their perspective, but suggested if they felt that way, they should buy someone else's product. Having only 3 percent of the market at that time gave him license to be more bold, he says, but VW "has always been a very inclusive car company." He urges other auto companies to follow suit.
"The most powerful brands are those that make their values clear and transparent and are willing to walk away from business from those people who find those values unacceptable," Wilhite says.
That's easier said than done, says David Gudelunas, who handles research for SPI Marketing. He says automakers have other key constituencies to consider: stockholders, as well as dealers in conservative parts of the country, who may keep them from "jumping in deeper."
Ted Marzilli, CEO of YouGov's BrandIndex, says even if a CEO or board member supports gay rights, he or she must take into account how running advertising that explicitly or implicitly is aligned with that viewpoint will affect the company.
"The majority of CEOs and board members would probably advise steering away from sensitive or politically charged issues," since, by not announcing a position, all constituencies can think you stand with them, Marzilli says.
Charlie Hughes, former CEO of Land Rover North America and former CEO of Mazda North American Operations, says the emphasis on marketing to the LGBT community is misguided.
He says the focus should be on highlighting the car's attributes, and that should sell to any demographic.
Still, Marzilli sees the advance of gay rights as something that marketers must recognize. As public support of gay rights grows, he says, more businesses will support that position through advertising.
He points to the recent decision by Sam Adams, Guinness and Heineken to pull their sponsorship of St. Pat-rick's Day parades that wouldn't allow some marchers to display pro-LGBT signs as evidence of brands reallocating their marketing dollars to reflect changing attitudes.
Chrysler's Torres agrees. As attitudes and social mores continue to shift, he says, marketing efforts will mirror that, becoming more inclusive. Torres says there will be "small and steady steps that break down barriers."