Special Session Summary Gay and Lesbian Consumers in the Us Marketplace: Historical, Econometric and Advertising Approaches


Lisa Pe±aloza (1996) ,"Special Session Summary Gay and Lesbian Consumers in the Us Marketplace: Historical, Econometric and Advertising Approaches", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, eds. Kim P. Corfman and John G. Lynch Jr., Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 457.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, 1996      Page 457



Lisa Pe±aloza, University of Colorado


In recent years, marketing and media attention has begun to be directed to gays and lesbians as a distinct consumer subculture. It has been dubbed a "dream market," with estimates of the numbers of gays and lesbians reaching 18.5 million, and estimates of spending power topping 514 billion (Johnson 1993). Businesses targeting gays and lesbians have expanded beyond the initial bars, clubs and bookstores to comprise virtually a full service market that includes media, merchandise catalogues and vacation companies, as well as legal, medical, financial, communications and community support services.

The recent "discovery" of the gay and lesbian market raises a number of important theoretical and practical issues for consumer researchers. With the advent of recognition of the gay/lesbian market, sexuality comes to the fore as a market designator, and it promises to be at least as controversial as gender, race and ethnicity (Pe±aloza, in press). This panel brought together scholars from an array of disciplinary affiliations including history, economics, communications and marketing to explore the contours of this emerging consumer culture.

The session began with an overview of key controversies regarding gay/lesbian consumer culture, such as the overlap between the gay/lesbian social movement and gay/lesbian target marketing, the legitimizing effects of marketing efforts targeting gay and lesbian consumers, and the organized resistance to such efforts by other subcultural groups on religious/moral grounds by session chair, Lisa Pe±aloza.

Important dimensions affecting the emergence of particular consumer cultures are their economic accommodation in the marketplace and their political incorporation in the larger society, yet the ways in which these two facets of social life interact are underinvestigated research issues. Historian Nan Alamilla Boyd (Women's Studies, University of Colorado, Boulder) discussed her work investigating the role of bar owners and beer distributors in the formation of gay/lesbian consumer culture in San Francisco during the 1960's. The San Francisco Tavern Guild, a loose coalition of gay bar owners, bartenders and beer distributors, united at this time to protect themselves from police harassment and later proved itself very effective in mobilizing and politicizing the gay/lesbian community's spending power

With the increased attention of marketing and advertising practitioners to gay/lesbian consumers, various market statistics have surfaced in recent years, with little agreement regarding their reliability and validity. Economist Sylvia Allegretto (Economics, University of Colorado, Boulder) presented a demographic profile of gay/lesbian households, compiled from the 1990 US Census. The census data was then compared to market statistics released by Simmons Market Research Bureau, Yankelovich Monitor Survey and the Advocate, a major gay publication. Consumer research issues were discussed relating to terminology, data collection and tabulation procedures, and self-selection and social desirability biases.

The third presentation rounded out the session with its focus on a topic of applied consumer research. Communications scholar Peter J. Newman, Jr. (Institute for Communications Research, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana) presented research investigating how an individual's perceived risk of HIV exposure and/or direct experience with HIV affected their attitudes towards health maintenance nutrition drink advertising. Currently, it is estimated that one million people are HIV positive. While initially referred to as the "gay disease," HIV is not limited to this segment of the population, and there was some evidence to suggest that gay men were more informed and therefore better able to protect themselves than their heterosexual counterparts. At issue in the study were operationalizations of risk in the field of consumer behavior and identification with a stigmatized group as it affected attitudes toward advertising.

Finally, Dan Wardlow (Marketing, San Francisco State University) commented on the presentations, outlined some issues for further research (Wardlow, in press), and led a spirited discussion that touched on a number of aspects of gay/lesbian consumption phenomenaCidentity, behavior, reference group influence/membership, community formation and intergroup relations.


Johnson, Bradley (1993), "The Gay Quandry: Advertising's Most Elusive, Yet Lucrative Target Market Proves Difficult to Measure," Advertising Age, 64:18(January 18)29.

Pe±aloza, Lisa (in press), "We're Here, We're Queer and We're Going Shopping! A Critical Perspective on the Accommodation of Gays and Lesbians in the US Marketplace," Journal of Homosexuality, 31:1/2(Spring 1996)9-41, forthcoming.

Wardlow, Dan, editor (in press), Gays, Lesbians and Consumer Behavior: Theory, Practice and Research Issues in Marketing, Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Press, forthcoming.



Lisa Pe±aloza, University of Colorado


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23 | 1996

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