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The advertising industry seems to have the power to shape society’s view of gay people. And it is going hard on proving it. 

By MediaStreet Staff Writers

The past 15 years have seen a dramatic increase in the presence of gays in advertising. Every ad seems to be getting good with the gays.

The media has transformed the stigmatised stereotype of gays into a new, socially desirable image of stylish consumers with high-end taste.

This marketing strategy affects the way gays understand themselves and influences the meaning of gayness for society in general, explains Wan-Hsiu Sunny Tsai, assistant professor of advertising at the University of Miami School of Communication, in a study published by the Journal of Advertising.

“The findings illuminate the influential role of advertising in informing and shaping personal identities and highlights the often ignored socio-political dimension of advertising, Tsai says. “In other words, when marketers argue that no matter who they target, ‘it’s just business,’ their marketing messages actually have broader, cultural impacts on the minority community.”

According to the study, five specific strategies emerged within these minority consumers to interpret the messages catered to them:

  • Gay men accepted the perception of “higher disposable income of gay male households” and transformed material consumption into a definition of self-worth. “I was on many consumer panels because I fit the profile of gay men who have disposable income and travel a lot,” one participant said.
  • Participation in the mass market was equated to membership in mainstream society. “We got money. We contribute to the corporation. We contributed to big business. We got families. We are part of the mainstream now,” a participant said.
  • Targeted advertising was identified as an essential step in achieving social political inclusion. “Consumer rights and citizenship, civil rights are intricately connected. And when we express our identity as a consumer, that reinforces and strengthens our identity as a citizen,” a participant said.
  • Perpetuating problematic depictions of gays as effeminate men or lesbians as “sexualized femme” was tolerated in the interests of social inclusion. “I was ambivalent when watching this commercial. It’s playing up the stereotype. But for me, if you can see gay people on TV, it’s positive,” one participant said.
  • Participants were willing to give up something of their subcultural identity for the sake of total acceptance in society. “When we are truly accepted in the society, we will just blend in… even that might mean sacrificing our uniqueness,” a participant said.

The next logical question is, how do you target your particular message to the gay community, if you want to attract their business? We await the next study…

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