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Pink Money

Lesbian Culture
March 15, 2019
Religion & Homosexuality
March 10, 2019

The value of the ‘pink pound’: Unlocking a trillion dollar market through recruitment

What is Pink Money?

The term “pink money” is used to refer to the purchasing power of the gay and lesbian community. In addition to being powerful economically, pink money can also potentially be powerful politically, with pink money donations influencing the outcome of political campaigns.

Thanks to the active gay rights movement, many businesses and politicians are aware of the power of pink money, and some go out of their ways to cater to this coveted demographic, as some gay and lesbian couples have substantial disposable income.Depending on where you live, you may hear a number of aliases used to describe pink money, including the pink dollar, pink pound, or Dorothy dollar.

The “pink” references the pink triangle which has become an icon of the gay rights movement, thanks to the fact that it was used as a badge in Nazi concentration camps to identify homosexuals. When the gay rights community became more active, it decided to reclaim the symbol as an easily recognized emblem.

The “Dorothy” in “Dorothy dollar” is a reference to the American euphemism “friend of Dorothy” which is sometimes used to identify members of the gay community. The market power of pink money is constantly growing, in part thanks to the fact that the gay rights movement has made it much easier for many gay couples to be open about their sexuality.

In some communities, there is an active effort to patronize gay-friendly businesses, with gay and lesbian couples choosing to avoid businesses which take an anti-gay stance. Many businesses have wised up to this fact, and a range of companies from automakers to pet stores actively court the gay and lesbian market.

Wealthy gay and lesbian couples without children may also travel a great deal, using their relative freedom and large dual incomes to engage in various travel adventures. Numerous airlines, destination resorts, and other travel-related businesses vie for pink money, in the hopes that it will provide a steady and reliable source of income.

In politics, pink money is a growing chunk of the pie when it comes to political contributions. Wealthy gay and lesbian couples are often politically active, and they flock to candidates who support equal rights for gays and lesbians.

Members of the gay and lesbian community may also unite to throw support behind a single candidate in the hopes of defeating an anti-gay candidate, using their economic clout to influence the campaign.

Even Almighty God Love's The Pink Money

An LGBT audience can be a loyal and affluent consumer group for brands. Despite this, LGBT consumers are still massively underrepresented in mainstream marketing campaigns. Whilst there are some brilliant examples of brand campaigns celebrating LGBT individuals - such as AirBNB, Burger King, Tiffany & Co and Google – for mainstream brands, these number only a handful.

This is despite new data from Google and YouTube which shows that messages about diversity and equality for the LGBT community have widespread impact; 47.7 per cent of millennials are more likely to support a brand after seeing an equality-themed advert.

A key to increase LGBT inclusion in mainstream marketing, and other minority groups more generally, is to have a more diverse workforce.

A new proposal

Recently, Tiffany & Co launched a TV advert that features a same-sex marriage proposal. The ad, created by Ogilvy New York, features a number of couples building up to asking their significant other “Will You?” - the tagline of the campaign.

It marked the first time the company had featured a gay couple in its advertising during its 178-year history. The reaction to the campaign on social media was overwhelmingly positive, and the brand successfully broadened its appeal through representing a diverse range of marriage proposals and weddings.

A more diverse workforce

To increase inclusion in content marketing and advertising campaigns, there is a crucial step that stems in the recruitment and people who create the work in agencies.

The more diverse our workforce, the better able we are to respond to and reflect our audiences in all their diversity. In order to achieve this, advertising agencies needs to create a working environment that enables all employees to thrive and achieve their full potential.

However, diversity is more than just a buzzword for the advertising industry. It can hold the key to fostering new ways of thinking, reaching out to a wider range of customers and growing your business.

Organisations can't thrive and grow if everyone in them thinks and behaves the same way. Having a diverse workforce with people from different racial, educational and social backgrounds and employees of a wider age range opens up a wealth of possibilities and helps to encourage creativity and foster innovation.

The financial value of diversity

The advertising and marketing industry are making good steps towards improving LGBT diversity, however there is still more that can be done. We need more senior LGBT role models to come out, and foster an environment in agencies where people can be their authentic selves.

Ogilvy & Mather Group UK is committed to diversity. In 2014 we set up Ogilvy Pride, our LGBT and straight ally network.

Since then, Ogilvy & Mather Group UK is the first communications agency to become a Global Stonewall Diversity Champion and to be recognised by the Human Rights Campaign as a top employer for LGBT people – two achievements that we are extremely proud of.

Power of the pink pound

I remember the first time I heard of the “pink pound”, and feeling amused and gratified to find myself targeted as a desirable demographic. It was the mid-1990s and Britain was in transition.

The age of consent for gay men had just been lowered to 18 (a motion by Edwina Currie, the Conservative member of parliament, to have it equalised at 16 had been narrowly defeated) and a pre-watershed lesbian kiss on the Channel 4 soap Brookside was a national event. Though long out to my friends


I was still plucking up courage to tell my parents, so the news that I had muscle as a gay consumer was a timely boost to my ego. Talk of gay economic power also signalled a shift from the era of Aids, which had simultaneously stigmatised and unified gay men and women, to a post-Aids landscape in which the emphasis was on community and family.

The publication in the US in 1995 of Andrew Sullivan’s Virtually Normal popularised for the first time the case for gay marriage – a concept so threatening to many Americans that Congress overwhelmingly passed the Defense of Marriage Act the following year, preserving the concept of marriage strictly for heterosexual couples.

Meanwhile, in 1994, the success of Four Weddings and a Funeral – then the highest-grossing British film – gave us a portrait of a happily monogamous gay couple played by Simon Callow and John Hannah.

If they could not get married, they could at least throw a beautiful funeral. Like the pink pound and Virtually Normal, the subtext of Four Weddings was assimilation – like everyone else, gays and lesbians spend money and settle into relationships.

For people like me, who had grown up in the 1980s when the World Health Organisation classified homosexuality as a mental illness, this was a revelation. Not only were we not sick, it turned out that we were, in fact, cool. As if to underline the fact, in 1994 a new magazine appeared in the UK, Attitude, that looked like any other men’s magazine.

It followed hot on the heels of Out, which had launched in the US in 1992 with the giddy proclamation “out is in” before quickly establishing itself as a new paradigm in gay media, pruned of ads for gay escorts and sex lines in order to capitalise on the growing interest of mainstream advertisers such as Banana Republic, the clothing retailer, and Calvin Klein, the fashion label.

It has been 20 years since Out hit America’s newsstands, and in the age of gay-friendly television shows such as Glee and Modern Family – both ratings hits – it is hard to fathom a time when gay representations in the media seemed edgy and audacious.

This autumn, NBC will attempt to repeat the magic of its pioneering series Will & Grace with a new sitcom about a gay couple and the surrogate mother of their child. Appropriately, it is called The New Normal. But if gay has indeed become the new normal, does that mean gay consumers are no longer a distinct demographic?

As editor of Out for the past six years, I have watched the transition of gay media from a compelling niche with a dedicated audience to something more mainstream. Advertisers still come to gay lifestyle magazines looking to find gay spenders, but increasingly they view the audience as men with similar needs and interests as other men, only with more disposable income.

Like readers of GQ or Esquire, we buy winter coats, underwear and top-shelf vodka, but we buy more of it. “Gay men, we have learned from attitudinal and behavioural research, will travel more often, spend more out of home and give more attention to home design and fashion,” says Bob Witeck, chief executive of Witeck Communications, which specialises in analysing the gay and lesbian market.

None of this means gay men and women earn more money, just that they make different spending decisions – not least because many, gay men in particular, will not have children. “I am convinced over the last 20 years that the myth of gay wealth is exactly that,” says Witeck.

“There is no empirical evidence, either in market studies or demographic research, that suggests LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people earn more than others.” Witeck suggests many gays may end up in less-rewarding careers simply because these prove safer and more welcoming. For all the advances, there is still a ceiling on how far a gay or lesbian employee can rise in much of corporate America.

Nevertheless, Witeck estimates the LGBT market’s buying power at around $790bn in the US this year. Add to that the families and friends of gay people, and what emerges is a powerful bloc with a long reach, and woe betide companies that rub it the wrong way. Last year, the singer Lady Gaga cancelled a marketing deal with US department store Target on the back of criticism from activists of the chain’s support for conservative politicians who oppose gay rights


By this spring, Target, in an apparent mea culpa, launched a series of pro-gay-marriage T-shirts as a fund-raising initiative for the Family Equality Council, and released a new ad for its wedding registry, in which two smiling men hold hands and touch foreheads above the words, “be yourself, together”


When US department chain JC Penney launched a Father’s Day campaign this year, depicting real-life gay fathers Todd Koch and Cooper Smith playing with their children, threats of a boycott by the Christian fundamentalist American Family Association fizzled out in the face of a shrug.

It is as if, having been defined as a demographic in the 1990s, gay men and women have woken up to the influence they wield in the market place. After Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, the fast-food chain, spoke out against gay marriage in July, the ensuing uproar illustrated how that influence could be exercised.

The mayor of Boston said the chain was not welcome there, while a Chicago alderman promised to prevent a second branch of the restaurant from opening in his district. “This is part of the wake-up call for companies to understand that social media make these decisions very, very risky,” Americus Reed, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told National Public Radio.

That a fried chicken sandwich should become the symbol of either oppression or freedom of speech, depending on which side of the debate you were on, was emblematic of the distance that remains between LGBT people in the US and those in western Europe, where such battles have largely been settled. But the gap is vast between the US and Russia, where a court recently upheld a ban on Gay Pride marches in Moscow for the next 100 years.

St Petersburg, meanwhile, has made it illegal to promote homosexuality to minors. A lawyer involved in drafting the law announced a lawsuit against Madonna for championing gay rights during a concert that included children as young as 12 in the audience


The conflation of homosexuality with something immoral suggests Russia is at least 25 years behind the UK, where Clause 28, passed in 1988, similarly sought to prevent the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools. At least no one is accusing Russia of exploiting gay rights for more nefarious purposes


In the New York Times last year, writer and activist Sarah Schulman excoriated Israel for marketing Tel Aviv as an “international gay vacation destination” as a way of airbrushing – or “pinkwashing” – the country’s human rights record.

Predictably, the article sparked a fierce debate, but it also raised an interesting premise: have we reached a point where the value of having gay consumers lies in what it signals to a broader audience? It may be that marketing to gays has long surpassed simple expressions of solidarity in favour of more deliberate strategies to position a brand’s ethics and philosophy.

Witeck recalls being in Buenos Aires in 2010 when President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed same-sex marriage into law. “She made such a big deal to connect with the [US citizens] in Buenos Aires so that she could spread the word about the opening of their tourism and travel market,” he says, adding that other Latin American countries are following suit.

Michael Luongo, a writer and speaker on the LGBT market, says: “To treat gays with respect is to flaunt how advanced you are over other countries. In Rio de Janeiro airport they had a sign about LGBT rights at the security checkpoint. I could not imagine that happening in the US.”

That, of course, is probably the point. As US companies such as coffee chain Starbucks and Goldman Sachs, the investment bank, come out publicly in favour of gay marriage, so the record of the countries in which they do business increasingly will come under scrutiny, with politicians often taking the lead


On several occasions in the past year, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UK prime minister David Cameron have warned that foreign aid may soon be tied to respect for gay rights.

The power of 'pink money' in India

Some businesses in India have found that catering to the LGBT community makes financial sense. Drag performers say attitudes are slowly changing in a country where gay sex is criminalised.

India court legalises gay sex in landmark ruling

In a historic decision, India's Supreme Court has ruled that gay sex is no longer a criminal offence. The ruling overturns a 2013 judgement that upheld a colonial-era law, known as section 377, under which gay sex is categorised as an "unnatural offence". The court has now ruled discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a fundamental violation of rights.

Campaigners outside the court cheered and some broke down in tears as the ruling was handed down. Although public opinion in India's biggest cities has been in favour of scrapping the law, there remains strong opposition among religious groups and in conservative rural communities.

But this ruling, from the top court, is the final say in the matter and represents a huge victory for India's LGBT community. One activist outside the court told the BBC: "I hadn't come out to my parents until now. But today, I guess I have."

What have the judges said?

Thursday's decision was delivered by a five-judge bench headed by India's outgoing chief justice Dipak Misra and was unanimous. Reading out the judgement, he said: "Criminalising carnal intercourse is irrational, arbitrary and manifestly unconstitutional."

Another judge, Indu Malhotra, said she believed "history owes an apology" to LGBT people for ostracising them. Justice DY Chandrachud said the state had no right to control the private lives of LGBT community members and that the denial of the right to sexual orientation was the same as denying the right to privacy


The ruling effectively allows gay sex among consenting adults in private. Equal rights activists had argued that the very existence of such a law was proof of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The law punishes, in its own words, "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal". While the statute criminalises all anal and oral sex, it has largely affected same-sex relationships. Human rights groups say police have used the statute to harass and abuse members of the LGBT community.

What is section 377?

Even though it was rarely invoked when it involved consenting adults, section 377 could be - and was sometimes - used as a tool for harassment. It is not surprising then that campaigners are describing the verdict as a "new dawn for personal liberty".

But in a largely conservative India, where leaders of all religions have consistently opposed gay sex, it will still be a while before attitudes change and the community finds full acceptance. LGBT activist Harish Iyer told the BBC: "I'm absolutely elated. It's like a second freedom struggle where finally we have thrown a British law out of this country...

I think the next step would be to get anti-discrimination laws in place, or anti-bullying laws."Messages of support were posted on Twitter, including from film director Karan Johar:

Pursuing the pink pound: How big is the UK’s LGBT market?

Pride celebrations have been taking place in cities across the world this summer and generating millions for local economies. From political marches to huge festivals taking over cities for a party you’ll never forget, Pride serves as a reminder that the gay community are here; and they’re loud, proud and ready to spend, spend, spend.

How many gays in the village?

Whilst there have been no official recording ever (yes, ever) of how many people identify as LGBT in the UK, a survey by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in 2013 of 150,000 people found that 1.7% of that sample size identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual.Sexuality can be incredibly tricky to quantify.

However, the findings by ONS apparently quash the much-touted ‘one in ten’ figure. Whichever statistic you choose to believe, it’s clear that there are living, breathing – and heavily populated – gay communities across the country. Who better to sell your product to than a seemingly affluent, liberal market who adore luxury and a work hard, play hard culture?

A gap in the market

One certainty in the business world is that if there’s money to be made, companies will jump in with both feet. Soon after the spending power of the gay community was identified, brands joined the party… with mixed results.

Drinks firm Absolute launched rainbow coloured vodka bottles and publicised recipes for cocktails with names such as Absolute Out and Absolute Proud. Even big-shots Apple got onboard with subtlety hinting at lesbianism in this Apple Watch video.

This goldrush also exposed the cracks in some marketing strategies, and introduced the world to the term “pinkwashing”. Pinkwashing involves companies undertaking a concerted PR effort to appear gay-friendly to access the pink pound, while not necessarily practising what they preach.

A first-class example comes from retailer Target, who ran an advert in the USA featuring a gay couple, but were later found to have donated cash to an anti-gay politician in 2011. Was this a guilty attempt at washing away the anti-gay connotations?

There have also been episodes where companies have dipped their toes in the gay-friendly water, only to face a backlash from conservative anti-gay movements. Heinz ran an advert in 2008 that showed two men kissing and the backlash caused Heinz to scrap the advert, angering the LGBT community and making a mockery of their pro-gay stance.

Some businesses are more tactful. Moss Bros, a suit hire company, ran an advert campaign in 2014 entitled ‘Mister and Mister’. The ad went live the same week that gay marriage was legalised in the UK.

Busting myths

The clamour to attract the pink pound is based on the long-standing idea that the LGBT community are more prosperous than their heterosexual counterparts. However, research shows that that idea is quite far from what people may believe. Research in the U.S found that on average gay males earn less than heterosexual males, due primarily to another longstanding inequality.

Gay men are more likely to find employment in female-dominated professions where – you guessed it – the levels of pay are well below jobs traditionally done by men. The gay/straight pay gap is more pronounced in high-paying jobs too, potentially because performance-related pay allows for unconscious bias to influence salaries. For the opposite sex, the inverse is true. Lesbians, on average, earn more than heterosexual women.

Journalist Joe Clark put it this way: “Lesbians have more education than straight females, but they work longer hours – because, generally speaking, they are less likely to have children to take care of at home. And lesbians are overrepresented in male-dominated professions that pay better than female-dominated professions.”

When you compare the pink pound to its more dour cousin, the elderly orientated grey pound, it certainly doesn’t seem like a huge market: But even if the purchasing power isn’t as large as many think, the addressable market is still huge. Gay imagery in advertising and the media is still so comparatively rare that there are still opportunities for brands to grab a piece of the pink pie.

Matthew Todd from Attitude magazine thinks advertisers should think long and hard about how they target their ads “Seeing gay people represented in ads impacts purchasing decisions. [They] have had to endure prejudice throughout their lives so are often willing to respond to brands that cater to them.” A fair representation of the LGBT community in the media is needed.

However, targeting a product toward a group that is looking for acceptability highlights the exploitative nature of ‘gay-friendly’ marketing campaigns. Whether it’s the pink pound, the grey pound or even the purple pound, susceptible communities need to wisen up to cynical marketing, lest they become unwitting cash cows.

So while you’re enjoying the Pride festivities wherever you are in the world, stop and think. Are the sponsors and floats there because they are avid LGBT supporters, or are they using it as a tactic to market their brand or product?

We take a look at the good and the not so good brand marketing around the Pride season

The first iteration of a London LGBT+ Pride march took place in Highbury Fields in 1970 and constituted around 100 men. Two years later, the first official ‘Gay Pride Rally’ marched down Oxford Street, now around 2,000 strong. 46 years on from that, after a fitful few decades of metamorphosis, 30,000 (including myself) marched two kilometres through the heart of the capital as part of Pride in London 2018.

They were just a fraction of the million or so people thronging the streets of the city to celebrate the one of the biggest LGBT+ events in the world. What had started as a small political protest for the rights and freedoms of gay men in the UK has swelled into a two day festival for people from across the spectrum of gender and sexuality, larger than Edinburgh and Cardiff combined. The LGBT+ community has broken into the mainstream, and - whether we like it or not – we’ve become a market.

Maximising visibility in society

Even the most casual observers would notice the rainbows that adorned the marketing of dozens of household brands, from the offices of Natwest across the road from the Linkfluence UK offices, to Virgin Trains, the Army’s 2017 ‘This is belonging’ campaign, and of course the fan favourite,

Absolut Vodka rainbow bottles. Many see this as a good thing, citing the importance of maximising and normalising the visibility of queer people in society. Luke Graham, writing for City AM, says that visibility is key: brands have the power to bring certain social issues to the foreground, not just through advertising but also through the promotion of visible networks and role models from the corps of their employees.

Matt Measor, a risk analyst at a major UK bank associated with Pride and recent face of the bank’s OOH Pride campaign, highlights that in his opinion “being part of an organisation that allows colleagues to self-identify and self-disclose creates and maintains an environment where sponsorship of Pride isn’t a PR stunt” and that “sponsoring local prides is the right use of our resources to demonstrate our commitment to the LGBT+ agenda”.

Coca Cola has an interesting history with Pride marketing: along with Ogilvy they famously turned a casually homophobic turn-of-phrase in Brazil into a moment of marketing genius, an example of where brands can use their power for good in reclaiming a phrase for the community it was designed to deride (as many minority communities actively reclaim pejorative terms historically used against them).

This generated significant conversation in Portuguese and Spanish and even though that campaign was from 2017, echoes of it still appear in conversation this year (5000 pieces of Twitter content containing the phrase in the last 31 days alone.

In 2018, a not insignificant amount of content was created around the new Italian Deputy PM Matteo Salvini, who attacked the drinks brand as an avatar of globalism and a proponent of the ‘gay agenda’ for its sponsorship of Milan Pride. This drew the ire of the social media users and the press, who took to Twitter (which made up 76.4% of content) in droves to denounce Salvini’s comments and in turn, boost the brand profile of Coca Cola in that market.

Virgin Trains took an interesting angle in engaging in some anti-homophobic activism through their Facebook channel - the illusive ‘KM’ from their social team generating rounds of applause online – while Absolut continued to provide visual delight as well as hard-hitting truths, evidenced by their share of voice primarily coming from Instagram (34.5% of content).

Others are more sceptical, however, decrying marketing exercises as transitive pandering to queer audiences with no intention to advance the causes of the community. It even has its own word: pinkwashing.

M I Ro

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