Lesbians, The New Perfect Audience For Advertisers

Well-known brands such as Audi, Jagermeister and Granini are increasingly spending their advertising dollars to capture the attention of gay women, who tend to be high-wage earners and very loyal.

"Open to all," reads this Volkswagen ad targeting lesbian couples.
"Open to all," reads this Volkswagen ad targeting lesbian couples.
Steffen Fründt

BERLIN — Beloved musicians, exalted fashion designers and mayors that exude joie de vivre. The gay community has become a steadfast part of public life, and because they are perceived as pleasure-seeking and prone to spending, they are also popular with the consumer goods industry.

The latest estimates from the German Lesbian and Gay Association (LSVD) suggest that lesbians are every bit as numerous as gay men, roughly one in 10 women. Their scene is less in the public eye, but because more and more women — among them so many successful, prominent and beautiful ones — are openly gay, lesbianism is undergoing an image change in Germany. They are more interested in travel and fashion and are willing to spend more money than the average straight German woman.

"I am a commerce-oriented lesbian and stand by that," says Claudia Kiesel, the organizer for Europe's largest lesbian event, the L-Beach Festival in northern Germany. That's her response when asked about all the advertisements displayed throughout the festival locations.

She remembers a time when feminine and fashionable gay women were called "lipstick lesbians," and any form of glamour was considered suspicious. But all of this has changed, adds the female entrepreneur who runs a successful, trendy bar in Hamburg. The first L-Beach Festival was held six years ago and has been sold out every year since.

The recipe for its success is simple. Because the festival rents an entire village, attendee can enjoy eating, drinking, flirting and partying without men for four days, experiencing something that's completely normal for heterosexuals — that is, being in the majority.

And they don’t mind paying for the experience. The festival turnover is nearly one million euros, says Kiesel, who believes its commercial success is consistent with its community spirit. "Earning money provides us with the means to enable the scene."

Pay to play

And this seems to work. A look at the festival brochure demonstrates how the consumer industry attempts to target these women.

Gaby Gassman, marketing chief for the mineral water producer Magnus, believes that women are a huge spending group.

Another company advertising at the festival, a Berlin sperm bank, can certainly vouch for that. Ann-Kathrin Hosenfeld, head of the company's laboratory, explains that "lesbian couples are a very important clientele." She helps approximately 200 couples a year to have children and is now specifically targeting lesbian customers. Five years ago, lesbian couples represented just 20% of their clients, whereas the number today is between 40% and 50%. A sperm donation can be bought for around 2,000 euros. It's therefore a lucrative approach for German sperm banks to target lesbian couples directly, which is why they advertise directly in lesbian-oriented publications.

Juliane Rump, editor-in-chief of the women’s magazine Straight, says that lesbian women earn above-average wages because the classic male-provider model doesn't apply to them. "Which is why they are a consumer-happy group," she adds.

But what makes lesbians such an attractive advertising audience is their lasting loyalty. "When companies advertise in scene magazines and at festivals, it is perceived as active support of the community," says Sabine Arnolds of the entrepreneur's network Economy Women. And the community shows its gratitude with loyalty.

But at the same time, the lesbian community reacts very sensitively if the attempted courting is insincere or dull. There is zero tolerance for so-called "pinkwashing." Though the fact remains that in an environment dominated by heterosexuals, the desire for acceptance and role models is prevalent, Arnolds says.

The potential for targeting gay and lesbian audiences hasn't been fully realized, says Michael Stuber, owner of a diversity marketing and consultation agency in Cologne. The classic, blonde, father-mother-child model is still used predominantly in mainstream advertising. "Even if an ice cream manufacturer shows beautiful women frolicking in the sea together, it's not perceived as lesbian targeting," Stuber says. If that were to be done more effectively, it could help companies to achieve a more modern image.

But that would require something that is generally alien to the German advertising world: courage.

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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