Germany

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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