by Michael Wilke
Capitalizing on the efficiency of lesbians with tools, online booking site Orbitz rolls out its fourth gay-specific commercial featuring a female couple in the latest installation of a mock game show competition.
The spot starts in an overcrowded airline terminal, where a flight has just been canceled for weather. Host Wink Martindale appears and a straight couple and a lesbian couple are suddenly in a game show set competing to find a hotel room from opposing podiums.
While the straight couple clumsily gets out a telephone book, the lesbian couple wins by quickly booking on a cell phone, then kiss each other to celebrate.
"We're not shy about them being a lesbian couple, you can see they're not just friends," notes Tom Russell, vice president of brand marketing for Orbitz in Chicago. The women are intended to be "likeable, friendly, attractive -- you want them to win" and the losing couple are supposed to be "uptight, too confident."
The commercial from Y&R began running on gay network LOGO in August, and will soon roll out to Bravo, BBC America and other networks. It follows another game show spot from 2005 featuring a new gay male couple competing against a gay travel agent for fastest online booking.
"I love that that they're technologically smart and that they behave like any young couple would and kiss each other on the lips when they win," observes Stephanie Blackwood, who works in the industry as managing director of gay advertising agency Double Platinum in New York. "My hats off to Orbitz that it's not a one-off but instead a whole mini-campaign to the gay and lesbian market. Too often, we're expected to feel lucky if there's one" ad that's gay, she says of other advertisers.
"We recognized this is a market, and now there's of lot of interest in it," says Russell.
While Orbitz already features "Gay & Lesbian" as a special travel interest on its home page, it also has a dedicated lesbian travel page that Russell says is "one of the most popular" on the entire site. It features Olivia cruise packages, resorts and guest houses for women.
Changes Afoot in Lesbian Media Options
The recent halt of co-owned magazines On Our Backs and Girlfriends, once the second largest national title, underscores a problem for marketers interested in targeting gay women. "There are relatively fewer publications to reach lesbians," notes Russell, "which is another reason to do the commercial."
In fact, just eight major lesbian titles were operating this year, according to Rivendell Marketing, which represents national advertisers to gay publications. Among national magazines, there are now just Curve (called Deneuve from 1991 to 1995), the largest, GO! magazine (formerly GO NYC, which shifted to a national focus from just the Big Apple), and the Brooklyn-based, four-year-old quarterly Velvet Park, which acquired the subscription lists of On Our Backs and Girlfriends in July. Not accounting for reader overlap among the titles, the combined circulation for the three could total 75,000 -- compared to Curve's 68,200 readers.
Major regional players include the 32-year-old Lesbian News in Los Angeles, Labrys in Georgia, and She Magazine in Florida.
"The lesbian community is as wide open today as gay men were 10 years ago," Frances Stevens, publisher of San Francisco-based Curve, optimistically notes.
Indeed, anticipating greater advertiser interest, gay women's media options are expanding.
MTV Networks' dramatically growing gay TV channel LOGO sells lesbian-themed programs to advertisers, and LPI Media's PlanetOut.com web site is being repositioned for gay women late this year. Olivia Cruises plans an advertiser-supported redesign early next year of its web site, already attracting 250,000 monthly visitors, as well as a bimonthly magazine called Live, launching mid-2007 to its 250,000 direct mail list.
LesbianNation.com, owned by Here! Interactive Media (formerly Hyperion Interactive Media, acquired in May by Here! Networks), reported flat ad sales for 2006 but plans a free quarterly magazine in early 2007. Stevens says that Curve's ad pages were up 20% in 2005, up from eight annual issues to 10.
Orbitz has had a presence in gay media since 2002, but this year has started to add lesbian publications to the mix, and including dedicated ads in titles like GO NYC. "As our budget has grown, we've tried to add that as we could," says Russell.
Still, despite the profile that Showtime series The L Word brings to glamorous lesbians, few advertisers seek them yet. The entertainment, alcohol and automotive categories have a start, with Subaru (which began 11 years ago), and Bridgestone, Earthlink, Tanqueray, Bacardi, Coors Light, Bud Light, HBO, Bravo, Showtime, Sundance Channel, and gay networks Here! and LOGO.
Stevens sees untapped possibilities particularly for natural foods, health, pet goods, and outdoor/camping advertisers. Amazingly, advertisers of feminine products, fashion and food still haven't yet discovered the allure of women or the double opportunity in female couple households. Will advertisers invest to learn the distinctions of gay women as consumers and their media habits?