by Michael Wilke
The 79th Annual Academy Awards gave The Coca-Cola Co. an opportunity to do something it hadn't done before -- go gay.
To appeal to the seemingly perpetually health-conscious gay market, general Diet Coke ads asking the question, "Sparkling or Sparkling?" ran in Instinct magazine, along with a contest to walk the red carpet of the Oscars, which Coke also sponsored. Diet Coke is now being positioned as a "sparkling" beverage to sound more healthy as soft drink marketers move toward fortified waters, juices and teas for growth.
Another Instinct ad for Diet Coke shows the can upside down with the headline, "Yoga Class." More from the campaign also appears on LPI Media's gay.com and OUT magazine this month, though none of it is customized for gay media.
Gay consumers are "big drinkers of Diet Coke and big followers of the Oscars," notes Susan McDermott, spokeswoman for Coca-Cola. Citing a 2006 proprietary research study, McDermott says that gays drink more Diet Coke per capita than non-gay drinkers.
"It's an audience we've always been aware of for the brand," she notes. "During the Oscars (media) buy, we asked, 'Who are we missing?' " They realized the answer was gay consumers.
Ironically, Coke's Oscars commercials celebrated Black History Month with special ads, though McDermott doesn't expect custom gay advertising to be created for the current Diet Coke campaign.
The titanic soft drink wars, a $68 billion industry, have finally come to the gay market -- at least in a modest way. Diet Coke joins Diet Pepsi in gay media, which made its debut in Pride parades in June 2004, followed by gay media. Diet Pepsi has kept a relatively consistent gay media presence since then.
Diet Pepsi's ad features a young, shirtless man with a "nutrition facts" box that touts the number of "six packs consumed a week to keep this 'six pack' " at two. Jazz Diet Pepsi, its flavored diet line, has run its general market campaign ads in print as well as on LOGO, the gay cable network.
Last summer, PepsiCo's Frito-Lay unit advertised its new gourmet Lays Sensations and Tostitos Sensations potato and tortilla chips line with general market ads in OUT magazine. It was an important crossover by a packaged goods and salty snacks brand into gay media.
"We were first," PepsiCo spokesman Dave DeCecco notes with pride. "We recognized the importance of the gay market and hope that the community will reward that."
This year, Diet Pepsi will get more advertising revenue behind it in gay media, DeCecco says and adds that Diet Pepsi scored No. 2 (after Absolut vodka) among most popular brands in a 2005 gay.com survey. More gay-customized ads are expected from SPI Marketing and Moon City Productions, both in New York.
In general media, PepsiCo modestly outspent Coca-Cola Co. on marketing diet cola last year. Diet Coke got $59 million in overall media spending in 2006, per TNS Media Intelligence, compared to $62 million for Diet Pepsi, and another $18.7 million supported Jazz Diet Pepsi. Diet Pepsi also scored a big win in the gay community by running a commercial featuring "Queer Eye" star Carson Kressley, who gapes at a sexy man walking by. The 2005 ad debuted in the high profile Super Bowl and ran widely afterward.
While Diet Pepsi's gay market campaign is scheduled to continue through the end of the year, and the brand will continue to sponsor gay pride events in New York, Dallas, San Francisco and Los Angeles, Diet Coke will be on summer hiatus though it may return by year end if things go well. Coca-Cola's McDermott says that the brand will test how well the campaign did in the gay market after the campaign is completed this month.
Although Diet Pepsi has been in the gay marketplace since 2004, McDermott says that Diet Coke showed up now partly because of media planning for the Oscars and because the new Coke Zero pushed Diet Coke to expand its audience a bit. Coke Zero is aimed at younger males, whereas "the core for Diet Coke is a little bit older and more female," she says.
J.R. Pratts, publisher of Instinct magazine, which now has both soft drink brands as advertisers, says, "We've been pursuing them for years and were calling them every once in a while."
Instinct is 10 years old this year, and is one of few remaining independently owned national gay magazines. Instinct has enjoyed growth with monthly circulation pushing 100,000, Pratts says, and broken some major advertisers, including Lifestyles condoms and Scion from Toyota.
"I remember when we got the Diet Pepsi buy, we all celebrated," recalls Pratts. "We figured we'd opened the category, we'll see if we can get more (soft drink brands.) I'm very bullish."
In Europe, Coca-Cola has introduced Burn energy drink into gay publications in Poland this month, including Replika and Ayor, gay web sites, and as the sponsor of LGBT party events in gay clubs.\n