“The automotive world isn’t always a comfortable place for LGBT shoppers,” proclaims Gaywheels.com, founded in 2005 to combat that situation. “Showrooms and garages are known more for macho swagger and technical jargon than for welcoming gay men—much less lesbians or transsexuals.”
It’s hard to argue that the situation in the showrooms is dramatically changed, even in the more welcoming, gay marriage-friendly world of 2014. But many auto companies have stepped up to woo LGBT customers, General Motors most prominently. Since 1993, the company has had an employee resource group that focused on equal treatment for LGBT workers. Now it’s called GM PLUS (People Like Us). And GM actively markets its cars to gay consumers.
In 2011, Gaywheels found Hyundai/Kia, Suzuki and Porsche to be “gay-unfriendly” for failing to protect their LGBT employees from workplace discrimination. Today, Porsche has been moved into the friendly column and Suzuki is out of business in the U.S., so only Hyundai/Kia is still on the list. The automaker had no immediate comment.
In 2009, I reported on Subaru being the most gay-friendly carmaker, and its outreach clearly is working--judging by the many "Lesbarus" on the road today. A Gaywheels poll back then placed Subaru as #1, followed by VW and Ford. Subaru, as Slate reports, earned its stripes by featuring out tennis player Martina Navratilova in a 2001 ad campaign.
Subaru also sponsored TV shows like "The L Word," and was an initial sponsor of the Logo network. So it made sense when Saturday Night Live had a Billie Jean King character say she would celebrate her Olympics visit to Russia by "driv[ing] my Subaru Outback into Red Square, doing doughnuts and blasting Melissa Etheridge.” Subaru reports that lesbians are "four times as likely as their heterosexual counterparts to own a Subaru."
And at some automakers, outreach to gay people is a major part of the marketing strategy, not just an ad to take out during Gay Pride Week in June. The founder of Gaywheels.com, Joe LaMuraglia, is now LGBT communications manager for General Motors, reforming the beast from within. When reached last week, he was flying to a Cadillac Arrive and Drive meeting to introduce the electric ELR to LGBT audiences.
GM has also advertised the Chevy Volt in gay publications, and it held numerous lifestyle events handing out t-shirts emblazoned with the hashtag #OutWithChevy and two-daddy or two-mommy family stickers for the back window. A famous and widely reported “coming out” ad for the Volt proclaimed, “Mom, Dad, I’m Electric.”
“We’re doing more than everybody else combined,” LaMuraglia said. “We’re not gay-friendly on just one day. But Lexus is also doing creative stuff.” Indeed it is, with ads showing up in gay media. Brian Bolain, national advertising and media manager for Lexus, told Ad Respect, “Being gay myself, I’m aware of how critical the market and its income are. I’ve got all that hardwired into me. There’s a predisposition in our community towards luxury goods, so why shouldn’t Lexus be among them?”
Lexus’ sister brand, Scion, has been a sponsor of gay pride marches in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and a Miami film festival.
As LaMuraglia points out, gay audiences come in all shapes, sizes and ages, and thus should know about intro-level cars such as the GM Spark—not just luxury models like the ELR. “GM was smart to let me come up with creative ideas,” LaMuraglia said. “I work with three colleagues, and we’re actively engaged year-round.”
John Gasloli, national advertising manager for Cadillac from 2006 to 2008, created the brand’s first ad to directly target the gay market, which features a couple of guys in a black DTS. Gasloli had previously been at VW, where he headed a major marketing campaign to LGBT audiences (with shoots in Provincetown, Los Angeles and other centers).
It seems to be working. LaMuraglia says the Volt is “over-indexed” in the gay community, meaning there are more of them than would be expected, but maybe that’s just because it’s a very green car. Other GM cars seem to get a halo effect. In the Dallas Voice, a car story on what’s “young, hot and gay” spotlights the new Corvette Stingray, “Take one look and you’ll have hot flashes,” it said.