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Advertising and Consumerism  
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On the other hand, the positive effects of targeting of glbtq people as consumers have hardly enhanced the lives of all queer people, publications, and programs. Advertisers, not surprisingly, want to reach people who have the money to buy their products, and direct their resources accordingly. Besides, even advertisers willing to take the risk of associating themselves with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender consumers may well want to dissociate themselves from the more controversial among us and from certain political issues.

Publications that routinely criticize capitalism, manufacturing practices, and labor inequities are not usually attractive to big advertisers. Dependence on advertising may deter people from taking on such issues in other venues. Some people have noted, for instance, that Pride events seem less politically focused since they moved from community to corporate sponsorship.

Three other concerns have been raised about the politics of the queer market. One involves market research. The increase in queer-targeted marketing came partly after the publication of survey results by gay marketing groups such as Overlooked Opinions, which indicated that gays have more disposable income than most people. As researchers such as M.V. Lee Badgett have subsequently shown, however, these conclusions were based on faulty sampling, with a disproportionate number of affluent, white gay men responding to the surveys.

Nonetheless, these false numbers continue to be used by the religious right and other opponents of equal rights to stir up misplaced resentment for economic inequalities and to argue that gay people do not deserve civil rights protection because they have too much money to count as a disadvantaged group.

Another concern involves the use of diversity marketing by companies. For example, Rosemary Hennessy argues in Profit and Pleasure that by publicizing queer-friendly products and work-place policies, such as domestic-partner benefits, corporations may deflect attention from their less progressive products and policies.

A third concern is that product advertising directed to sexual minorities, like all such advertising, promotes consumerism.


Most of us live in a consumer culture. That is, instead of working to produce food, clothing, or other products for our own use, we work to earn money to purchase them. The term "consumerism" refers, most basically, to the promotion of consumer culture as good--for the economy, for society, for the individual--and sometimes to the processes and practices of people who value consuming or who consume many products.

The term "consumerism" generally has negative connotations. For some critics, it suggests moral problems such as greed and gluttony and materialism. For others, it suggests political issues ranging from environmental pollution (resulting from the manufacture and disposal of products that are intended for frequent replacement) to social inequality (as some people amass spending money while others labor to produce products often under poor conditions).

Consumerism has also been seen as promoting a false sense of freedom. The freedom to choose among products, some argue, may be mistaken for freedom to choose the social and economic conditions in which we live.

Concerns about glbtq Consumerism

Regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities specifically, two interconnected concerns have received particular attention. First, when lgbtq people are seen primarily to express their identities through the purchase of certain clothes, CDs, beverages, and accessories or through the patronage of certain restaurants and vacation spots, where does that leave lgbtq people who do not have a lot of money to spend on a week in Provincetown or assorted rainbow gear?

The promotion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer identities as consumer identities may exclude, and render invisible, people who struggle economically, a process that disproportionately marginalizes lgbtq people who are of color and/or female, since institutional sexism and racism affect economic status.

Second, the emphasis on locating identity in consumer choice contributes to the popular idea that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer is a "lifestyle." But do the primary issues regarding sexual and gender identities really concern style? Does individual or media attention to consumer habits divert attention from human-rights matters, or encourage people to confuse purchasing power with safety, dignity, and respect? Also, does the term "lifestyle" suggest identities that can be adopted and discarded like the latest fashion in clothing?

These are some of the issues raised by critics of consumerism among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people.


The last decades of the twentieth century witnessed the growth of the idea that there exists a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer market. Purveyors of products and services have worked to identify and court this market. Activists and cultural critics have studied the effects of these attempts. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, some more than others, have been able to enjoy increased visibility along with greater opportunities to participate in consumer culture. The social effects, both positive and negative, of advertising and consumerism in the communities of sexual minorities remain hotly debated.

Erica Rand

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Over the past decade, the field of market research has developed a more complete snapshot of a highly diverse population of glbtq consumers by using newer scientific methodologies.

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American designer Calvin Klein has created an extraordinarily successful fashion empire through his simple and elegant designs and his skilful employment of provocative advertising campaigns that are saturated with homoeroticism.

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Badgett, M. V. Lee. "Beyond Biased Samples: Challenging the Myths on the Economic Status of Lesbians and Gay Men." Homo Economics: Capitalism, Community, and Lesbian and Gay Life. Amy Gluckman and Betsy Reed, eds. New York and London: Routledge, 1997. 65-71.

Baker, Dan. "A History in Ads: The Growth of the Lesbian and Gay Market." Homo Economics: Capitalism, Community, and Lesbian and Gay Life. Amy Gluckman and Betsy Reed, eds. New York and London: Routledge, 1997. 11-20.

Baker, Dan, Sean Strub, and Bill Henning. Cracking the Corporate Closet. New York: Harper Collins, 1995.

Clark, Danae. "Commodity Lesbianism." Camera Obscura 25-26 (1991): 181-201. Rpt. The Gay and Lesbian Studies Reader. Henry Abelove, Michèle Aina Barale, and David M. Halperin, eds. New York and London: Routledge, 1993: 186-201.

Gluckman, Amy, and Betsy Reed, eds. Homo Economics: Capitalism, Community, and Lesbian and Gay Life. New York and London: Routledge, 1997.

Hennessy, Rosemary. Profit and Pleasure: Sexual Identities in Late Capitalism. New York and London: Routledge, 2000.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rand, Erica  
    Entry Title: Advertising and Consumerism  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated February 3, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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