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EarthLink Ups Its Queer Connection
Gays seen as more high tech.
By Michael Wilke


Earthlink ally Junior Vasquez.

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JULY 31, 2003. Seeking increased connectivity with the gay market, the Internet provider, EarthLink, has ratcheted up its spending and presence with more advertising and special dance music remixes bundled with installation software.

Online First
The move comes amid an increased sense that lesbians and gay men are more high tech oriented than the general population. A new Forrester Research study reveals that 80% of gay men are Internet users compared to 70% of heterosexual men, while 76% of lesbians are online compared with 69% of straight women.

The study also shows that lesbians and gay men got online earlier. Almost 30% have been online for more than seven years, compared with 18% of straight men and women. In addition, Forrester found gay men are more likely to own portable MP3 players, browser-enabled phones and personal video recorders.

EarthLink, headquartered in Atlanta, began advertising in the gay media last year, and this summer paid for full-page inserts carrying pictures of same-sex couples and the headline, "Face the Music — your Internet service should be as fabulous as you are." The campaign is to run throughout the year in Genre, Instinct, OUT and The Advocate, as well as Girlfriends, Curve, and Baby, local gay newspapers and Pride events. Online ads will run on Gay.com and Planetout.com, and EarthLink is holding a sweepstakes giving away an iPod and an iMac.

Directed Campaign
"We've always sought ways to connect with the diverse community, they're a match with our core values and beliefs," says Elizabeth Halkos, EarthLink dial-up Internet brand manager. From existing research, they've learned that the biggest difference in Internet usage is that lesbians and gay men spend four times as much time online than straight users, and "our companies tend to be higher [time] users too," she says. EarthLink is also in the process of collecting data on its own brand in the community as well.

Many of the EarthLink gay market ads are cardboard inserts that include a CD with software to install the service, along with three songs from Heather Headley, a Tony Award winner for Elton John's AIDA. Two tunes, "I Wish I Wasn't" and "He Is," are exclusively remixed by superstar DJ Junior Vasquez.

"We wanted music and artists that are relevant to our target," says Travis Pagel of Osmosis Medialab, New York, which handles EarthLink's gay market efforts. "One of the things we wanted to do was get this [software] into people's hands and the music was something that got people to connect with the CD and use it."

Popping the Question
Forrester's Consumer Technographics study of 60,000 households asked about sexual orientation for the first time, and 5% of men and 2% of women identified themselves as gay or lesbian. Forrester notes that 20% of respondents didn't answer the sexual orientation question, and guesses that "significant numbers" of lesbians and gay men chose not to identify as such.

Consistent with previous studies of select groups, gays turned out to have somewhat higher incomes and education levels. Lesbians earned $6,600 more per year than straight women, and 19% of gay men and lesbians have post-graduate degrees compared to 14% of straight men and 12% of straight women.

According to the report, "Gays lead in the adoption of a whole host of emerging technologies and almost every online activity we ask about in our surveys. It's true that any group of higher-income and more highly educated consumers will be earlier adopters of technology. But even after adjusting statistically for online tenure and demographic differences — including the likelihood to be coupled and have children — we find significant differences in gay people's technology behaviors."

Digital Divide
The report found that lesbian and gay consumers are quicker to pick up new Net behaviors and nascent devices. DVDs are owned by 54% of gays vs. 46% of straights. Digital cameras are owned by 30% of gays vs. 23% of straights. Surround sound is owned by 37% of gays vs. 30% of straights. However, straights owned video games and camcorders in higher percentages.

Lesbian and gay consumers also use the Internet more for dates and porn. Twenty-five percent of gays vs 7% of straights use the Internet for personal ads. Forty-one percent of gays vs. 12% of heterosexuals use it for porn.

Community, entertainment and fashion sites also attract lesbian and gay users. Gay.com brought in 39.9% of gays online in the last 30 days, while Planetout.com brought 32.8%, and AOL Chat 8%. Sports sites were only a little less popular for gays at 21% compared to 28% for straights.

Study Conclusions Falter
Ironically, it says, "Don't ask your customers if they're gay even 'for marketing purposes in aggregate' ... because sexuality remains a sensitive subject, asking about it directly could turn away many of your customers." This contradicts their own study — if no one asked the question, facts would never be available.

Forrester also recommends, "Because gay men and women stand out from heterosexuals in many of the same ways, one ad campaign will usually suffice to reach them both." This does not take into account differences of media use for gay men versus lesbians or the challenge of making an equally enticing message for both sexes.

Mike Wilke's Commercial Closet column covers gay issues in advertising, marketing and media. For 85 years of gay images worldwide see www.CommercialCloset.org.



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