Kelly Sans Culotte


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Japanese Join Gay Fray
Casio, Panasonic and Mitsubishi shoot for queer market.
By Michael Wilke


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FEB. 18, 2004. Casio, Panasonic, and Mitsubishi are three of the latest major brands to enter the gay market, a move most Japanese companies have avoided until now.

While digital cameras may be everywhere, the Tokyo-based Casio Computer Company is the first maker to bring them into gay media. Seeking to regain its lead and distinguish itself in a heavily competitive market, Casio has introduced gay consumers to its year-old Exilim EX-S3, a thin, credit-card sized digital camera, with banner ads on Gay.com and Planetout.com.

The animated banners highlight the camera's size and features, and include an image of handsome young men together on the camera's back LCD screen.

"We wanted to emphasize its features, size and stylishness," says Yuko Ishikawa, strategic marketing manager. "We've been struggling to keep market share. We're hoping to make a comeback. We believe Exilim is a very unique concept and a 'lifestyle product.'"

Casio Rebounding
Casio was the first manufacturer to introduce a digital consumer camera into the U.S. back in 1995. However, the proliferation of competition has reduced the brand to a 5 to 6 percent worldwide share, and less than 1 percent domestically.

"We've realized it's hard to come back quickly in a market now dominated by the major players: Sony, Canon, Olympus, Nikon and Kodak," Ishikawa says. "Competition and pricing is so fierce. And unfortunately, U.S. consumers are conservative. We cannot invest the marketing money compared to our major competitors, so we decided to target users instead."

The gay community's reputation for being "early adopters," "influencers" and fashion-conscious were the deciding factors.

"We learned about gay market segmentation and that they are into high-technology and fashionable products," notes Toshi Iguchi, Casio's manager of mobile & imaging for global marketing, who became interested after reading an article published by the market research firm Packaged Facts.

Osmosis MediaLab in New York was selected as the brand's agency after a brief review in summer 2003. Their campaign was launched online in December in time for the competitive holiday season.

Online media was the first medium of choice for Casio because "we have a limited budget and it's easier to track," says Ishikawa. Results are being tracked by click-through rates, and the campaign continues into 2004 with support for another model, the Exilim EX-Z4U. Other media are now also under consideration, Casio executives say.

In a rare, multinational approach, though not coordinated with the U.S. effort, Casio is also pursuing the "pink pound" in England.

Panasonic and Mitsubishi Enter the Fray
Meanwhile, other Japanese brands are making their way into gay media. Matsushita Electric Corporation of America introduced its mainstream ad for Panasonic brand DVD recorders into December issues of The Advocate.

The company may have some image problems after a commercial for its electric shaver received negative reviews from gay viewers. That 2002 spot, from Kaplan Thaler in New York, was set in a prison. When one prisoner rubs the face of another and compliments his smooth skin, a prison riot breaks out.

Consumer electronics remains an underdeveloped category in the gay market, but Panasonic joins high-end Danish electronics maker Bang and Olufsen, also new to the market. Over the years, a few other high-end stereo equipment makers have sought gay listeners. Harmon International Industries' JBL speakers from the U.S. were advertised in the Advocate back in 1994. Another Japanese electronics brand, Aiwa, had a brief presence in OUT magazine in 1996.

The Mitsubishi Galant sedan rode into the February issue of OUT for the first time with a general market ad. It is among the latest major entries in automotive advertising, increasingly a crowded market, along with General Motors' Cadillac which also introduced general ads in gay magazines. The first Japanese-owned brand entered the gay media in 1996. The maverick was a car company, Subaru of America, owned by Fuji Heavy Industries.

The Galant's 2004 campaign is supported by the largest spending ever in the company's history, according to a Mitsubishi spokeswoman, and includes "the first print ads we've done in a very, very long time. The idea was to really broaden our customer market. We wanted to reach as wide an audience as possible, families, different segments that we hadn't touched. We're very inclusive in how we look at a number of things, as far as diversity." The message, she says, is that, "Our products are stylish and stand out in a crowd."

Rounding out the Japanese presence, watchmaker Seiko has been in gay media since 1998, and is currently advertising its Kinetic line there.

On the Sidelines
Despite increasing interest, many major Japanese manufacturers like consumer electronics market leader Sony or competitors Sharp, Sanyo, and Toshiba have not tested the gay market. Camera companies Nikon and Canon, video gamers Sega and Nintendo, and major automotive makers Toyota, Honda, and Nissan also remain on the sidelines.

As a result, the new Japanese marketers willing to court the gay market with a tailored approach and consistent presence may be able to win a place for themselves before their competitors even notice.

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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