Kelly Sans Culotte


Seeking Loyalty with Loyalty
Avis and Ford give back to gay consumers.
By Michael Wilke

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August 2, 2005. As they get more savvy about gay marketing, Avis Rent A Car and Ford Motor Company are going beyond simple advertising campaigns by offering a variety of incentives, like shopping discounts at video stores, and donations to community organizations.

Avis Rent A Car System, which entered the gay market in 2003, created the unique "A Card" last year to create value and brand awareness. The red-and-white card carries a special code for 10 percent discounts at TLA Video, 20 percent off gay magazine subscriptions, and more. It ties in with the ad campaign tagline, "You're A-list to us," touting that Avis doesn't charge extra for domestic partner drivers.

Over 1.5 million "A Cards" have been distributed in magazines, film festivals, and events, and they're used a lot. TLA Video enjoyed nearly $300,000 in sales from its relationship to the card in 2004.

Avis Supports Gay Film Festivals
"What we were looking for was a platform to create a relationship with the customer," explains Scott Deaver, executive VP of marketing for Cendent Car Rental Group, which owns Avis and Budget Rent A Car. "In the wider world, we're realistic and know that it's not the highest interest category. People don't break a sweat over it. Since that's not a great platform to build a relationship on, we asked our ad agency to pick something that people think about more often than car rental, like entertainment."

Thus, since 2003 Avis has directly supported gay film festivals across the country. Since the card requires no registration, to create a database and communicate directly with card holders, Avis has launched a sweepstakes for a "VIP Festival Pass" trip to the 2006 gay film festivals in Miami, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Avis also tracks website traffic to to determine the effectiveness of its campaign. "A lot of corporate advertisers don't even have a dedicated page to the community," notes Jay Arnold, president of Impax marketing, Philadelphia, which handles the Avis gay market account.

Avis also tried a program in 2003 in which one dollar for every reported rental was to be donated to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), but since the donation was so small few people bothered to fill out the paperwork and the program failed.

Its bigger rival, The Hertz Corporation, quietly joined Avis in the gay market this year. However, Hertz has not yet created dedicated ads or initiated a presence at major events.

Ford Motor Brands Fund HRC, GLAAD
Initiating its own program for the gay market in January 2003, Ford Motor Company began introducing its brands Jaguar, Volvo, and Land Rover. (Ford has not yet brought out its own brand name in the gay market, and as yet there is no indication when it will.)

Building on a new sponsorship of the Human Rights Campaign, Jaguar began an annual giveback purchase offer program with $1,000 donations going to HRC for any purchase or lease. Less than a year later, it was followed by Volvo with $500 donations, then a few months later Land Rover was added, at $1,000 a sale. Last year, the brands switched donations for Volvo and Land Rover to GLAAD, and Volvo remained with HRC.

"The program is based on what GLBT people tell us they're looking for — companies that support us," says John Butler, senior strategist at Witeck-Combs Communications, the Washington D.C. firm that handles Ford's gay marketing.

The cars' price differences reflect the donation sizes, something Witeck-Combs tested with focus groups. "We had to figure out what amount it takes to get consumers to do something," says Butler, noting the failure of the Avis $1 to GLAAD effort.

The program is working well. A Ford source reports that 2004 represented nearly three times as many redemptions over 2003, and that Volvo has done best of the brands. Both HRC and GLAAD report positive results. The idea is working so well that Ford and HRC are now exploring ways to apply the idea outside of their relationship.

Butler says the ability to measure market response is particularly relevant in the face of pressure from a recent evangelical boycott threat against Ford. "I felt like we had a little jump of people turning in their purchase promotions" as lesbians and gay men responded to the threat, Butler says.

A recent survey of 697 visitors found that when gay-friendly companies were boycotted, most (65 percent) claimed to support the company with purchases. Another 21.8 percent said they simply cursed fundamentalists, while just 13.2 percent said they took the time to support the targeted company by calling or writing.

As competitors crowd in, and evangelicals attack, advertisers have a strong interest in creating campaigns that can be tracked to show the fruits of their efforts, while also giving back to the community. After all, loyalty is the best way to earn loyalty.

The Commercial Closet — bringing lesbian, gay, bi and trans sensitivity to corporate advertising.

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