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Strategies to attract the GLBT customer base

Inside Bay Bloor Radio's store in Toronto.

JENNIFER ROBERTS/jennifer roberts The Globe and Mail

The promise of the fastest high-speed Internet access for $25.95 a month, downloads unlimited, is a grabber. And when the full-page ad in Xtra – a publication geared toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) community – features two men in a nicely appointed kitchen, there's a good chance the target audience will see a reflection of itself and respond., a Mississauga, Ont.-based company with about 60 employees and 50,000 DSL customers, has pursued the strategy for good reason: Xtra's readership has a desirable demographic profile.

Paul Loura, a spokesman for Acanac, said the company uses a selection of ads in different media to attract the widest possible audience. "Xtra is a major partner for us. We want to reach consumers who will understand the technology and have the decision-making power to make purchases.

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"Our service is appealing to people who take advantage of streamed TV shows and music, and with the coming of netbooks this will be even more important."

Does the advertising get results? "We've been with Xtra for years," Mr. Loura says. " They're one of a group of progressive papers we use. If we didn't get results, we wouldn't be there."

Russell Belk, Kraft Foods Canada chair of marketing for the Schulich School of Business at York University, says not only is targeting the GLBT market common practice, there are a multitude of ways companies can position themselves to woo the customer base. "This is sometimes done by the type of offerings, sometimes by location, sometimes by donations and support of gay causes," he says. "Sometimes it's by signalling, like ads in gay publications or a pride flag or rainbow colours in a window."

Bay Bloor Radio, a 60-person enterprise based in Toronto that's well-known to audiophiles and connoisseurs of upscale viewing equipment, has been targeting a portion of its advertising budget at the GLBT market for about 10 years. "I read that Toronto has the largest gay ghetto in North America and I thought, 'true or not that is a market for us,'" says Richard Bowden, Bay Bloor's national sales director.

"We advertise in Fab (which bills itself as "the gay scene magazine"), with a different full-page ad every issue and have for a number of years."

Since Bay Bloor Radio is in close proximity to Toronto's gay village at Church and Wellesley Streets, Mr. Bowden says customers from the neighbourhood live in walking distance from the store. "It's easy to measure the success of this advertising," Mr. Bowden points out. "I see couples, gay and lesbian, come in all the time. Often one will drop by and then return with his or her partner.

"We advertise in lots of other places too: The Globe, other papers and radio stations, and we advertise different products in different vehicles. We see people come in and they will have the ad in their hands."

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For Orbit Productions, a company that produces shows ranging from Fetish Fairs in Montreal and Toronto this summer, to dance parties worldwide, a number of marketing techniques apply.

"We choose the location for our shows," says Yvan Honorat, CEO of Orbit. "The Toronto Fetish Fair was at Church and Wellesley, as about 50 per cent of people who are interested in fetishes are from the GLBT community."

The owner of Latex Toronto, a web-based company that sells latex clothing and a range of other goods such as sex toys and fetish gear, says it isn't enough to merely open for business with products geared toward the GLBT community. Getting established takes time, investment and perseverance, says Jan Scott-Charles, now known as the Latex Lady, after appearances at gay pride events and several fetish fairs.

"We have advertised in Xtra and Fab and handed out thousands of flyers and samples at events," she says. "Now, after almost a year in business, we are getting going in a profitable way. Our company is based on a concept I saw in England, but just transplanting the UK version to Canada wasn't enough.

"There are a lot of the GLBT community who are interested in latex, but the styles that appeal here are in some cases different."

Top of the list of mistakes companies can make in trying to appeal to the GLBT market is to be a poor corporate citizen. "Diversity training means employees need to respect each other. Insincerity is probably the biggest mistake," Professor Belk says. "An example would be appealing to gay consumers without hiring gay employees."

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Gabrielle Zhilka, who recently posed for an ad designed to attract gay students to the University of Toronto, says she's noticed an increase in attempts by companies to attract GLBT customers, and adds that seeing members of the community reflected in commercials and other advertising is a positive development. "But I would tend to choose a product by the price," she says.

"I'm frugal first of all. All in all though, it's a nice gesture, and a positive step ... I can take it with a large grain of salt and think that the companies are only after money. But I am from Toronto. My cousin, who lives in San Diego, a much more conservative place, was overwhelmed to see an inclusive ad for yogurt. It brought her to tears."

As Prof. Belk points out: "Eventually the aim is to be a truly multicultural society in which diversity is applauded and encouraged without having to conform or hide its identities."

Special to The Globe and Mail

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