Taking a shine to gay lists

Mainstream direct marketers are increasingly tapping gay-community lists, and with good reason: Consumers identified as part of the gay market tend to be double-income households with high disposable income.

But gay lists have typically been difficult to find. In 1979, for instance, “it was hard to scare up 200,000 names twice a year,” says John Knoebel, president of Triangle Marketing Services (TMS), a list brokerage/management firm specializing in gay and lesbian files. He estimates that the number of identifiable gay and lesbian buyers, subscribers, and donors available to mailers is now approaching 5 million.

Knoebel, the former circulation director of gay magazine The Advocate, began TMS in 1995, with The Advocate as his flagship client. In the past three years, he has seen the use of gay lists increase, especially by mainstream financial and catalog mailers. Knoebel cites marketers Neiman Marcus, Barnes & Noble, Citicorp, American Express, Pacific Bell, and Bergdorf Goodman as continuation users of gay files.

Sean Strub, chairman of list firm Metamorphics Media (formerly Strubco), has also seen more interest in gay lists from mainstream marketers. “Seven or eight years ago, 70%-80% of our business was marketing lists to gay-specific mailers. Today it’s the reverse-most of the major consumer direct marketers now use gay lists.” The kinds of offers for which gay lists work particularly well, Strub says, include upscale home decor and furnishings, entertainment, books, travel, fragrances, clothing, and magazines.

While some marketers have gay-specific offers, the vast majority treat the segment as just another list universe. “A few years ago, brokers knew gay lists would work, but they touted the lists as ‘affluent, urban singles’ or some other non-gay-specific nomenclature,” Strub notes.

Metamorphics and TMS, both in New York, each manage about 2 million names on 45-50 lists. But gay lists are still generally small. “Only about eight lists have more than 100,000 names,” Knoebel says. “We don’t shrink from managing lists of 5,000 and 12,000 names. And large mailers know that reaching the gay market means putting a lot of small lists into a merge/purge.”

Indeed, that’s been the case for men’s fashion cataloger International Male. Although more gay lists have become available in the past five years, says marketing director Scott Faull, “they’re pretty small lists, and there’s a high degree of duplication among many of them.” He suggests making a net-name arrangement with these mailers to avoid paying for the dupes.

Gay lists typically rent for about $105/M, which is comparable to the cost of high-ticket catalog lists and smaller, specialized subscriber files, but slightly higher than the cost of mainstream subscriber lists and consumer catalog lists, which average $90/M-$95/M.

But International Male’s Faull, for one, doesn’t mind paying a little more for gay lists. While he won’t cite specifics regarding response rates from the files, “they work, so we’re willing to pay for them,” he says.

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