While demographic-specific targeted marketing is hardly unique to the gay community, the means used by marketers to sell to gay men certainly are. And why? Because much of the advertising targeting the gay community appears in publications widely read by non-gays too. Overt gay-targeted advertising would have the potential to 'scare away' or 'turn off' certain non-gay customers who, whether obviously homophobic or not, would prefer not to purchase goods or services they associated with homosexual identity.
So the challenge for marketers wishing to target a gay audience is that they need to communicate a gay-specific, seemingly-"pro-gay" message to the gay consumer, while not alienating non-gay consumers with varying degrees of homophobia. So companies like, among others, Abercrombie & Fitch, include intensely homoerotic scenes in their advertising, clearly hoping to garner the attention of trend-setting homosexuals everywhere. And at the same time, the things that are most intensely homoerotic are also ostensibly ambiguous. That is, it is precisely because the nearly-naked or (hey, let's be honest, if you look at some past Abercrombie & Fitch catalogs), entirely naked group of young, muscular men frolicking on the beach are playing football and making out with girls that gay men are so intrigued. This isn't a pornographic fantasy; this is, we are to believe, really what straight, attractive, American guys DO when nobody's looking. They frolic. They touch each other. They fondly laugh and grin at each other, comfortable with their bodies, their sexuality, and their lives.
Of course, that's not truly how it is at all. But it's supposed to be just ambiguous enough to be believable. I mean, these aren't gay guys, after all. They're playing football! They're paying occasional romantic and erotic attention to females in various degrees of undress! The gay guys I know don't do that. So gay-coded advertisements sell a homoerotic-but-not-gay-cuz-overtly-gay-sucks fantasy to young gay men who wish they could be there too.
I argue that this clever (yet sinister) marketing technique produces serious, negative, secondary effects for the gay male community.
First, and most obviously, there is the problem of commoditizing the gay identity, such that one’s gay identity—if it is to be accepted as true and legitimate—must be purchased, often in the form of designer clothing. But this problem arguably exists for all market-worthy communities. The more unusual and virulent byproduct of gay-coded ads is the implicit message that the reason the ads are coded rather than overt is that gay identity should be hidden. Make no mistake; gay-coded ads are as heteronormative as overtly homophobic ads are. The difference? Rather than being rejected and boycotted by the gay community, the products in gay-coded advertisements are celebrated, devoured, espoused by gays. If, as is often said, branding sells an image and not just a product, then gay-coded ads are an ingenious (if sinister) invention; after all, it must take true genius to dream up the idea of selling homophobia to gay men.
How profoundly insulting.