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Volvo Bids for Gay Families
"Some families are carefully planned. Others, you just meet along the way."
By Michael Wilke


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MAY 15, 2003. Gay families, previously hidden away in the suburbs, are now starting to make their way into advertising. Volvo Cars of North America is taking its heritage of safety and family appeal a step further by introducing its new SUV with the first national car ad picturing happy gay couples posed with a child or dog.

Volvo's print campaign for the XC90 shows two men and a baby, and a woman embracing her pregnant partner, with the headline, "Whether you're starting a family or creating one as you go." Another image shows two men pictured with the C70 sedan warmly embracing their Yorkie.

The text reads, "Some families are carefully planned. Others, you just meet along the way. Whoever makes up your family, think about making Volvo a part of it." The ad also says Volvo will donate $500 to the Human Rights Campaign when a vehicle is purchased or leased.

The print effort targets men and women ages 40-50 and runs from May to August in OUT and The Advocate, which will also carry a gay family essay contest at Advocate.com. It is the second phase of a campaign for the XC90 that began in February -- the first time a new car was introduced in gay media and mainstream media simultaneously.

'Much More than the Traditional Family'
"For us, it was very natural to address gay families," says Thomas Andersson, executive vice president of Volvo Cars North America. "We're targeting people with modern family values. It's a value set and the Volvo-minded consumer is very diverse. 'Family' is much more than the traditional family."

Indeed, other corporations are starting to take a look at gay families as well. In 1999, Fleet bank ran an ad in alternative weekly papers of two women sitting together, one pregnant. Also that year, furniture maker Mitchell Gold ran an ad in home decor magazines with two men and a young girl on a couch carrying the headline, "A kid deserves to feel at home." Last year, Bank One addressed the issue with an ad that appeared in gay newspapers showing a man with an earring, posed with a young boy and girl. The text reads, "It may be a son or daughter, niece or nephew, even a partner, but someone you love may want to go to college."

Dennis Giglio, director of emerging market acquisition programs for Bank One, says, "It is a myth that gay and lesbian households don't have children in their lives."

One-Fifth to a Third of Gay Households Have Kids
New census data for 2000 backs this up. It found nearly 600,000 same-sex couple households -- the first year such information was collected, and considered underrepresentative -- appearing in nearly every county nationally. Of those, 33% of female households and 22% of male couples reported having children.

The new families campaign from Volvo, owned by Ford Motor Co., is the latest result of proprietary Ford gay market research lead by its gay agency of record, Witeck-Combs Communications in Washington, DC. The research, conducted last fall, already brought Jaguar, also under Ford, into the market with gay-tailored ads launched late last year. Its headline reads, "Life is full of twists and turns. Care for a partner?"

Ford discovered that the community is more inclined to SUVs than the general population, 30% to 23%, according to Jan Valentic, vice president of global marketing at Ford Motor, which is why the XC90 is co-star in Volvo's gay families ad.

"The notion of the chosen family is very strong in the gay and lesbian community," notes Howard Buford, president of Prime Access, which created the Jaguar and Volvo ads. "Gay focus groups indicate a strong preference for direct messages that show who they are. When advertisers usually talk about families, the gay mindset is, 'They don't really mean our families.' It's a message of exclusion unless it is direct."

Volvo began testing the gay market in June 2001, with a one time mainstream ad for the S60 in Genre, and as a sponsor of the GLAAD Media Awards. It also follows dabbling by Ford with gay marketing that began in 1999 for the compact car Focus on Gay.com.

Racy Australian Ads for Volvo
The new campaign makes Volvo one of few car companies to create tailored gay market advertising, following Subaru. Still, it is a very different tone than the racy ads carried for Volvo in Australia.

The 2003 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardis Gras program book carries an image of a phallic-looking parking brake handle in the "erect" position with the headline, "We're just as excited as you." In 2001, in Blue magazine another Volvo ad simply announced, "Volvo's are no longer straight."

Volvo and Ford aren't worried about any conservative backlash to their domestic gay families effort. "It wouldn't scare us from doing something that's right for our company," says Valentic.

Are gay family ads here to stay? They may continue to just trickle in. "We've talked with a lot of clients in other product categories who have shied away from representation of gay families," shares Buford. "Some just really don't believe in the broad definition of family like Volvo does."

Despite the fact that Ford's heritage is more conservative than Volvo of Sweden, more gay marketing news is expected from Ford later this year.

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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