Gaywheels.com called BMW hypocritical, pointing out though the automaker targets "the deep pockets" of gays and lesbians by advertising in publications like The Advocate, it doesn't offer domestic-partner benefits to employees. "Gay and lesbian consumers want to spend their money with gay-friendly companies," Joe LaMuraglia, publisher of Gaywheels.com, told Advertising Age. "A lot of people will see companies advertising in gay media and assume they are gay-friendly."
Using domestic-partner benefit programs as a criterion, Gaywheels.com lists some 30 "gay-friendly" and nine "non-gay friendly" auto brands. Seven other auto brands are listed as "still investigating" as the publisher waits to hear about the status of their benefits programs. A BMW spokeswoman said the automaker, in an effort to stay in line with New Jersey laws, does not offer domestic-partner benefits to any staffers. However, numerous New Jersey-based marketers do offer domestic-partner benefits, including Subaru of America, Campbell Soup Co., Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Novartis and Prudential. The state of New Jersey since 2004 has provided domestic-partner benefits to its employees.
The issue is gaining momentum among shoppers in the gay and lesbian community, which collectively control $641 billion in buying power this year, according to Witeck-Combs Communications, a Washington-based ad agency specialist in the field. Nonprofit Commercial Closet estimates all marketers spent $230 million in measured media, including online and sponsorships, in 2005.
There is no official breakout for the automotive sector, but an Advertising Age analysis of TNS Media Intelligence figures shows automotive marketers last year spent $5 million advertising in two leading gay publications, The Advocate and Out.
So what's an advertiser to do? Marketing to gay consumers has already opened corporate America up to attacks from ultra-conservative groups like Donald Wildmon's American Family Association. Now, gay groups are turning up the heat. Mike Wilke, Commercial Closet's founder and executive director, said gay organizations have pushed corporations to adopt nondiscriminatory policies.
In December, the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights organization, issued its first "Buyers Guide for Equality," which scores brands based on the group's annual Corporate Equality Index. The index rates corporations on criteria including staff policies, advertising and sponsorships.
The buyer's guide did not evaluate BMW, but DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Co. USA all received perfect 100 ratings. GM, Volkswagen of America and Subaru of America each scored 86. Nissan North America scored the worst among automakers with a 29.
Commercial Closet is backing a Principle of Free Market Advertising Expression asserting that all companies in America "have the basic right to determine their own market expression-by advertising and selling to all customers respectfully and inclusively." The Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies last month endorsed the principle.