United is 1st major airline to target gays

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United Airlines has become the first major airline to advertise specifically to the gay market, adding The Advocate to the media plan for its "Rising" campaign.

A United spread from Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, appears in the June 10 Advocate and is expected to run through the fall.


Smaller carriers Kiwi International Airlines and Virgin Atlantic Airways have directed ads to the market for years but, despite attractive travel demographics, United is the first big airline to target gays.

According to a study about the gay market from Simmons Market Research Bureau and agency Mulryan/Nash, 90.6% of gays and lesbians took a domestic trip in the last year compared to 64.5% of the general market.


"I wonder what took them so long," said Jim O'Donnell, chairman of consultancy Seabrook Marketing. "Gays and lesbians are an important audience, and they want to feel a sense of corporate welcome."

United's entry comes at a delicate time. It recently joined in an Air Transport Association lawsuit against the city of San Francisco, opposing a law that takes effect June 1 requiring companies that do business with the city to provide benefits to partners of gay and lesbian employees.

Joe Landry, national ad director at The Advocate, said the airline arranged to be in the magazine before the San Francisco issue came up.


American Airlines has sponsored numerous events in the gay community since 1994 and was widely expected to advertise after naming a sales liaison to the gay market three years ago, but it has yet to do so.

"We have a strong foothold in the market," said Rick Cirillo, American's global sales and marketing manager to the gay and lesbian community. And because "the perception is we've already advertised," he said, it's a cost savings not to.

United is the latest major advertiser to woo the gay market recently, following moves made by IBM Corp., Subaru of America, Smith-Kline Beecham and Johnson & Johnson.

Copyright June 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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