Negotiating subcultural authenticity through interpretation of mainstream advertising

Ilona Mikkonen

Helsinki School of Economics


American marketers became interested in gay and lesbian consumer segments in the late 1990s. Several marketing studies have revealed that, at least statistically speaking, homosexuals form a potentially very lucrative market segment. Previously invisible in the commercial sense, the homosexual community was soon labelled a dream market (Kates 1999); better educated, higher than average incomes and (often) no children, and also willing to spend their substantial disposable incomes on personal luxuries such as shopping, cosmetics, dining out and travel (Sender 2002).

Yet, homosexual audiences’ interpretations or perception of advertising has to date received little attention in academic research (Oakenfull & Greenlee 2004). Existing research has been interested mostly in heterosexual consumers’ opinions about using homosexual cues (Bhat et al. 1998; Oakenfull & Greenlee 2005; Oakenfull et al. 2008) and preoccupied with audiences’ ability to recognise certain cues or signals as references to homosexuality (Grier & Brumbaugh 1999; Reichert 2001; Oakenfull & Greenlee 2005). With a few exceptions (Borgerson et al. 2006a, 2006b) there has been little research into the ways in which the members of homosexual subculture read and interpret advertising images, or interest in homosexual consumers’ interpretations of mainstream advertising.