'Queer Eye' for the List Guy Proves a Trend

The visibility of gays and lesbians through television shows such as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and other media outlets has made marketers more eager to test into the gay and lesbian markets, according to one list professional specializing in the field who is more than happy to serve as a “queer eye” for direct marketers.

“I think there is an increasing comfort level on the part of non-gay marketers to reach out to the gay market,” said John Knoebel, president of Triangle Marketing Services Inc., New York. “Corporations are naturally conservative in how they market, but I think there is a safe zone for mainstream marketers around the gay and lesbian market. They're not the 'other' that they once were maybe 25 years ago.”

Knoebel founded Triangle Marketing in 1995 after serving as circulation director at national gay and lesbian newsmagazine the Advocate for years. Two of Triangle's lead lists are the Advocate and Out magazines from Knoebel's former employer, Liberation Publications Inc.

Part of that comfort zone has been spawned by mainstream acceptance of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” in which five gay men known as the “Fab 5” give a different straight man a makeover each week. The show has been such a hit for the Bravo cable network that its parent company, NBC, even aired some episodes during its Thursday night lineup.

Since the late summer debut of “Queer Eye,” some consumer mailers have approached Triangle Marketing with an interest in the gay market, Knoebel said.

“We've had a lot of consumer catalogs over time but these happened during the late summer, early fall time frame,” he added.

Upscale furniture catalogers West Elm and Design Within Reach have tested gay lists recently with West Elm coming back for more. Other recent tests include DNR menswear catalog, Villeroy & Boch china catalog and Gevalia coffee as well as Nest and Cargo magazines, which both tested Out and the Advocate.

Though Knoebel can't definitively attribute this flurry of gay list rental to “Queer Eye,” he sees it as part of a trend that began several years ago.

“Though 'Queer Eye' got such incredible ratings for Bravo that they moved it onto NBC, we're really looking at it as a continuation of what started with shows like 'Queer as Folk' and 'Will & Grace,'” he said. “I didn't really see it as being anything more than a continuum of the increased visibility of the gay market that has been accelerating over the past few years. Even if interest in 'Queer Eye' wanes, it will be replaced by something else.”

Knoebel noted the success of the Ellen DeGeneres daytime talk show and that the Showtime cable network plans a show geared toward lesbians in January called “The L Word.”

He also mentioned the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning sodomy laws and the push for gay marriage in Canada and the United States as big factors in the visibility and viability of the gay and lesbian markets.

Still, it was “Queer Eye” that gained Triangle Marketing a lot of attention last month at the Direct Marketing Association's Annual Conference & Exhibition in Orlando, FL.

“We had the Advocate cover with the Fab 5 on it at our booth at the DMA show, and so many people came by the booth and said they love the show,” Knoebel said.

More importantly, many marketers came by to say that they wanted to start targeting the gay market in their direct mail campaigns, he said.

Knoebel, who has exhibited at the DMA show since 1995, said that the climate at this year's show was the most accepting ever. The looks of disbelief and discomfort of years past were pretty much gone, and marketers were receptive.

“For many, many marketers these would be new lists that they haven't tried yet,” he said.

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