(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - Gay and lesbian consumers prefer fuel-efficient cars, account for 5% of new car purchases and have average household income in the six figures -- more than that of heterosexual households, according to a recent marketing survey.
So it's little surprise that General Motors ran a gay-themed advertisement in Detroit last month for the Chevrolet Volt, a pricey extended-range electric, the type of car studies show gay and lesbian consumers tend to like.
GM didn't count on the ad drawing national attention.
First published for $750 in the Motor City Pride edition of Between the Lines, a Michigan gay and lesbian newspaper, the ad ended up being viewed 11 million times through social media.
"This was a good omen," said Jan Stevenson, co-publisher of the magazine. "They put their toe in the water, and it worked out really, really well. If anyone's really paying attention to it, they would say, 'Wow, this is an untapped market.' "
Car companies mostly advertise directly to the gay community in small niche ways, but some experts say the greater general acceptance of the community and the success of the Volt ad could mean more of the marketing is on the way:
"If it's a manufacturer's desire to bring in wealthier, better-educated, younger customers, then the lesbian and gay market would be an avenue to that demographic," said Chris Travell, vice president of consulting for Maritz Research, which surveyed 200,000 consumers in 2011 and found that gay and lesbian households made 10% more money.
The Volt ad "told us that this was something worth undertaking when the opportunities present themselves," said GM spokesman Tom Henderson.
Nissan corporate communications director Travis Parman, who completed a 333-page master's degree thesis on the LGBT community, said the ad may signal a gradual return of gay-themed auto advertising that was virtually suspended during the Great Recession about three years ago.
"As the economy starts to come back, people become more confident in investing in the niche media again," he said.
With the trademark gay rainbow colors striping the Volt ad, it reads, "Whatever revs your engine, we support you 100%."
A caption above the Volt pictured in the ad also proclaims: "Mom, Dad: I'm electric."
Van Buren Township, Mich., gay couple Nick Graham, 28, and Dustin Dreese, 32, shopped for new cars for six months before settling on a Focus hatchback and an Edge crossover.
The two said it's true that they wanted to buy from a company that shared their values. But like all consumers, they really wanted great vehicles, including space for a car seat if they expand their family in a few years.
"We didn't buy a gay car," Graham said. "At the end of the day, what amenities are you going to give a gay person that a straight person isn't going to enjoy?"
Even so, there are studies that show gay and lesbian consumers have particular wants and auto companies could play to that, experts say.
On average, lesbian and gay car buyers are more likely to embrace fuel-efficient vehicles and high-tech features, experts said. Toyota, Ford, Honda and Chevrolet are the most popular brands among gay and lesbian consumers, according to San Francisco-based Community Marketing.
The 2011 survey of 40,000 LGBT consumers also found 17% planned to buy a new vehicle within 12 months.
GM advertised the new subcompact Chevrolet Sonic on the Fox TV show Glee, which portrays several gay and lesbian characters. Recently, Chrysler's parent company, Italian automaker Fiat, advertised the mini Fiat 500 on the LGBT-themed Logo cable channel.
The company, however, said it didn't tailor the ads specifically to those buyers.
Fiat's advertising must "appeal to all audiences in order to continue to generate and increase brand awareness," Chrysler spokeswoman Dianna Gutierrez said in an e-mail.