Patrick Strudwick

Patrick Strudwick

On why the colour purple could change your life

What do Levi’s, American Apparel, Nike, Microsoft, Apple, GAP, Google, Starbucks and IBM all have in common? Apart from being corporate Goliaths with a combined value of many billion, these are just some of the brands who have come out in favour of gay people. Some publicly support gay marriage, some give money to gay causes and some simply extend spousal employee benefits to same-sex partners, when the law doesn’t require them to.

This is not merely a nod in the direction of equality from capitalist totems. It represents a huge cultural watershed far greater than anyone has yet grasped. In the 90s, gay people, along with the mainstream press, got very excited about a newly identified economic force, the so-called “pink pound”. As a vaguely cohesive social group, with a higher disposable income than straight people (so the rhetoric went) the belief in the pink pound as a necessary market to attract, did much to further the cause of gay equality. Perceived financial clout really did trickle down and water gay causes. Money doesn’t just talk. It booms.

But something new is afoot that will have a much more potent affect on the lives of gay people. Let’s call it the “purple pound”. Blue chip companies now recognise that it isn’t sufficient to simply appeal to gay customers. Now they – the Microsofts, the Apples, the GAPs – know they have to appeal to pro-gay straight people. Why? Because support for gay issues is higher in younger people and youth is where the mainstream early adopters are. It’s where the money is today and where it will be tomorrow. An aging customer base means a dying company.

Thus, the map of society, as perceived by corporations, no longer looks like a small pink section for gays – representing, say, 5-10% of sales – with the rest, straight people, coloured blue. As the fight for gay equality, particularly in the US, becomes ever more polarised and indicative of all kinds of other personal attributes – your religion, your race, your income, your age – in marketing terms there are now two large sectors: purple (gay and pro-gay people) and blue. The blue group is waning. The purple pound is waxing.

We may not gain equal rights across the world simply because it is humane and just. It is impossible to now ignore that we will be helped along the way by corporations. When the GAP released an advert recently showing two cute men wearing one t-shirt and embracing each other, the message was simple: “Two men together is cool.” Exposure to images like this lodges in the collective subconscious. Gay becomes sweet, not scary.
It may not be surprising to see a clothing brand – even one that caters to middle America and middle England – representing our lives. But this understanding that to be pro-gay is good for business is already leading to support of gay rights from the most unexpected quarters.
In an astonishing volte-face, Beenie Man, the dancehall star whose lyrics have included lines urging listeners to “kill batty fucker”, apologised recently.

“I was a kid and I come from Waterhouse, which is a small community,” he said. “I never knew what the world is all about. But now I know that people live in this world that live their life differently from my life.”
And Jay-Z, perhaps the most powerful man in hip-hop, partly due to his famous business acumen, has changed his tune too. He once called us “faggots” in his songs. Now, perhaps because he knows it’s better for business, or perhaps because he’s seen the light (being married to Beyonce wouldn’t be easy if you hated gays), he has spoken out in favour of gay marriage.

“Whatever people do it’s totally up to them,” he said, when questioned on the subject.
In the end, marketing departments could help transform the lives of gay people. This might sound far-fetched, that I am a rose-tinted freemarketeer with a boner for business, but it simply comes down to influence. As young people have more progressive attitudes, companies will increasingly have to target them through their representatives (in the case of the record companies, that means their artists) or their advertising. Whether or not the company or its celebrity employees really believes in gay equality matters not. They say they are, and so, as taste-makers, as key influencers, their fans will listen.

People criticise Lady Gaga for apparently using the gay community for her own ends. They’re missing the point. What’s more important is that she promotes tolerance and love for LGBT people. Her hundreds of millions of fans get the message. Everyone else at least hears it.

With all music stars now under pressure to support us, with the world’s biggest companies realising they have to support those who support us, with advertising promoting us, the world – no matter what the religious right tries to do – is going in one direction.

The future’s bright, the future’s purple.

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