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Chevrolet Malibu and Isaac Mizrahi Marketing Advertising Partnership – A Social and Market Analysis of Openly Gay Spokespeople in Advertising

Summary. Chevrolet has launched an innovative and unique advertising campaign on Facebook in partnership with Isaac Mizrahi to promote their 2013 Malibu. The website ChevyMalibuStyle.com forwards to their Facebook page. One of the early pioneers to use Facebook as an exclusive hosting platform was Vitamin Water.

Demographic. It’s not clear who this new Chevrolet advertising campaign is intended to reach, but here are some initial thoughts.

  • Mizrahi doesn’t seem to have a sufficiently large following to generate additional auto sales from his own fan base.
  • Some will find his colorful personality smart and delightful, yet others won’t connect with his delivery. He seems like someone who would reach a niche market, but how Chevy intends to reach that niche market is still unclear.
  • Mizrahi is flamboyant and openly gay which may win some points with the gay community, but it’s not clear that gay consumers will run out and purchase a new Chevy Malibu.
  • The declared tie-in for the campaign is to make a statement about the smart design of the Chevy Malibu, and in this regard Mizrahi may be qualified as a spokesperson. Mizrahi mentions the attractive design of the Malibu as well as the technology designed into the car for making it pleasant and easy to drive. Yet, there are significant differences between clothing design and automotive design.

Possible Gay Considerations. There’s a vocal minority of people who will be opposed to Chevy’s choice of a gay spokesperson. While, at the same time, some who identify with the gay (or LGBTQA) community will see this as a victory and newsworthy. For example, LGBTQNation.com featured a story about Ellen DeGeneres being hired to be a spokesperson for JC PenneySome people will view this partnership as simply between a car company and a clothing designer — who happens to be gay. Such people may even be offended by this article, claiming Mizrahi being gay is irrelevant and gayness in itself has become inadequately myopic and non-descriptive as a label to define people.

Gay Advertising – Level 1. It’s still relatively uncommon for large companies to choose openly gay celebrities to serve as a spokespeople. One of the first notable examples of a departure from tradition is when Ellen DeGeneres [Facebook] was selected as a Covergirl spokesperson/model. This choice seemed to work well because Ellen has millions of fans, and many of them are women who might buy Covergirl makeup. Men like Ellen because of her attractive features and stylish pixie-like haircut. The Covergirl ads featuring Ellen are humorous [sample 1, sample 2, Sample 3], and Ellen had fun on her show with the topic of being a Covergirl model. [video] In one of the ads Ellen declares, perhaps as a sarcastic quip at the superficiality of the beauty industry, “inner beauty is important, but not nearly as important as outer beauty.” Through her TV show, Ellen seems to emphasize inner beauty.

  • In what’s described above as Gay Advertising – Level 1, the advertising demonstrates a strong brand/product connection with the spokesperson and women are the primary consumers who identify with the product.

Gay Advertising – Level 2. Based on the success of Ellen’s Covergirl experience, JC Penney recently decided to select Ellen as their spokesperson/model coinciding with the launch of their advertising campaign featuring gay fathers. This decision was met with resistance and protests from some anti-gay people. JC Penney then experienced substantial losses. [source] Despite Ellen’s previous success with Covergirl, a broader brand like JC Penney, with greater cross-gender consumer identification, increases the chances of resistance. Click here to view the humorous JC Penney ads featuring Ellen.

  • In what’s described here as Gay Advertising – Level 2, there is less of an identifiable connection between the spokesperson/model and the brand/product(s). Also, there is a larger base of male consumers who identify with the brand. In general, the exposure is greater and likelihood of resistance is increased.

Gay Advertising – Level 3. The choice of Mizrahi by Chevrolet seems to be purely a litmus test of the marketplace. It will be interesting to see the public response to the campaign. If this campaign performs well, it will be a strong indicator to the advertising industry that gay advertising is growing in its acceptance among consumers. As mentioned above, in a largely masculine dominated product line and market such as the auto industry, there may be some backlash among homo-phobic consumers who feel a strong brand affinity and equate Chevy with Apple Pie, the American flag, and one’s sense of masculinity.

  • In what’s described here as Gay Advertising – Level 3, there is very little identifiable connection between the spokesperson/model and the brand/product(s). Also, there is a larger base of male consumers who identify with the brand. In general, the exposure is greater and likelihood of resistance is increased. By comparison, a film like The Bird Cage is less likely to meet resistance from male viewers than a film like Brokeback Mountain which is set in the context of cowboys and the west.

Multiple Messages. Advertising can deliver multiple messages beyond the superficial information about a product or service. To achieve critical mass for social change, consumers in a society need exposure to new concepts. The greatest impact can be achieved through government education initiatives, Hollywood product/concept placement, and the power of advertising. Also, company policies that advance certain initiatives can have an impact. As an example, the initiative to inspire healthier choices of food has broad support from government, Hollywood, and advertisers. The movement toward greater environmental responsibility is also heavily supported by government, Hollywood, and businesses.

Voluntary Product Placement. Apple computers began appearing in advertising, television shows, and movies disproportionately to their market share. This was a result of people voluntarily choosing to feature Apple computers almost like free product placement. It may be that influential people in advertising and marketing will begin to flood the industry with gay spokespeople/models for similar reasons.

Business Impact. It would be interesting to see the results of a survey on the topic of gay spokespersons/models. One can assume there will be 10% to 20% of the population (or greater) who are gay or gay friendly (LGBTQA) and these people will likely respond positively to gay spokespeople/models. There are perhaps an equal 10% to 20% who don’t like gays and these will protest. This leaves about 60% to 80% of people who probably don’t care. There’s still a vocal minority of our society who are opposed to gays being teachers, coaches, ministers, Boy Scout leaders, or advertising spokespersons. So, deliberately choosing a gay spokesperson/model is one that risks public backlash. Yet, some companies seem to feel more strongly about equal rights and an inclusive society than about maximizing profits. Another example is the Oreo Gay Pride campaign described in the video below. The photo on the Oreo Facebook page generated over 298,000 likes and more than 60,000 comments.

“I disagree with the claim by Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks when he states that businesses will only take a stand for something if they perceive it will be profitable. Increasingly businesses are shifting to a triple bottom line model of decision making. This means that profits don’t drive companies anymore, but ethics do. A company may choose to exceed environmental responsibility expectations at great cost simply on principle. Similarly, a company may speak out on gay rights and risk a loss simply on principle. After JC Penney signed on Ellen DeGeneres and launched their two-dads campaign depicting gay men with kids in their ads, the business experienced a substantial loss in sales. Other companies have experienced declines in sales from boycotts after taking an unpopular stand on social issues. On some issues, the marketplace doesn’t always convey the overall collective democratic opinion of society. This is because a vocal minority, through a boycott, can have an impact even though they are a minority.” ~ Greg Johnson

Net-Loss Donation Calculation. When companies express support for an issue or cause, and hold their ground, they may lose some customers and subsequently lose profits. The net loss could be considered an in-kind donation.

Videos. The video below is the introductory clip to the Chevy Malibu Mizrahi campaign.

Isaac Mizrahi Interviewed by Craig Ferguson – 10 January 2012 (below)

Isaac Mizrahi Gives Fashion Advice (below)

Isaac Mizrahi Announces Marriage on The Wendy Williams Show (below)

By Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson is a freelance writer and tech consultant in Iowa City. He is also the founder and Director of the ResourcesForLife.com website. Learn more at AboutGregJohnson.com