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Tuesday, 16 October, 2001, 08:31 GMT 09:31 UK
Selling to niche markets
Queercard
The card aims to attract rich, professional gays
By BBC News Online's Jorn Madslien

This week's launch of a credit card specifically for gay men and women was hailed as a push to combine commerce with campaigning.

Not only does it "present an opportunity for card holders to make a personal statement every time they use their Queer Card," the company behind the launch, Queercompany.com, said.

It also does away with what the gay campaign group Stonewall's Angela Mason calls "intrusive lifestyle questions".

But whereas the card may preserve privacy and help gay people promote their identity, it is not really that cheap to use.

Queers, students and women

Neither is the formula of combining a commercial nose with campaigning especially new.

Ivan Massow
Mr Massow: "Pink pound" millionaire

In the credit card business, universities and charities have for years invited former students and generous members to take out credit cards.

This has enabled them to promote their logos while automatically garnering cash for their coffers.

Targeting the pink pound is not new either.

Ivan Massow, an outspoken gay businessman and political figure, made his name and his fortune by selling insurance to homosexuals, some of whom were turned down by mainstream insurers due to concerns over HIV and Aids.

In fact, even the Queer Card's declared aim, campaigning to "show retailers the massive financial clout held by the queer community", has been heard before.

Girl power

Until just a few years ago, similar arguments were used about women's consumer power.

Most companies quickly realised that women are not exactly a niche market, though many businesses used to treat them as such.

Take Land Rover, the maker of macho cars with unwieldy steering and big wheels.

For decades, the company pretty much ignored women motorists.

Those days are gone for good.

Women input

Land Rover now asks women what they would like to see in a car before they design it.

Land Rover
Land Rover: Macho image

In addition, women "are just starting to have a voice in the area of advertising and dealership training", said global corporate communications manager Kay Francis.

After all, "the percentage of car buyers who are women has risen to 40-45%", Ms Francis said.

Old money

Similarly, ever more old people buy cars as well.

Again, they are not necessarily looking for the same as the motor industry's traditional consumers.

A good friend's mother regularly curses the electric windows of her modern hatchback while longing for her old manual winder.

While another acquaintance wants a car simply to get about locally and finds it difficult to visit traditional car showrooms.

The car industry is not yet giving the old a great deal of attention.

But there are several other specialist companies that target the over-50s market, offering a wide variety of products and services.

The UK's Saga, for example, sells electrical goods, insurance, holidays - and cars that are often cheaper for the elderly and can be delivered to their doors.

Marketing

Marketing professionals love to divide people into sub-groups - old or young, rich or poor, straight or gay.

Each "niche market" is then assigned attributes that should help companies predict how they will behave.

Queercompany's Wanda Goldwag insists that gay and lesbian people "are naturally early adopters" and "the products they consume are at the leading edge of technology, innovation and design".

While child marketing firm Logistix Kids insists that "the kids marketplace is extremely dynamic and volatile, making it very difficult to track and predict".

Niche marketing

The already virtually endless list of "niches" continues to grow as companies come to realise that they ignore powerful and wealthy minorities at their peril.

Small, new competitors are popping up to take on disgruntled customers who have deserted companies that have been unwilling to change their ways.

Remarkably, many of them have succeeded even though they do not always offer the best deals.

See also:

02 Aug 00 | UK
Ivan Massow: Gay abandon
15 Jun 01 | Business
Independent maverick falls to earth
20 Feb 01 | Business
The tough world of online banking
16 Feb 00 | Scotland
Tourism searches for its niche
29 Jun 01 | Business
Testing times for youngsters
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