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Chasing the pink dollar $ (The Straits Times [Singapore])
17 Aug, 2003

Some mainstream businesses here are pitching their products and services at gays, whom they see as trendsetters with high spending power

A GOOD-LOOKING man throws his head back, his well-toned body streamlined clearly in a condominium pool.

The advertisement's tagline: City living has never been so tempting.

The target audience? Women, of course - but men, too. The strategy by property consultancy Hamptons International subtly markets an upmarket Tanjong Pagar condo, The Arris, to gays in Singapore.

It paid off. Only seven of the 63 one- and two-bedroom units have not been taken, said the company.

Most buyers are 'young, successful cosmopolitan singles or couples', said Hamptons managing director Michael Ng, who estimates that 20 to 30 per cent are gay.

'It was a daring move based on a hunch. We wanted to target the affluent modern crowd - and gays form a substantial segment.'

Hamptons is one of a handful of mainstream businesses here quietly cashing in on the so-called Pink Dollar, which has enticed marketeers in the United States and Britain since the early 1990s.

Just as advertisers have targeted single women with cash to burn as a desirable market, gay men and women are now also seen as a lucrative market.

A snapshot: They have a higher disposable income as they usually have no children, and are trend-setters who appreciate the good life.

The Pink Dollar got its hue from the pink triangle that Nazis forced gays in concentration camps to wear. It was to identify and shame them, but it has since been embraced as a symbol of gay pride.

Retail analysts and market research companies said they know of no study on the value of the Pink Dollar here, but research in the US estimates gay spending power totalled US$340 billion (S$598 billion) in 1999.

The only estimates available in Singapore come from a 2001 survey commissioned by the gay Internet portal Fridae.com, which polled 700 visitors to the website. According to this poll, 43 per cent hold professional and executive or managerial positions and over half earn more than $45,000 a year.

Dr Stuart Koe, co-founder of Fridae, which organised the National Day gay bash Nation.03 last weekend, admitted that results may be skewed by the white-collar profile of Internet surfers.

But he claimed: 'Gays generally are more well-educated, have a higher disposable income, and they tend to spend more because they like to spoil themselves.'

Companies buying the spiel include mainstream names such as Subaru, Asia-Pacific Breweries (Anchor Beer), Dolce & Gabbana Parfum, Qantas, Smirnoff, Pan Pacific Hotel and Hotel 1929.

They sponsored Nation.03 this year. Last year, the only sponsors were Qantas and Anchor. And back in 2001, there were none.

Other names advertising on Fridae's website include L'Oreal, The Link, Emporio Armani, Yeo Hiap Seng (Pepsi and Evian), Golden Village and Diners Club.

Carmaker Subaru, long known as a gay-friendly brand in the US, is distributed here by MotorImage Enterprises. Its marketing manager, Mr Francis Tan, said: 'Gays are a very attractive market as they are probably more brand loyal if the brand makes the effort to connect with them.

'In that sense, it is a business-driven decision. But it is a moral decision too as we see it as showing that we do not discriminate against gays and lesbians.'

D&G Parfum spends about $60,000 - 30 per cent of its annual marketing budget - funding gay-friendly events.

Brand executive Audrey Lee said: 'Gays appreciate the finer things in life, and thus fit into our desired image.

'They now form about 20 per cent of our customers, and we're hoping to boost this to 50 per cent.'

Broth in Duxton Hill, named the best new restaurant this year by Wine & Dine magazine, was also upfront about its motives.

Chef-owner Steven Hansen, who estimates that 15 to 30 per cent of its customers are gay, said: 'We build powerful connections with gay guests by showing that we care about them.' '

Being served by open-minded staff in a romantic setting, being able to hold hands over the dinner table without stares or frowns from others, keep them coming back.'

But most of the businesses interviewed admitted being concerned that their courtship of the Pink Dollar may alienate the conservative mainstream.

Anchor Beer tested the waters gingerly last year by contributing its products to the Nation.03 party.

'It paid off by helping us elevate our brand as a trend-setting one,' said assistant brand manager Samantha Chan. This year, the company came up with cash.

Many other companies known as gay-friendly declined to be interviewed, saying it was an 'inconvenient and sensitive' topic.

Clients of the advertising and marketing company Publicis Worldwide began to show interest in the gay market three years ago, said its Asia-Pacific chairman, Mr Guillaume Levy Lambert.

He cautions against pigeon-holing: 'Younger gays and older lesbians are not part of the same group. There are also blue-collared gays. They have different attributes, and you have to target accordingly.'

Whether targeted marketing will pay off is no certainty.

'I won't buy something just because the brand is gay-friendly,' said army regular Andrian Liao, 23.

But for now, companies that backed Nation.03, underwriting 20 per cent of its $100,000 cost, should be pleased with the publicity they got in return.

About 5,000 people showed up, twice as many as last year, and more than three times the 1,500 at the 2001 party.

Spotted there too were officers from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), which regularly polls tourists and analyses their spending.

STB would say only that they were 'looking at ways to make the nightlife in Singapore more vibrant, and was there to understand the needs of visitors'. Sydney's Mardi Gras, an annual gay parade, it should be noted, is said to bring in A$40 million (S$46 million).

Dr Koe thinks that as many as three in 10 at Nation.03 were visitors - from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, the US and Britain - ready to party and splurge.

Among them was Mr Michael Fisher, 33, an assistant boutique manager in Sydney, who said he spent $5,000 here over six days.

'It's my first time in Asia and I wanted to come here because I've heard so much about the party. I came armed with my gold MasterCard, a single boy's best friend!'


AUSTRALIAN Michael Fisher, 33, came to Singapore just to attend the Nation.03 party. The assistant manager of the Prada boutique in Sydney earns $4,200 a month. This is what he spent during his six-day stay here:

Air ticket: $800 for return flight on Qantas
Accommodation: $1,200 for five nights at Sheraton Towers, with breakfast and drinks
Taxis: $100
Shopping: $1,200
Drinks: $1,200
Food: $600
Ticket to Nation.03 party: $55
Clubbing: $40 for entrance to Centro and ChinaBlack
Gym: $35 for day pass to California Fitness
Total: $5,230 - or, excluding airfare, $738 a day

'I've been texting my friends at home about what a ball I'm having here, and telling them that they must come next year! It's quite pricey, but I want to spoil myself a little. I had nothing but a good time here. And yup, I'll definitely be back next year.'

According to the Singapore Tourism Board, the average tourist last year stayed 3.1 days here, and spent $233 (excluding airfare) a day. Mr Fisher stayed twice as long, and spent three times as much.


MR KULA Singham, 39, who works in the finance industry, lives with his partner of four years, a student writer in his late 20s. He makes more than $15,000 a month, spends about $10,000 and saves the rest. This is what he spends a month:

Housing: $1,800 in instalments for their walk-up apartment in River Valley, bought for $465,000 in 2001. They also own a studio apartment in the same area, bought for $770,000 in 1999. The $2,000 monthly rent pays for the mortgage.
Utilities: $150 Insurance premiums: $400
Maid: $950, including maid levy. The couple pay a premium wage to their experienced Indian maid.
Food expenses: $1,000. The couple usually eat out.
Fine dining: $500
Gym: $100, at California Fitness.
Books: $800, at Borders and Kinokuniya.
Art: $800, mostly photographs and paintings from gay-friendly galleries Utterly Art and Art Seasons.
Plays and concerts: $100
Relationship counselling: $240
Clubbing: $200, usually at Water Bar, Centro and Taboo.
Clothes: $800, from Hugo Boss, Project Shop and Zara. Work shirts are tailor-made, as Mr Kula prefers French cuffs.
Charity: $300 Allowances: $2,500 to three godchildren aged five, four and two.
Travel: $1,000. The couple spend about $12,000 a year on holidays. They spent $2,000 on their last one, a three-day stay at a luxury resort, The Datai, on Langkawi.

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