A majority of American adults are not put off by gay advertising or affiliations with gay causes, according to a new national survey.

The results contradict campaigns by organisations such as the American Family Association who have attempted to create a boycott of the Ford Motor Company because of its advertisements in gay publications and sponsorship of pride events.

While the results mirror the findings of a similar national survey conducted for Fleishman-Hillard two years ago, they come at a time of increasingly contentious debate about the rights of gays and lesbians and their role in American life.

The survey of over 1000 consumers, conducted for FH Out Front, Fleishman-Hillard’s gay and lesbian communications practice, also found that a majority of Americans would “do nothing” to support a boycott against companies targeted for promoting their products to the gay and lesbian community.

“We conducted the first survey in a dramatically different environment for gay and lesbian issues, yet the results from June 2004 were similar to the most current survey taken in May 2006,” said Ben Finzel, co-chair of FH Out Front and a senior vice president in Fleishman-Hillard’s Washington office.

“This year’s results confirm that outreach to this audience often makes good business sense. The similar results from 2004 to 2006 validate what we’re seeing every day: the gay and lesbian consumer is increasingly important to corporate America, particularly as savvy marketers look for unique ways to differentiate their products and services in an increasingly crowded marketplace.”

The overwhelming majority (82%) of those surveyed in 2006 indicate it does not matter to them if a company whose products they use on a regular basis also promotes them to the gay and lesbian community (virtually the same as 81% in 2004). In 2006, two-thirds of American adults surveyed (68%, virtually identical to the 2004 response of 67%) indicate that knowing a company promotes its products or services to gays and lesbians has no effect on how they feel about the company.

The FH Out Front 2006 Consumer Outlook survey was conducted by Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) from May 4-7, 2006. A similar survey – with similar results – was conducted for Fleishman-Hillard by ORC in June 2004.

The 2006 survey also found that a majority of Americans (52% , up from 46% in 2004) would do nothing if an organisation launched a boycott against companies that market or promote products and services to gays and lesbians.

Although 7% of 2006 respondents said they would participate in such a boycott, more than double that number, 15% said they would speak out against the boycott. In 2004, 9% of respondents said they would participate in a boycott, and 19% said they would speak out against the boycott.

In 2006, the survey also measured consumer sentiment about boycotts levelled against companies that “support causes or organisations related to or affiliated with gays and lesbians.” Although the question was new this year, the survey results are nearly identical to the other boycott question: 7% of respondents would participate in the boycott, 14% would speak out against the boycott and 53% would “do nothing.”

“The consistent survey results on boycotts indicate that despite often significant media coverage, boycotts don’t really affect consumer purchasing behaviour,” Mr Finzel added. “This survey result is good news for the increasing number of companies focused on reaching the gay and lesbian community.”

More than three-fourths (78%) of respondents in 2006 indicated they personally know someone who is gay or lesbian (similar to the 76% response in 2004). The survey also found that those who personally know someone who is gay or lesbian are more likely than others to support companies that market to the gay and lesbian community.

Consistent with the 2004 results, the 2006 survey included cautionary results that indicate that gay and lesbian consumer outreach must be considered carefully: 22% of respondents indicated they would have a lower opinion of a company that specifically markets to gays and lesbians, down slightly from the 24% number cited in 2004. And while 69% of 2006 respondents (up from 65% in 2004) indicated that it would not matter to them if a company used gays and lesbians to market or promote a new, everyday product, less than one-fourth (22%, down from the 24% figure cited in 2004) indicated this would make them less likely to purchase the product.

Other research estimates the buying power of the lesbian and gay community at $641 billion annually. Common population estimates assume that as much as 10% of the US population is either lesbian or gay, a community recognised as one of the largest untapped audiences remaining in the communications marketplace. The 2000 US Census found self-identified gays or lesbians in 99% of the nation’s counties.