ii1ASsD8Cw0IJapan: Major US and European companies have slowly but surely begun to court the gay consumer market in Japan even though homosexuality in Asia’s second biggest economy remains largely in part culturally closed.

Same-sex relationships are rarely discussed in public among the Japanese, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the country still lacks legal recognition although homosexual activity in Japan was legalized way back in 1880.

But with the country’s current tendency toward globalization, opinion polls have shown a growing acceptance for homosexuality, and marketers and top brands are keen to go into this new market, reports japandailypress.com.

Italian luxury car brand Alfa Romeo has less than a 0.1 percent share of Japan’s car market, and it has no intentions of going toe-to-toe with local market leaders such as Toyota Motor Corp.

Tiziana Alamprese, marketing director in Japan for the Italian car brand, has aimed her efforts at the fringes of the market for a new group of customers usually overlooked by most domestic companies: gays and lesbians.

Alfa Romeo, owned by Italy’s Fiat SpA, has recently tied up with local gay organizations and began sponsoring gay film festivals and pride events. “Alfa Romeo is a sexy brand,” said Alamprese, who began her efforts in 2011. “When you buy an Alfa Romeo, you make a strong statement. It’s about your identity, being yourself, making an individual choice, and we wanted to work for a cause that matches that brand value.”

SoftBank, one of Japan’s top brands which has recently bought control of No. 3 U.S. mobile operator Sprint Corp. for US$21.6 billion, was among the sponsors of last year’s Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. SoftBank also got involved in the Tokyo SuperStar Awards, a gala to recognize contributions to the LGBT community, the japandailypress.com report said.

“They (the top companies) know that there’s a market,” Masaki Higashida, a former Deutsche Bank AG analyst who founded Qocci in 2007, said in an interview. “The majority of gay people can’t get married or have kids, leaving them with more discretionary income.”

In 2012, the year after Alfa Romeo’s involvement with the gay market began, their sales in Japan more than doubled to 4,452 vehicles from 1,863 in 2011. The marketing campaign hasn’t sparked any controversies or issues, according to Alamprese.

She predicts that more and more companies will tap into this niche market soon, especially in areas such as fashion and cosmetics. “There are so many possibilities,” Alamprese said. “We’re talking about lots of money.”

Japan is Asia’s second largest economy after China. It has a GDP of 5.3 trillion US dollars making it the third largest in the world after the US and China.

Source: japandailypress.com