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Business

Capitalizing on Christopher Street Day in Cologne

When the city of Cologne hangs out rainbow flags for Christopher Street Day, it hopes to do more than raise awareness for the gay and lesbian community. The city is looking to make money off the giant festival.

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Cologne celebrates its diversity

Each city in Germany has its big summer festivals. Kiel has the Kielerwoche, Berlin has the Love Parade, and Cologne has its Christopher Street Day. And each city invests large sums of money in the events’ marketing, in the hopes of attracting tourists from across the country and throughout Europe to come spend a few days and lots of euros.

The three-day gay and lesbian street festival in Cologne is no different than any of the other giant parties in this regard. Culminating in a colorful parade on July 6, the CSD celebration is the mid-summer highlight for the city on the Rhine. Next to Karneval and the Popkomm music festival, CSD is Cologne’s third largest event. It attracts approximately one million tourists a year and generates profits well over the million euro mark.

More than gay and lesbian awareness

Cologne’s Christopher Street Day parade is Europe’s biggest gay and lesbian festival, and according to the event’s organizers one of the world’s largest. But for the majority of Cologne residents, the parade is much more than a show of support for the gay and lesbian community.

As in years past, hundreds of thousands of people line Cologne’s streets to watch the dancers in bright feather costumes and skimpy leather outfits make their way through the city’s center. In the course of its 11-year existence, the Cologne CSD parade has become more than a colorful spectacle to remind people of the violent 1969 suppression of the Greenwich Village gay protest. It has grown into a major financial resource for the city’s economy.

A million visitors = a million euro

In the course of just a few years, the Gay and Lesbian Karneval, as the Cologne residents refer to CSD, has advanced from a relatively modest demonstration to a massive city-wide commercial undertaking.

Christopher Street Day in Köln

Participants in Cologne's Christopher Street Day Parade pose on July 6, 2003, in front of the city's cathedral.

Around 750,000 people attend the annual event and many travel from beyond the Cologne region, according to the official CSD Web page. And a few hundred thousand tourists translates into big money for the city's businesses. For the event’s organizers, it means CSD has become an accepted, and even important, factor in the Cologne business community

"The fact that we manage to attract so many people to the event opens the doors to meetings with key business partners," last year's marketing and business advisor Michael Schmidt told Deutsche Welle. And these in turn help promote CSD, he said.

City marketing

Two years ago, the city launched a massive advertising campaign designed to attract visitors from Europe and North America to the pride festivities on the Rhine. The city’s treasurers set aside 20,000 euros ($17,400) specifically for the campaign targeting homosexuals. As part of the advertisement, for instance, the city’s tourist board sponsored month-long ads in French lesbian magazines and Dutch gay newspapers for spending a weekend in "Germany’s gay and lesbian capital."

Since then the city has set its hopes on reaping the profits from a high homosexual tourist turnout. Cologne’s tourism manager Günter Wiencke said CSD is "big business" for the city.

"Based on studies in other cities, we can assume that every visitor who comes to Cologne for this event spends at least €75. When we multiply that amount by a million visitors, we have a sum in the three-figure million range. That’s an impressive number, and one which the city profits from not only in the long term, but also immediately," Wiencke explained.

Wiencke added that the city gains money off of each item sold during the three-day event, from clothing to food and beverages to hotel rooms. "A portion of the profits made during this time ends up as sales tax in the city’s coffers."

Lucrative marketing

The concept of making money by targeting gays and lesbians is nothing new to the business community. In Cologne, several big companies form an impressive list of official CSD sponsors, hoping to cash in on the lucrative profit margins.

Ford, Coca Cola, Deutsche BA, West cigarettes and Avis car rental all donate money to the event. They place their company logos on brochures, the CSD Web sites, and parade floats, as well as sponsor stands at the various parade venues.

Among these businesses, the Cologne-based Ford automobile factory is one of the most active sponsors. Its logo, for instance, is placed prominently on the CSD Web page every year. Ford factory workers are also actively involved in the CSD event itself. Since 1994, gay and lesbian employees have participated in the parade, and they have even formed a homosexual works council.

Over the course of several years supporting the parade, the motor company has come to recognize the advantages of marketing specifically to gay and lesbian consumers. Frank Niewöhner, a member of Ford’s product marketing team, told Deutsche Welle that Germany’s homosexual population represents a significant purchasing power.

"Statistically, we’re talking about five to ten percent of the population in Germany, and that’s a very, very big group. There are studies that say this target group has a high household spending budget because they frequently don’t have children. We also know that gays and lesbians tend to live in large cities and that they like to go out and have fun."

CSD organizers emphasize these characteristics on their Web site and offer to help sponsors reach out directly to a consumer-friendly, travel-happy and brand-oriented target group. They call this specific audience Gay Urban Trendsetters, or GUTs for short.

For companies like Ford that market products designed to appeal to a young and trendy consumer group, profits can be lucrative, not only for the three days of CSD, but in the long run. A company that sponsors the CSD parade signals to gays and lesbians that it supports their lifestyle and values their business, CSD marketing organizers suggest on their Internet site. This can go a long way to winning over dedicated customers.

Business and CSD go hand-in-hand

The Christopher Street Day organizers have no problem with the fact that sponsors are looking to make money off the gay and lesbian participants. In fact, they rely on these big-name companies to provide the much needed finances to run the event. Aside from the Cologne tourism campaign, the city does not contribute a single euro to the event; all the funds come from private donations and sponsors.

Michael Schmidt estimated last year that the three-day festivities cost approximately €650,000. A third of this money came from official sponsors, of which Ford was the largest. The rest of the money came from private individuals.

"When companies like Ford or Coca Cola work together with us on CSD, it sends out a positive signal to society," Schmidt said. "And that’s important to us. We’ve not come to the point yet, where we are fully accepted and can live as equals in this society. So this signal is important, it says the big names in business are on our side."

This article is an updated version of one that ran last year.

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