How Turning a Blind Eye Can Hurt a Brand’s Bottom Line
In the 11 years since Logo launched, same-sex marriage has been legalized nationwide, the Stonewall Inn has been named a national monument, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been repealed and same-sex couples are now raising 4% of all adopted children in the United States. In tandem, the television landscape for gay characters has gone from marginalized cable programming aimed at primarily LGBTQ audiences—Queer as Folk, The L Word—to mainstream network TV shows like Pretty Little Liars and Grey’s Anatomy. And while there’s a clear opening in the marketplace for advertising to LGBTQ viewers, based on a study by Viacom that included the input of over 1,000 LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly voices, only 35 percent of Forbes’ top 100 brands have done so directly. So the question has to be asked: Why are so many brands still ignoring gay consumers?
The Social Change Factor
To be clear, there’s no shortage of money or influence in the LGBTQ community. Especially when you take into consideration that there are 25 million LGBTQ-identified Americans in this country with an estimated buying power of $917 billion dollars. And the power doesn’t stop there. When it comes to influence, the impact can also be felt by what their straight counterparts are buying too. According to the study, 90 percent of hetero-identified interviewees say they trust the recommendations of their gay friends, and 70 percent say that their gay friends are often first adopters when it comes to new products.
But for brands looking to extend their outreach, the notion of falling back on old stereotypes isn’t going to work. The key is understanding how the gay community perceives itself today, and how that both mirrors and veers away from straight consumers at the same time. Ultimately, the gay community wants to retain its own identity but is always looking for allies. In fact, LGBTQ consumers are 78 percent more likely to purchase from brands that support causes important to the LGBTQ community. But don’t assume slapping a rainbow flag on a product is going to be enough. Astute LGBTQ consumers are looking for brands that donate money to and speak out about social causes that matter to their community, like Honey Maid’s widely publicized 2014 “Love” video in response to negative comments about a gay couple featured in one of their TV ads.
Tiffany shows the first same-sex couple in their company advertising, 2015
Diversifying the Message
Because all demographics are not created equal, it’s important to note that there are varying ethnicities, verticals and lifestyles within the gay community that need to be considered as well. And when a brand positively engages with them the return is immediately evident: Absolut has been marketing to various groups within the gay community for over 35 years, first by advertising in magazines like The Advocate, then at events in bars, through donations to charities and causes, outdoor advertising, and most recently they partnered with Logo’s RuPaul’s Drag Race for viewing parties across the country. A senior executive at Pernod Ricard USA noted those same parties brought Absolut 20 to 80 percent sales gains for the brand.
Including the gay community in mainstream advertising campaigns is a start, but for brands to truly reach them, marketers must also acknowledge that the gay demographic is not merely one rigid market, but rather, a diverse, ever-evolving, and most importantly, growing community with enormous buying power and varying experiences that mirror their straight counterparts. As one gay-identified influencer from the study explained, the unique experiences of LGBTQ-identified people also trickle down to what they wear, drive and buy: “LGBTQ are very expressive people. Anyone who identifies as LGBTQ has had to come out and do something bold in their life. They want to express that part of who they are.”
And that expression becomes a real opportunity when you consider the many untapped extensions that exist and the connections that can be forged that go well beyond sexual orientation and gender identity. Brands that share these values of self-expression, embracing the bold and celebrating diversity are the ones that speak loudest and most authentically to the gay community.