June marks an important, and admittedly colorful, time for members and allies of the LGBTQ community: Pride Month. Countless cities across the globe hold festivals and parades honoring the fight for equality that started in June of 1968 at the New York City Stonewall Riots. Pride serves not only as a reminder of the progress we have made and the fights we have won and lost, but the vast amount of work that is still needed to become a society truly inclusive of everyone, no matter their sexual orientation or identity.
As I participated in the Pride festivities in Washington D.C. this past weekend, I was reminded of the increased commercialization of Pride and the LGBTQ community in general. As recently as 10 years ago, companies that outwardly showed support of the gay community risked outrage and protests from select religious organizations and fringe groups like One Million Moms. Now the tables have turned, and it is a company’s perceived lack of support for the LGBTQ community that is more likely to prompt boycotts. However, this new circumstance has resulted in an emphasis on “gay” symbols like the rainbow, flags, etc., rather than what being gay truly means. Being gay doesn’t skew demographics, only psychographics. So while companies have done a better job at marketing to the gay population, their doing so has further put a wedge in what makes us different.
The LGBTQ community is increasingly becoming a key target market for companies and advertisers. With a purchasing power of nearly one trillion dollars in the U.S. alone (Bloomberg), LGBTQ buyers and consumers have become integral to the success of many companies and brands. However, when creating content geared towards this community, it is no longer enough to simply show solidarity or incorporate something “gay” into the content. Now more than ever, companies need to show that their brand is an ally of the community, not just looking for new ways to increase revenue.
Here are five key ways brands can advertise authentically as an ally of the LGBTQ community:
1. Think beyond stereotypical campaign themes
Yes, Madonna, Broadway, and RuPaul’s Drag Race are gay icons, but they do not define the entire LGBTQ community. Rainbows and equal signs are nice and well intentioned, but successful marketing strategies go beyond these simplistic, and sometimes cheap, approaches to meaningful messages and outreach. As Apoorva Gandhi, VP of Multicultural Affairs for Marriott International, said, “You can’t just put out a campaign with a few rainbows thrown in.” Rather than relying on a checklist of token symbols and music, a good strategy acknowledges the diversity of the community, all with varying tastes and interests.
2. Be more diverse in casting
The LGBTQ community encompasses every race, religion, gender, gender identity, and walk of life. Too often, in the process of attempting to be inclusive, advertisers take the easy route and feature young and attractive white men in their campaigns. This strategy will not win any favors with the diverse and increasingly vocal members of the LGBTQ community. To truly be inclusive, brands need to push the limits and represent our trans sisters of color and our Asian bisexual brothers, too!
3. Tell authentic stories
Drawing inspiration from real members of the communities portrayed creates much more compelling stories. Featuring an actual trans person of color, a real drag queen, and authentic gay couples will give your campaign (and your brand) credible, impactful opportunities to engage all audiences. A perfect example is when General Mills featured two gay dads with their adopted daughter in a Canadian Cheerios commercial. This authentic approach made a lasting impression that Cheerios and General Mills are on the side of equality.
4. Walk the walk, even when the campaign is over
It’s so important that brands back up their “me-too” messaging with genuine support of the LGBTQ community. Loyalty goes both ways–you can’t expect us to buy your t-shirts, book rooms in your hotels, and watch your television shows, but then be silent when we need your voice to join with ours. Timing is everything, and modern marketing savvy means knowing when our community needs allies. Think of the companies that mourned with us after the Pulse nightclub shooting, pulled out of business deals when North Carolina passed HB2, and were out celebrating with us in 2013 and 2015 when we finally gained the right to marry. Instinctive and timely responses create lasting impressions and appreciation for brands that fought alongside us when we needed it most.
5. Talk with us, not at us
No one likes to be sold to. Rather than overtly targeting the LGBTQ community with “gay” messages, show members of the LGBTQ community in everyday situations like sharing a meal together, walking the dog, changing a diaper, or getting married. An important step is showing content that incorporates us, not highlights us.
The LGBTQ community is just like every other target demographic–we want to see content that shows us living our normal lives and being accepted for who we are. Great strategies show us as we are, not the spectacle that we are often expected to be.
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