LGBT Marketing


It happens so often that it’s not even a big deal anymore. The parents of an abducted baby in a popular crime drama are a U.S. Marine and his husband. The baby in a TV commercial has two mommies. An award-winning show features a transgender lead. In short, seeing LGBT individuals in the media just isn’t newsworthy anymore. In April 1997 Ellen DeGeneres made national headlines when her television alter ego announced that she was a lesbian – today, nearly two decades later, it barely registers when an athlete, actor or musician comes out.

Over the last few decades LGBT has gone mainstream in popular culture. It’s simply a reflection of our evolving society, where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people help create the colorful patchwork of humanity. Perhaps more importantly, it appears that acceptance of these “alternative” lifestyles is gaining unparalleled traction. But there is still a long way to go.

At the same time the state of Indiana was being boycotted for passing a law that seemed to allow discrimination against gays, actor James Franco suggested he was dropped from three ad campaigns due to his involvement in gay-themed films. Clearly, there’s still a cultural tug-of-war going on when it comes to complete acceptance of lesbians and gays (the pulling is probably still more one-sided regarding bisexuals and transgender people). So the question begs, can marketers afford to target the LGBT community? Maybe the better question is, can they afford not to?

Recent research has shown that gay consumers are a powerful, disposable-income-rich market: They have a 23% higher median household income and 24% more equity in their home than heterosexual contemporaries, according to a 2012 Prudential survey, they’re two times as likely to own a vacation home, 5.9 times as likely to own a home theater system and eight times as likely to own a laptop computer than heterosexual consumers. Some more stats from a 2012 Community Market survey: 26% of gay men say they will pay more for top quality brands, 30% have taken a major vacation in the past year, and 40% bought a new smart phone in the past year.

So how can advertisers go there without costly missteps in what could be a marketing minefield? There are some rules of thumb:

  • Be sensitive to stereotypes that reinforce negative images of LGBT individuals. Don’t make their appearance the punchline of an article or film. On the contrary, they should be depicted doing everyday things that people do: shopping, eating, hanging out with friends, or showing affection.
  • Stay clear of stereotypes. Advertising inherently relies on a certain level of stereotyping, but be cognizant of oversimplifying.
  • Do your research: learn and consider the LGBT perspective in any mainstream campaign.
  • Be authentic. Before you can even consider cozying up to the LGBT market, be sure the brand doing the targeting “walks the talk.” Does the company’s hiring practices reflect equality? Does it have a history of treating its gay and lesbian employees well? These things matter to a savvy LGBT community.

It seems there is a still a mile or two to walk when it comes to overall acceptance of people who identify as LGBT, and marketers can have an important role in helping this significant segment of society own their value by seeing themselves reflected in the marketplace.

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