At a recent town hall, Ad Age brought together leaders from the media and advertising world to discuss how brands can be doing more when it comes to LGBTQ+ audiences.
While brands bring out their rainbow storefronts in June, LGBTQ+ people in the media space feel that brands are missing out by not engaging, representing and hiring them year-round.
Couldn’t make the event? Watch the stream here.
Here are five key takeaways from the sessions:
1. The data show more can be done
The queer community has been growing in recent years. According to a 2020 Gallup poll, 5.6% of U.S. adults identify as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans, up from 4.5% in 2017. That’s around 18 million Americans that brands could be tapping into.
“We should be treated as normal people,” said Lucas Crigler, associate creative director at McCann. “We spend money, we make purchases just like everyone else.”
Advertisers seem to be taking note of this. In 2019, less than 2% of ad submissions at Cannes Lions featured LGBTQ actors. This year, nearly 10% of ads were inclusive.
Rich Ferraro, chief communications officer at GLAAD, points out that brands have a lot to gain by staying engaged with the queer community and educating the general population. “Consumers put a lot of trust in brands, sometimes more than the government,” Ferraro said. “It’s an opportunity for brands to educate the general population by representing LGBTQ people.” One example of this is the NFL’s “Football is Gay” ad.
2. Stand behind the queer community, not just during Pride Month
Consumers, especially queer consumers, have started to take a closer look at brands’ behaviors beyond Pride Month. One way is looking at political donations, and finding brands waving rainbow flags are also donating to senators supporting anti-LGBTQ legislation. There have been more than 100 pieces of anti-trans legislation introduced this year across the U.S.
“One thing we can do is encourage clients to take meaningful actions, beyond June,” said Sarah Garman, group strategy director at Droga5.
Agencies can also do more to advocate for including and representing LGBTQ communities. One way to work with, say, a more conservative client, would be to use data. “The LGBTQ group is huge, and big spenders,” said Crigler. “That could be a selling point to clients, a way to speak their language first. It only takes a crack in the door to knock it down.”
3. Representation in front of, and behind, the camera
Brands that do not employ LGBTQ voices will have a hard time portraying those stories accurately. Representation on internal teams, both in conference rooms and in the production studio, is critical.
“There needs to be open conversations and active allyship internally for queer folks to feel comfortable,” said Garman. “Yes, those conversations can be hard or awkward, but for us as queer people, it's important that we trust that our friends, colleagues and clients have good intentions. We need to approach situations with vulnerability and forgiveness.”
Brands that do support their queer employees can greatly benefit. Garman points to Mastercard's “True Name” card, which allows consumers to have the name they identify with on their credit and debit cards. The award-winning idea came out of an LGBTQ workshop.
Ferraro also suggests working with LGBTQ consultants to ensure an authentic voice.
4. Invest in LGBTQ+ media
Another way brands can do more for queer communities is to spend on queer media.
“We have not had enough representation in upfronts,” said Michael Kelley, co-owner and board chair of Equal Entertainment. “There is a real opportunity if brands spend year-round, even if they spend less, but more often. If you invest in this community, you will get a lot of love back.”
Kelley said that the biggest challenge for attracting ad dollars is scale. His team spends $1 trillion in the U.S, but in RFPs brands tell him he doesn’t have enough scale.
Rachel Lowenstein, director of Invention+ at Mindshare, agrees. “Queer media hasn’t been given its due. Queer culture is pop culture, and if brands want to be relevant, they have to engage there.”
Lowenstein said it’s also important to not discount broader media that covers LGBTQ+ issues the right way. “There is a way to shift dollars to prioritize queer-owned and run media, as well as those who support the community.”
5. All shapes and sizes (and races and ages)
There has recently been a push by advertisers to include people of color in creative. But often, the LGBTQ community is represented by white “L”s and “G”s. More could be done to feature those who are trans and non-binary.
The queer community is not a monolith, but it is often marketed to and represented by youthful LGBTQ. “It’s crucial to show that our gender identity and sexuality is a small part of who we are. Queer people are of every race, every age, every demographic. But it's still often geared towards the younger generation,” said Crigler. “It’s important to see older gays in these ads, as our views are different from the younger generations.”
Michael Wilke, founder of Commercial Closet Association (now AdRespect.org), echoed that idea, saying: “Brands need to feature more LGBTQ-identified talent. We’re not all gay white males, who are desingers. We’re parents, surfers, bankers, nerds."