How Marketers Rate on Equality
First, a disclaimer: I make no claims to being qualified to
speak for LGBT consumers. I never received my copy of the
homosexual agenda. My good gay colleague Kevin had to remind me
that today is National Coming Out Day. But I have spent my adult
life writing about brands and marketing at Ad Age and, in my off
hours, being a gay consumer. Given a choice, I'd rather spend money
with companies that help, rather than hurt, my community.
How do companies get on, and off, my shopping list? For me, a
good starting point is a solid rating from HRC, a prominent LGBT
civil-rights organization. I then look for other cues to help
narrow the list of marketers deserving of my gay dollar.
Here are five steps marketers can take to make my
1. Don't be a hypocrite
My partner Kurt and I used to be big Target shoppers: decent
prices, style on the cheap, progressive corporate image. But then
Target blew its goodwill by 1) donating money to a stridently
anti-gay politician and 2) offering a lame we'll-get-back-to-you
response when equality proponents protested.
Target 's CEO promised "a strategic review and analysis of our
decision-making process for financial contributions in the public
policy arena" and said "Target will take a leadership role in
bringing together a group of companies and partner organizations
for a dialogue focused on diversity and inclusion in the workplace,
including GLBT issues."
Because of its blundered actions, Target lost its till-now
perfect HRC score. HRC this month said Target hasn't taken any
corrective steps to mend its relationship with the LGBT community.
Nice job, Target , you just lost the gay market.
2. Stand up for civil rights
I look for companies and brands that stand up for my
constitutional rights and support my community. HRC, for example,
lists three dozen national corporate sponsors, from American
Airlines to Waste Management.
American Airlines is an omnipresent supporter of pro-equality
groups, giving it credibility to go after gay travel dollars.
(Check out AA.com/rainbow.)
Waste Management? LGBT support meshes neatly with the trash
hauler's efforts to position itself as a green, progressive company
-- part of the solution, not the problem.
Campbell Soup Co., Kellogg Co. and Johnson & Johnson are
among the national corporate sponsors of Parents, Families and
Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), a group long-revered in the
AT&T, Bank of America and Comcast Corp. are sponsors of
Equality California, an equal-rights group.
AT&T and Wells Fargo are national corporate partners of
Trevor Project, an organization focused on crisis and
suicide-prevention efforts for LGBT and questioning youth.
3. Advertise in gay media
Nearly 20 years ago, I wrote about The Advocate's breakthrough
meetings with Saab and Sheraton, "the first time the magazine has
won an audience with car or hotel companies."
Big brand ads are now routine. Last week, I saw ads on
Advocate.com for American Express, AT&T, Cadillac, Southwest
Airlines -- and Saab.
Advertising in gay media is less of a statement than, say,
sponsoring an equality group. But ads get noticed -- particularly
when they have strong LGBT themes.
Warning: Don't advertise if your company has a lousy record on
equality. Your brand could get slammed if someone in the LGBT
community connects the dots.
4. Be so good they say you're bad
I pay extra attention when a pro-equality company merits an
"Action Alert" from American Family Association. Last July, the
anti-gay group announced: "AFA makes it official. Don't shop at The
What did Home Depot do? "Home Depot sanctions its very own
homosexual employee group," said AFA, supports "diversity-oriented
organizations" and "sets up Kids Workshops at gay-pride-festival
events." AFA said the retailer offers full health-insurance
benefits to gay employees and their partners. Home Depot even
"responded to an annual survey by the Human Rights Campaign."
Now, Home Depot isn't perfect; HRC scored it 85 out of 100. But
that's a solid grade (and it beats Lowe's failing grade of 30). After AFA issued
its stellar endorsement, Kurt and I made a special trip to Home
Depot. We'll keep spending money there (as long as Home Depot
continues to embrace diversity and keeps "doing the right thing,"
one of its stated core values).
5. Do the right thing when no one is
At a West Hollywood rally on the day that California's gay
marriage ban was ruled unconstitutional, one speaker said his
children couldn't be at this celebration because they were visiting
grandparents on the East Coast. He mentioned as an aside that
American Airlines' Rainbow Team had stepped in with an offer to fly
the kids home. That drew huge applause. When was the last time your
brand received a standing ovation?
Where to start
If you want to connect with gay consumers, where to start?
First, see where your company ranks on the HRC index, which rates American workplaces on LGBT
equality. If you're not ranked, contact HRC to see how you can get your
company listed in its next report.
Next, ask your human-resources department if the company has an
LGBT employee group. Your lesbian and gay colleagues can offer
candid advice on where your brands fit in with the LGBT market.
There's an excellent chance that your company gets high marks
for equality. HRC rated 88 of Ad Age's 100 Leading National
Advertisers. Average (mean) score: 86. Indeed, 55 of Ad Age's 100
LNA earned a perfect score.
If your company has a good story to tell, by all means make a
play for the gay dollar. Gay consumers are both brand-conscious and
brand-loyal, and they -- we -- are open to hearing your pitch.
But remember that you need a winning product. Bank of America's
involvement in the LGBT community doesn't overcome the bad customer
service that prompted my partner and me to ditch our BofA credit
Likewise, I respect American Airlines' savvy LGBT marketing, but
I think its in-flight service is just average -- nothing special in
the air. I prefer to fly Southwest because I like its low fares,
no-frills style and corporate culture. (Southwest scores 95 on HRC,
supports Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and
advertises in gay media.)
And then there's Sears Holdings Corp. As a journalist, I watched
the fall of Sears (once the nation's largest retailer) and the rise
and fall of Kmart. A year before the companies merged in 2005, I
wrote an essay arguing for that merger. I want to believe in the
company, which scores 100 from HRC. So when Kurt and I stopped
shopping at Target , we paid our first visit in years to the local
What a letdown. The aging store was dingy and depressing. It
looked like Sears Holdings Chairman Edward Lampert had not bothered
to invest a dime in that store.
I applaud Sears Holdings' stated belief that "diversity is a
business imperative." At the company's website, I learned that its
gay employee group intends to work with "multicultural marketing to
develop a targeted marketing test to a segment of the GLBT consumer
But none of that matters if you have a second-rate product.
Kmart won't be the new gay-mart.