As Gay Culture Goes Mainstream, So Must Advertising to Gays

Targeted Campaigns No Longer Get the Most Bang for the Buck

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From social news feeds to celebrations on the streets, the DOMA ruling in late June spurred an intense national reaction. Anna Wintour expressed support in her first tweet ever through the Vogue Twitter account, and MasterCard applauded the decision and purchased promoted tweets linked to the #gaymarriage hashtag. As a member of the LBGT community, I found the landmark Supreme Court ruling overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, and the outpouring of support from brands that followed, exciting and inspiring. As a marketer, the ruling inspired me to reflect on LGBT advertising and how it must adapt as the gay rights movement and societal acceptance continue to progress.

Nearly two decades ago, Ikea famously released a mainstream TV spot featuring a gay couple, which sparked outrage among conservative groups and a bomb threat at a store. Around the same time, American Express advertised in the pages of Out and Advocate, nationally syndicated gay magazines. Ikea forged strong connections with gay consumers through mainstream media, and American Express did the same with its targeted method. These brands were taking a stand, and LGBT consumers took notice.

As gay goes mainstream, marketers need to do the same in planning and buying their media. If brands are not inclusive in their marketing, they could be unwittingly communicating that they are exclusive.

Think of a parallel -- marketing to Hispanic consumers. For years, brands put aside a certain percentage of dollars to market on Telemundo and other Spanish-language outlets. Now that Hispanics represent an increasing percentage of the U.S. population, Hispanics are represented far more often in mainstream media. Savvy brands are embracing a more inclusive approach to their media plans and buys. They are seeking to engage a white, non-ethnic audience while also maximizing the delivery of Hispanic audiences.

A brand that wants to reach highly affluent women, for example. has a choice of advertising on VH1, Food Network or Bravo, all of which reach this audience. VH1, however, has a higher percentage of African-American and Hispanic viewers, so a savvy brand should choose VH1, to get the most benefit from its marketing dollars. Brands hoping to reach LGBT consumers should take the same approach and maximize their media spend.

Above all, marketers must ask if their brands should be marketing to the LGBT community at all. Does your brand stand for equality? Is it in the DNA of your organization? Look at how you recruit. Do you provide same-sex benefits for employees? If not, consider taking your marketing dollars elsewhere.

Google is a good example of a company doing LGBT advertising the authentic way. I remember the 2011 broadcast spot for Google Chrome that aired during Fox's "Glee." The ad revolved around "It Gets Better," an initiative founded by Dan Savage that allows anyone to share words of encouragement to struggling LGBT teens. Influential people, including Lady Gaga, Adam Lambert and even Woody from "Toy Story," shared inspiring words. It was from the heart and affected people, myself included, in a profound way.

Google had (and still has) a longstanding commitment to gay rights and is a well known leader in LGBT inclusion efforts. The company supports Pride celebrations around the world and operates an initiative called Legalise Love, which seeks to ensure that all LGBT employees are not only supported at work, but also outside of the office. The LGBT platform is in Google's DNA, and it comes across in its advertising to this community.

Which brings me to my final point. In a global world connected by media, transparency is at an all-time high. Consumers can detect inauthentic advertising immediately, so do not force something that simply is not a good fit. LGBT consumers deserve better, and so does your brand.

Doug Ray is president, Carat Global.
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