LGBTQ visibility leads to acceptance

The latest phase of Procter & Gamble and GLAAD’s Visibility Project demonstrates that inclusion in marketing is a powerful force for social change – as long as it is authentic.

P&G has led the way in inclusive advertising with spots including Pantene's Going Home for the Holidays.
P&G has led the way in inclusive advertising with spots including Pantene's Going Home for the Holidays.

Communications and marketing leaders agree that LGBTQ inclusion in advertising is a priority and a responsibility – but the reality is there is still a long way to go.

An analysis of submissions to the 2019 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that only 1.8% of characters in ads were LGBTQ, actually a small decrease from the prior year.

That’s disappointing.

It led one of the world’s largest advertisers – Procter & Gamble – to team up with media advocacy group GLAAD to this week launch The Visibility Project, a campaign to drive more LGBTQ inclusion in marketing. It builds on the two organizations’ existing advocacy efforts around LGBTQ inclusion.

The CPG behemoth’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard noted that “equality is not only a top priority at P&G – it’s a responsibility.” It’s pumping in $1 million to the project over the next three years. And it’s walked the walk on LGBTQ inclusion in recent times with compelling creative executions such as Gillette’s First Shave and Pantene’s Going Home for the Holidays.

An LGBTQ Inclusion in Advertising, Media, Advertiser and Agency Perspectives study to accompany The Visibility Project launch gleaned insights from 200 marketing and advertising executives who control budgets worth billions of dollars.

It showed 61% of advertisers and 60% of agencies strongly agree companies that feature LGBTQ people and scenarios in advertising are “helping customers understand and respect LGBTQ people."

And this acceptance appears to extend to consumers viewing marketing activations and media channels.

Last year’s LGBTQ Inclusion in Advertising and Media study by P&G/GLAAD showed 48% of respondents who had been exposed to LGBTQ people in the media say they are more accepting of gays and lesbians over the past few years when compared to respondents who had not recently seen LGBTQ people in the media (35%). They are also more accepting of bi, trans, and non-binary people.

The vast majority of non-LGBTQ consumers also look favorably upon companies that include LGBTQ people in ads.

That’s the good news.

But there is still more progress to be made on C-suite buy-in to LGBTQ inclusion, especially in-house at brands and corporations, and campaign authenticity.

The new study shows that, while 55% of agencies agree featuring LGBTQ people and scenarios is supported by senior management, this number drops to 39% among advertisers.

And only a third of advertisers and 46% of agencies are very likely to recommend using LGBTQ people and scenarios in their companies’ or clients’ own advertising. Only 36% of advertisers rate their culture as “very accepting and inclusive of all communities.”

On authenticity, marketers are more concerned about backlash from within the LGBTQ community than they are from the general public: 81% of advertisers and 41% of agencies agree an “inauthentic execution of LGBTQ people and scenarios would lead to a larger backlash than not featuring them in ads at all”

As GLAAD’s CCO Rich Ferraro told us on the latest The PR Week podcast, no brand wants to get on the wrong side of LGBTQ Twitter.

And 78% of advertisers and 31% of agencies agree it is difficult to adequately represent the LGBTQ community "because the community is complicated and has many nuances.”

The latter point is well worth noting for communicators and marketers. Just as you can’t categorize the whole of the U.S. Hispanic/Latin or Black populations in one bucket, the same is true of the LGBTQ diaspora.

Furthermore, 61% of advertisers and 28% of agencies are “fearful of public backlash for including LBGTQ people in advertising.”

The aim of The Visibility Project is to encourage more inclusive and authentic advertising and marketing, which will lead to a more accepting culture through the accurate representation LGBTQ people.

Many people may think PR is a very LGBTQ-friendly industry. And in some ways it is.

But the stories told by Ferraro about his rise up the ranks of public affairs PR and Curtis Sparrer’s experiences as a young executive in tech PR outlined in this week’s edition of PRWeek’s Coffee Break show there is still a lot of discrimination and misunderstanding, whether deliberate or as a result of unconscious bias.

Like any community, LGBTQ people benefit from seeing role models in senior positions to which they can aspire to emulate and seek mentorship.

Seeing openly out individuals such as Mike Doyle, president and CEO of the fifth-largest global PR firm, and Sally Susman, EVP and chief corporate affairs officer at Pfizer, one of the world’s most high-profile companies, is inspiring for everyone in the LGBTQ community and beyond.

PRWeek will be launching our own initiative to recognize these excellent role models during Pride Month, so watch this space.

LGBTQ inclusion in communications and marketing is making good strides, but there is no room for complacency.

*We’ll be discussing The Visibility Project and LGBTQ inclusion in marketing and advertising at PRWeek and Campaign’s The Marcomms Club on Clubhouse on Monday at 1:00pm ET, so do join us to listen in or ping me if you’d like to be part of the conversation.

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