How brands can advocate for the LGBTQ+ community

Panelists at PRDecoded discussed the social impact and business imperative of properly representing diverse groups.

Panelists discuss why brands should represent LGBTQ people in marketing.
Panelists discuss why brands should represent LGBTQ people in marketing.

NEW YORK: Consumers in general want to see more LGBTQ representation in advertising, but marketers are not delivering at scale, according to Mary O’Hara, rapid response manager at GLAAD.  

O’Hara discussed the findings of a survey conducted by the Visibility Project and Procter & Gamble in a panel at PRWeek’s PRDecoded conference on Thursday. She was joined by Getty Images’ head of creative insights in the Americas Tristan Norman and Nike Communications’ director of diversity, equity and inclusion Kiwan Anderson. The panel was moderated by Cathy Renna, communications director of the National LGBTQ Task Force and principal at LGBTQ-focused agency Targetcue.

They discussed the social and business imperative of representing the LGBTQ community in marketing for brands, as well as best practices to do so. 

Why should brands represent LGBTQ people in marketing?
“If you change the image, you can change perceptions,” said Norman, echoing O’Hara’s point that brands have social power. “Brands are trusted in a way that is so profound and impactful. [People] look to advertising as an articulation of our beliefs, values and who matters by the people who are centered [in campaigns].” 

At Getty, Norman noted that a recent study called Visual GPS revealed marketers still use common visual tropes that were associated with the LGBTQ community, a fact most consumers don’t like. 

That is where agencies have a responsibility to tell their clients when they’re missing the mark, said Anderson. 

“Its our responsibility as an agency to let them know when things just are not right but also give them guidance and [make sure] they are diverse, have a great makeup of knowledge of LGBTQ people, employees [and] at the executive level,” he said, adding that agencies themselves must also reflect that. 

What’s more, Gen Z is also watching, with approximately 1 in 6 Gen Z adults identifying as LGBTQ and 1 in 4 using non-binary pronouns. As the next generation of consumers, brands threaten to exclude a huge portion of the population if they don’t keep up, O’Hara said. 

“There's just such a population growth here that if brands don't catch up to this, they're really going to be leaving out a huge part of the population and their consumer demographics,” they said.

LGBTQ people have been disproportionately impacted by the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, added O’Hara.

“Corporations and advertisers are in a great position to help out by taking their advertising budgets and putting that directly into the community,” O’Hara said.  

How brands can help 
Brands are already beginning to understand intersectional identities, but more of that work needs to be done, said Norman, noting that within the LGBTQ community there are “intersections that affect and compound experiences of discrimination.” 

Brands should also be willing to get “down and dirty” rather than just “throw money at campaigns,” Anderson said. “Companies that have to decide whether they're going to not only put their money where their mouth is, but also take a few dings with [the LGBTQ community], because we have been doing that intense work to get legislation passed, particularly for the Equality Act.” 

He noted that Citi and MasterCard’s “True Name” campaign, which allowed transgender people to put their chosen names on the card, is a good form of ally ship that has a direct impact on their lives. 

Most importantly, however, companies should invest in LGBTQ research, staff members, listen to the younger generation and go beyond Pride Month. 

“Pride is a month of celebration and acknowledgement and recognition of all the achievements that the community has made and everyone who's come before us,” said Norman. “But LGBTQ people are LGBTQ all-year-round, so being consistently committed to representing the community year-round is really important.”

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