The flipside to the previous blunder lies in being inclusive of LGBT consumers, but coming across as inauthentic in execution. In recent years, countless brands worldwide have attempted to jump on the “LGBT bandwagon”, often with the express intention of being perceived as progressive or socially relevant as a means of capturing consumers’ attention and wallets.
However, consumers are quick to note the difference between a brand that honestly cares about a cause and an empty marketing gimmick. According to a consumer survey by Google in 2015, there are definite benefits for brands that show signs of support towards the LGBT community.
But the challenge lies in being real with these consumers. Simply trying to capitalise on the growing wave of social positivity and acceptance towards LGBT people is likely to fall flat, with today’s consumers being increasingly cynical of overt and disingenuous corporate messages. This is especially important when engaging the younger generation.
As articulated byLoAnnHalden, Communications Director for the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), it is crucial for brands interested in attracting LGBT consumers to make an effort to get involved with the community in some way to understand what their needs, values and hot buttons are. In her own words: “Genuine interest can go a very long way.” Another form of inauthenticity in marketing to LGBT consumers is the use of commercial “window dressing” in an attempt to demonstrate inclusivity.
Some examples of this include featuring rainbow flags and other LGBT symbols prominently in communication, or using models or actors to portray LGBT roles in advertising, who may not actually be LGBT in real life. In the first example, the communication runs the risk of being seen as cheesy or even patronising by consumers, while in the second example, the credibility and validity of the communication are thrown into question.
Again, the importance of realness cannot be overstated when engaging and communicating with LGBT consumers. The Commercial Closet Association (a New York based non-profit that advocates for advertising that respects diversity in terms of gender identity and sexual orientation) reiterates that authenticity has far-reaching implications.
As part of its guidelines, it recommends that visual and other clichés be avoided at all costs and advises the use of real LGBT individuals in communication, including openly gay celebrities or athletes.A best practice case study for displaying inclusion as well as authenticity is Tiffany &Co’s acclaimed 2015 “Will You?” campaign, which included an execution depicting an engaged gay couple. Not only was this the first time a same-sex couple was used in the brand’s advertising, but the men featured in the advert were actually a real-life couple as well.
Marketing to LGBT consumers is often fraught with assumptions and insinuations that have been fostered over time. One of these is the idea of the so-called “DINK” household (i.e. Dual Income, No Kids). For many years, it has widely been assumed that the cost of raising children is not usually a factor for same-sex couples, meaning that they have a larger percentage of disposable income available to spend on luxury items.
However, with an ever-increasing number of same-sex households also including children these days (whether adopted, born from previous marriages or conceived through surrogacy), this notion continues to be disproved; yet the assumption remains rampant. Assumption often also manifests itself within marketing communication, sales and customer service. For instance, in the case of the travel and hospitality industries, a common mistake is to assume the gender of a person’s spouse, which can potentially result in awkwardness and even lost sales opportunities.
As such, advertising, service staff and all other consumer touch points should communicate without bias or assumption, for example through the use of non-gender-specific language. Although often unintentional, language can also convey offensive insinuations about LGBT people.
For instance, the phrase “gay lifestyle” is frequently heard. However, the term carries with it the intimation that being LGBT is merely a lifestyle choice (rather than an innate component of one’s being), as well the assumption that the entire LGBT community is a monolithic audience who share a specific set of values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, often thought of as being radically different from those of heterosexual people.
As marketers, it is always a fatal error to jump to conclusions based on what we think we know about any consumer segments – and this is certainly true in the case of LGBT consumers. It is vital to remember that the LGBT community is as varied and diverse as any other. As such, a one-size-fits-all approach is bound to fall flat.
Marketing blunder #4: Stereotyping
Related to the previous point is the issue of stereotyping LGBT people, a practice that is unfortunately widespread not only in the marketing world, but also on a much broader societal level. Referring back to Lunch Box Media’s “Gay Consumer Profile”, 45% of respondents in the study noted that they feel inaccurately portrayed by the media, including marketing communication activity.
As such, in targeting LGBT consumers, marketers need to avoid falling back on stereotypes and trite portrayals that may alienate people and reinforce negative perceptions – for instance, the tendency to depict gay men as effeminate, gay women as butch, bisexual people as duplicitous or deceitful and so on. By the same token, many brands have successfully challenged stereotypes as a way of differentiating themselves and appealing to a broader audience of LGBT consumers.
For instance, local LGBT-focused travel company Out2Africa draws on the fact that being LGBT comes in many different flavours, with offerings designed to appeal to a diverse range of individuals, couples, families and small groups. Playing on the stereotypical image of LGBT travel, the company’s website notes: “If you’re looking for a cruise ship filled with 300 grinding young men in speedos, then you’re in the wrong place!”
So what is the biggest lesson for today’s marketers wishing to engage with LGBT consumers whilst ensuring inclusivity, authenticity and freedom from assumptions, insinuations and stereotypes? According to a recent feature by Canadian software and market research firm Vision Critical, the most successful brands in this regard are those that, ironically, do not draw blatant attention to sexual orientation or gender identity at all, but instead make these secondary to the overall message.
For instance, campaigns that feature gay characters who just happen to be gay, in everyday situations – as in the Tiffany & Co. example above and a recent Target commercial in the USA featuring a real-life married, lesbian couple expecting their first child, which tracked the evolution of their baby’s nursery, while highlighting their hopes and dreams as parents.
At the end of the day, regardless of whether we are targeting straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered people in our marketing and communication, we need to remember one fundamental point: we are talking to real human beings for whom real human truths resonate; real people with real lives, who essentially want and expect the exact same things out of life that all other people do.
And as they continue to gain more mainstream acknowledgement, acceptance and validation across societies and communities worldwide (including greater representation within the media and marketing communication in countries such as South Africa), so too will we see that for today’s LGBT consumers, “normal” is fast becoming the new normal.
Mike dos Santos, Strategist The Strategy Department
The Strategy Department is a powerful partner to consider for the development of your Marketing Plans, Brand Strategy, Communication Strategy, Research or Training.
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