Oh, Mary

The Remarkable Mainstreaming of LGBTQIA Marketing

June 11, 2018
Melanie Wilhoite

Thirty-seven years ago, Absolut Vodka made a splash as the first major brand to advertise to the gay and lesbian market. Full page ads featuring a backlit Absolut bottle with a hovering halo ran in The Advocate and After Dark.  Absolut purchased full back covers at a time when nobody else would.  It featured images of drag queens draped across its product and sponsored pride parades and LGBT events in major markets across the country.  Back then, the AIDS epidemic had just begun, the gay pride flag was just three years old, nobody was really asking and not many were telling.  Absolut’s ground-breaking bravery caused a sensation, and sparked decades of brand loyalty.

Does that strategy work with the LGBTQIA market today?

The quick answer is that it works as well as it works with mainstream straight audiences. Targeting trendsetters and niche-audience early adopters has become basic Marketing 101. Targeting the LGBTQIA audience requires the same basic strategies that marketers use with any audience – match features and attributes to personas and go from there.  That might not seem like an earth-shattering revelation, but when you consider that memory lane of mainstream marketing to the LGBT audience only stretches back to the 1990s, it is remarkable indeed.

It started with thinly coded ads like Volkswagen’s famous  Da Da Da ad to Subaru’s somewhat-veiled and later unabashed courting of the lesbian market.  Martina Navratilova! In what seems like no time, marketing went from one-way attempts to generate sales loyalty to full-on embrace of all LGBTQ people by the world’s biggest brands.

“Marketing” to the LGBTQIA community today isn’t as brave as it is essential.  Rather than pandering for sales, companies understand that rapidly changing attitudes call for a change in business perspective.  As families and friends of LGBTQIA people embrace and accept diversity and equality, and as consumers care more than ever about supporting brands that share their values, companies that rely on public opinion to fuel sales can quickly and clearly draw the conclusion that demonstrating support for people of all kinds is a great way to generate consumer goodwill.

Take Coca Cola’s culture of equality, for example: “As one of the world’s most inclusive brands, The Coca-Cola Company celebrates diversity, inclusion and equality. This commitment not only manifests itself in its brands’ advertisements, but also in its daily operations.”  Or Microsoft, a top-rated corporation on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, which includes diversity and inclusion among its corporate values and celebrates it in its advertising.  Both companies have seen growing revenue trends and a steady increase in stock value over the past five years.

How about notoriously anti-gay companies?  Exxon Mobil, Curves (apparently out of business in the US) and Hooters have all seen declines in the same timeframe.  Coincidence?  Hmm.

How should a business today think about the LGBTQ community?  Here’s one answer.  Care about the things your consumers care about, value your customers and employees no matter what their sexual orientation might be, don’t be afraid to be inclusive, and your brand will be the better for it.