Now do better: Six ways to move beyond the rainbow with LGBTQ consumers

Honey Maid's 'This is Wholesome' campaign from Droga5

LGBTQ consumers are grateful to brands that have embraced “the rainbow,” inspired, of course, by the Pride Flag. Absolut was a pioneer of marketing the rainbow on its vodka bottles, and years later brands like Oreo and Budweiser followed. We salute our allies, the ad agency execs, the brand marketers and others who pushed reluctant corporate decision makers to take these bold first steps. Thank you.

Now, do better.

Slapping a rainbow on your brand or logo is just that -- a first step. My challenge to advertisers that truly aim to understand and communicate with the LGBTQ market is to move beyond the rainbow, move beyond the requisite Pride month campaign and move beyond the “gay budget.”

Here are six ways to move your brand beyond the rainbow:

Be holistic and human

Many brands that market to LGBTQ consumers tend to relegate messaging aimed at us into a separate corner. Moving beyond the rainbow means moving beyond treating LGBTQ-aimed messaging as the “token” diversity measure and treating it as part of the holistic fabric of a brand’s messaging.

Graham cracker brand Honey Maid did this well with its 2014 This Is Wholesome campaign, which spotlighted an array of “non-traditional” families including an interracial family, a heterosexual punk rock couple and their child, and a gay couple and adopted son, to illustrate the evolving meaning of family and wholesomeness. Honey Maid remembered that including and communicating with the LGBTQ community doesn’t require some sort of special language. By featuring a real family comprised of two actual fathers and their son, the brand illustrated its “wholesome” message through a human insight, one reflective of our diverse world.

Inclusion by design

Including LGBTQ consumers should be as inherently elemental to campaign development as is including women. You don’t need a special language to speak LGBTQ. Rather than crafting some unique gay-themed campaign with a specific LGBTQ budget, why not incorporate the LGBTQ community into scenarios you’re working on today? Why not feature a lesbian couple in that road trip ad you’re storyboarding for next year’s SUV model, for instance? The value proposition and story are the same, but by allowing for organic diversity in casting, brands can start to create truly inclusive campaigns. In other words, don’t make a big deal of it — just do it.

Brace for the backlash

One Million Moms and other hate-fueled groups are always ready to pounce, and usually appear more powerful than they really are. When brands launch LGBTQ-inclusive campaigns, unfortunately, they should expect negative reactions from the small-but-loud minority, which will almost always launch a “boycott” and almost always get coverage from some media outlets. Not only are these so-called boycotts often forgotten, it’s near impossible to determine whether they actually affect a brand’s bottom line.

Embrace the positivity

Perception matters. When Honey Maid launched its Wholesome campaign, it drew comments from the usual hateful naysayers, along with far more comments from people who loved the campaign. Rather than buckle to pressure from a small negative group, the brand turned printed versions of those comments -- pro and con -- into a literal message that spelled out the word Love, reinforcing the campaign’s inclusionary theme. Like Honey Maid, brands should not allow a vocal minority to outweigh the business value derived from the support of the much-larger silent – and spending – majority.

Remember the other 11 months

Yes, June is Pride Month, and while June matters to us, the LGBTQ community is queer 24/7. We travel, shop, dine, drink and make purchasing decisions throughout the year, and advertising budgets should reflect that. LGBTQ consumers command a total of more than $5 trillion USD globally and spent $965 billion in the US alone in 2016, according to LGBT Capital. Squeezing spending to reach us into just one calendar month simply is not a smart way to penetrate and reach the LGBTQ audience. What a crowded space to be in!

Don’t pigeonhole your media buy

Earlier this year, Ogilvy conducted a survey finding that 64% of LGBTQ allies and 46% of all Americans say they are more likely to consider buying a brand after seeing its LGBTQ-inclusive advertising. That’s right: allies respond to LGBTQ-inclusive messaging, too. And, like LGBTQ consumers themselves, their allies consume media outside the scope of LGBTQ media. So why are brands still pigeonholing LGBTQ-inclusive advertising into LGBTQ-centric media only? When brands invest in human and inclusive campaigns, they resonate beyond narrow audience targets. Media buys should recognize that and go wider.

In a nutshell, the key to moving beyond the rainbow is fostering a sense of organic inclusion within your brand mindset – always.

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Peter Sloterdyk

Peter Sloterdyk is vice president of marketing at Grindr and INTO in Los Angeles.

All by Peter