LGBT Diversity Is A Massive Opportunity, So Guess Who's Getting It Wrong

LGBT issues are not just about the people directly involved, who identify with one of those letters in the acronym, they're about the entire population. Put simply, everyone either is LGBT or has a family member, close work colleague or friend who is.

That was the line that struck me as the most pertinent point I heard in a day at the Festival of Marketing in London last week. In fact, it is often in the break-out rooms of a conference where the most interesting points are made and research presented. Away from the headline-grabbing, very well received keynotes at the main stage of last week's festival, I sat in on the presentation of research from Simpson Carpenter and the not-for-profit network, PrideAM.

There were two takeaways for marketers. Not just the very obvious point that LGBT issues go way beyond a highly defined community -- they are application to mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends and so on. In short, that's pretty much everyone. And even if you're not on the short list or extended list, you're likely to belong to the vast majority of people who would rather that advertising and marketing would embrace and celebrate diversity by avoiding the usual nuclear-family stereotypes.

The second takeaway was that research shows that a majority of people think it's important for marketers to represent a diverse society in their work, and yet only around half believe they actually do this rather than just pay lip service to it. So it's important to consumers, but they don't quite think it's important enough for brands to embrace diversity for real. For too many, we fear, it's just for show -- to look good.

The marketer in me was most interested in who the LGBT community and wider population think is good at representing diversity. I bet you that if you were given a moment to think about it -- take one now, by all means -- you would be able to pick out the worst and the best. Interestingly, there was wide agreement on this list from both within and outside the LGBT community.

Let's be positive and start with the best. Supermarkets, you can take a bow right here and now, closely followed by the food and drink, fashion and beauty industries.

Have you had a thought about the worst performers? When asked, I got it in one because it's a sector that has always annoyed my wife and me. Yes, it's automotive. Those same guys who want to talk to the man in the house, the guy who makes the decision, and don't want to clutter a lady's mind with technical talk. The chaps who offer a test drive to the husband and invite the wife to sit in the back and listen to the grownups talk. Yes, good old automotive is the worst performer in "portraying minority groups," as the research put it.

It may not come as much surprise that DIY was close behind, and I wasn't too surprised to see banks in the third worst place. DIY stores and their advertising always talk to men, and despite what the bank ads show, you've probably come across the same situation of all communications going to the man of the house -- even if it's the wife or girlfriend who has initiated an enquiry and who manages the home's finances.

I can only speak personally, as above, about a heterosexual couple because that's my experience -- but it really ticks my wife and I off that I get the calls about the car, even though she's the one who picks what we drive and generally knows more than the salesperson. She's also the one trusted not to dwindle the bank account on beer and football tickets, yet it's always me they call to discuss our joint finances, even if we put her down as the contact person.

So I can imagine if this is what it feels like for a heterosexual couple, being part of the LGBT community must be a whole new ballgame of feeling underrepresented and undervalued. 

The good news is that this is a massive market that is hopeful of improvements among marketers, so there is a huge amount of potential there. If you're selling cars, power drills and bank accounts, there really is only room for improvement.

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