LGBTQ Representation: Where Marketing Falls Short

As the LGBTQ community gains more widespread acceptance and recognition, its impact on mainstream society has grown tremendously. 

But with this increasing influence, appropriation is bound to happen — in fact, it’s nearly unavoidable. The question marketers need to ask themselves today:  As brands react to the language and events of the time to stay relevant and profitable, are we paying homage to the creative subcultures that helped develop popular culture as we know it today? 

Many of the terms and colloquialisms used in mainstream society today have their roots in LGBTQ and drag culture. For example, “Yas, queen!” grew out of 1980’s Harlem drag culture to be nearly ubiquitous in today’s lexicon. Or, the term “Okurr,”while popularized by the Kardashians and Cardi B, was actually used in RuPaul’s Drag Race before that and thusbrought into the mainstream.



But while LGBTQ and drag queen culture has an increasing impact on today’s society, it is still widely underrepresented in marketing. 

There are the exceptions, of course. For example, Skyy Vodka recently ran a campaign titled “Proudly American” that tapped drag queen Trixie Mattel and (dreamy) LGBTQ advocate Gus Kenworthy for a widespread program (my company was one of the partners for this campaign). The brand also ran campaigns in support of gay marriage during 2016. 

Here we have a company that recognizes you shouldn’t just profit off your LGBTQ audience — you should authentically represent them in your advertising. So while many brands may find it’s profitable to engage in Pride parades around the country, it’s also ethically responsible for them to take it a step further and include LGBTQ people in their marketing itself.

That, or at least show up more. Here’s another example: I was at RuPaul’s DragCon in New York recently, where I saw a notable absence of big brands. T-Mobile and Anastasia Beverly Hills were present, along with a couple of others, but the event was largely lacking in major advertiser power. 

Why is that? With over 80,000 in attendance between the New York and Los Angeles conventions, and the LGBTQ community coming in with a whopping $917 billion buying power, I’d expect more brands to be actively participating in  LGBTQ community events and culture beyond just the month of June. 

And while there can be political repercussions, research also shows there are benefits for brands beyond LGBTQ audiences. Google research found that over 45% of consumers under 34 years old would repeat business with an LGBTQ-friendly company. Since so many brands are targeting millennial and Gen Z buying power, showing up for LGBTQ events or sponsoring LGBTQ equality seems an easy way to reach that audience. 

And, it’s the right thing to do if brands are going to accept LGBTQ dollars. 

It’s a successful brand’s role to reflect the times and help shape the future. And it’s our job in advertising to ensure we represent the world’s growing diversity in our media plans. 

As LGBTQ issues move forward, and the behaviors and trends that once belonged to that community permeate our mainstream lives, it’s the duty of marketers to push the needle on acceptance and understanding to stay ethical. 

Has there been progress made? Yes, for sure. But to avoid LGBTQ appropriation, there’s much more to be done. 

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