Rainbow Ad Anxiety: New Research Reveals Marketers' LGBTQ Worries


Pride Month is just around the corner, and new research from GLAAD is uncovering some surprising marketer reluctance to highlight the LGBTQ community in ads.

The study, part of the Visibility Project, GLAAD’s new initiative with Procter & Gamble that promotes LGBTQ inclusion in ads and marketing, finds many execs are primarily afraid of doing it wrong. About 81% of advertisers and 41% of agencies surveyed agree that “an inauthentic execution of LGBTQ people and scenarios would lead to a larger backlash than not featuring them in ads at all.”

In fact, that concern is bigger than their fear of a public backlash, which worries 61% of advertisers and 28% of agencies. “That’s exactly the opposite of how it used to be,” says Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD president and CEO. She tells Marketing Daily why that’s important, and how Pride is shaping up differently this year.



Marketing Daily: So companies’ fear of getting LGBTQ inclusion wrong is surprising: that they don’t want to miss the mark. What do you think is behind it?

Sarah Kate Ellis: Yes, it’s surprising -- and it’s holding them back. The big change here is coming from the younger generation. The latest information from Gallup is that in the last five years, there’s been a 20% increase in 18- to 24-year-olds identifying as LGBTQ -- it’s now about 15% of that group.

We just saw singer Demi Lovato come out as gender non-conforming, for example, and more people are identifying as trans. That adds complexity that people aren't comfortable with, because there isn't an education yet around this.

What’s nice is that there’s an easy fix. We can step in with tools and education to help them get it right. That’s why we’ve embarked on our partnership with Procter & Gamble, and why we’re reaching out to large advertisers to join us. We can help with guardrails and best practices.

Marketing Daily: How does Gen Z change the conversation?

Ellis: Those numbers show that our youth are feeling freer than ever to be their true and authentic self. So if companies want to get the best talent and attract more customers, they need to evolve, and reflect that this community is growing.

Marketing Daily: This research focuses on representation in ads. But as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement, more companies are focusing on deeper questions -- like how they treat employees, and how representative management is -- and less about who is and isn’t in ads. How does that impact Pride campaigns?

Ellis: The great awakening of 2020 is that companies are realizing it's not a box you can check. If it were that easy, we would have solved the problem of racism, homophobia and transphobia years ago. But these are so ingrained in our systems, that unless you take a 360-degree view on inclusivity and diversity, you can’t fix it.

We’re seeing more and more companies take two approaches. One, they know they have to get their own house in order: What are your policies? What does the senior management look like? Do your benefits provide protection for all?

After that, it’s time to focus on the external piece, which is how to use the platform and the power that you have to change the world for the better, and increase acceptance for LGBTQ people, for people with disabilities, for people of color.

Marketing Daily: So how is all this changing the texture of Pride this year? Not just BLM, but the pandemic and a really toxic election year?

Ellis: More companies are going to join the conversation. This Pride Month comes at the end of a legislative session where we saw over 100 anti-trans bills being pushed forward. Seven of them actually turned into law, most targeting trans youth.

Companies can really use their power and leverage to help our community push back on bad pieces of legislation. And so I think that while this Pride season is going to be very celebratory, because we are turning a corner in this pandemic, it’s also going to be very serious.

We’re under attack, and the attacks are coming fast and furious. We need our allies and our community members to stand up continuously.

Marketing Daily: Do you have a favorite campaign this year?

Ellis: P&G -- it’s why we partnered with them. But I also love the way Skittles takes the color out of its candy. And we really like Kellogg’s approach in creating a special product, called Together With Pride, to show everyone it supports the community. The slogan is “Boxes Are For Cereal, Not People."

1 comment about "Rainbow Ad Anxiety: New Research Reveals Marketers' LGBTQ Worries".
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  1. Ben B from Retired, May 24, 2021 at 7:16 p.m.

    A pretty good interview & article kinda surprised the ad companies aren't scared of the backlash from those that don't support LGBTQ and just getting it wrong with the marketing to them.

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