Don't Back Off LGBTQIA+ Ads - Get Them Right

We’re at the end of Pride month, and LGBTQIA+ advertising from mainstream brands is nowhere to be seen. The holdback for advertisers used to be in extending beyond June stunts, but this year it’s in releasing ads altogether. Whereas such brands as Walmart, Under Armor, and Blink Fitness have introduced Pride-themed products, they, like others, have stopped short of broad scale TV and digital advertising. They’re staying off the air as some extreme conservative groups aim to make Pride “toxic” through boycotts and social media pressure.   

Don’t be swayed. LGBTQIA+ ads are not toxic for marketers. We’ve analyzed consumer responses to more than 10,000 ads and consistently found that America’s voter polarization does not come through in responses to diverse character portrayals. 

A great LGBTQIA+ ad is a win-win. It makes people happy and stimulates long-term growth for the brand and business. It does even more for the people who feel seen and be heard, which creates an extra lift I call the diversity dividend. At a time when the community feels threatened, that dividend can rise exponentially. 



Ask LGBTQIA+ people how it feels to be included. Show them a variety of ads. Feel how they react. That will reveal a lot more than the traditional body of research and provide an emotional template from which to create. Even more important, it will give clients more tangible reassurance that diverse ads can grow the brand. 

Tell someone’s story, not everyone’s story. When you let one relatable experience stand for many, people react much more intensely. Oreo “Proud Parent” scored twice as high with LGBT as with general audiences because it hit these points. In the ad, a young woman brings her partner home to meet her parents – her mom is welcoming, but her dad initially gives the girlfriend a chilly response. The situation stays awkward until the next morning, when the couple find that the dad has stayed up painting his fence in Pride colors. The focus is firmly on the sadness, relief and then happiness of the couple, and the ad works by focusing on their non-verbal communication, especially the looks between mom and dad and the two young women. 

Link to a universal experience. Gillette’s “First Shave, the story of Samson” shows a trans man and his father as the son learns to shave: an experience most of the audience will already relate to. Instead of stressing Samson’s LGBTQ+ identity or his transition, the ad portrays a personal rite of passage with the implied meaning for a trans man. The ad stars Samson Bonkeabantu Brown and his real-life father, which makes the ad feel far more authentic. 

Diverse ads still create small amounts of negative emotion - and sometimes the reasons for that negative emotion are tied into their diverse content. But the levels of negativity are low, and most of the ads we tested still ended up scoring well above the average ad to drive long-term brand growth. 

If you show a problem, solve it. And make sure you solve it in a way that rings true for gay audiences. Sadness is a trap because the intense reaction works against long-term effectiveness. It depresses a general audience and hardens the resignation of affected people. 

In the words of Wayne Ting, CEO of Lime, the bike sharing company that put the Pride progress flag on much of its equipment this June, “We all have a role to play in creating a more just and equitable world.” Doing so is good for business in the long term. Advertising is one of the most powerful influences, and we can turn the tide if we do it right. 


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