The vast majority of Americans favor LGBTQ+ inclusion in brand marketing activations.
A new study by the Cultural Inclusion Accelerator for ANA’s Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing (AIMM), a group that consults with brands on inclusivity in their marketing efforts, found that 77% of the overall population is comfortable with gay and lesbian representation in advertising, with only 22% uncomfortable. And 74% were comfortable with transgender representation, while 26% said they were uncomfortable with transgender representation.
The study looked at survey responses from 2,300 adults and was designed to give a representative sample of the U.S. population across demographics. Notably, 42% of consumers in the study identified as LGBTQ allies. When combined with the 8% who identify as LGBTQ+ (roughly in line with estimates of the national population), the group of LGBTQ+ consumers and allies represents half of the population.
CPG Insider caught up with AIMM co-founder Carlos Santiago to discuss LGBTQ+ inclusion in marketing.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
CPG Insider: Do you think there are misconceptions among brands about how the average consumer views LGBTQ+ inclusion in marketing messaging? What is fueling those misconceptions?
Carlos Santiago: I think there was a sense of concern about potential risk involved, specifically risks from attacks from the far right, and what they characterize as “woke” marketing -- which goes beyond LGTBQ+ inclusivity to any brand that has a purpose valuing equity.
I think that part of the confusion among brands is that the loud far right voices, such as celebrities and social media influencers, seem to drown out other voices in media, and marketers lose perspective of the scale. The fact is that LGBTQ+ people and allies represent half of all U.S. consumers -- and that's particularly higher in some regions of the country, such as the coasts, and among Gen Z.
CPG Insider: What do you think is the most important lesson for marketers to take away from this study?
Santiago: We asked consumers if they would support a brand that backs down from LGBTQ advertising, and what we found was that for every person that would support a brand for backing down, there are almost two adults that would withdraw support from brands for giving in to anti-LGBTQ+ attacks.
The risk is much higher when you breach the loyalty of consumers that have been embracing representation and inclusive marketing. That’s really a loud alarm for marketers because it says clearly the major risk is in breaching the loyalty of LGBTQ people and allies, rather than from support you may seem to preserve from the far right. When you look at some specific segments like Gen Z,, that ratio goes even higher. It’s important for brands to keep in mind that Gen Z is observing and will remember their actions.
CPG Insider: How would you respond to brands who indicate a desire to “pull-back” or take a “lighter” approach to LGBTQ+ marketing around Pride -- a particular target of far-right attacks?
Santiago: That’s really a key question of the moment. The far right has a wedge to attack all diversity efforts, and we are at an inflection point.
We’re hearing multiple things in conversations with brands. We have heard senior leaders wanting to understand the risk and to minimize risk in whatever ways they can, understanding that this is not only about LBGTQ+ inclusivity but any type of marketing connected to DEI.
At the same time, there are many companies that stand by their values, and have not backed down to a small minority of fringe voices amplified by social media, but instead continue a commitment to principals around equality at the core of their brand identity and how they interact with consumers.
CPG Insider: How has coverage by the media -- including business media -- contributed to misperceptions around this issue? How does this differ from how it is covered in LGBTQ+ media spaces?
Santiago: Media coverage has largely focused on brands under attack, and have not always presented an accurate representation of the true circumstances around boycott. They have not highlighted the brands that are standing firm and continuing to do great work, instead overly focusing on those that have discontinued efforts.
LGBTQ-owned media has done a terrific job bringing the truth out. They have the credibility of the LGBTQ community to report accurately. They understand the issues deeply, not just on the surface level, which has allowed them to report on it really well.
CPG Insider: How would you respond to members of the trans community most commonly targeted by recent far right attacks, who are concerned that brands will increasingly leave them out of the conversation in order to avoid the “backlash” coordinated by such groups?
Santiago: Brands can navigate this environment while remaining authentic and culturally relevant in two ways: in general media efforts infusing transgender representation in ads with strong unifying universal themes, as well as in more-targeted ads in endemic LGBTQ+-owned diverse media, where the highly trusted "safe space" context of the publisher lends itself to brands featuring more prominent transgender storylines.
We have found that LGBTQ ads with high cultural relevance, placed in highly relevant LGBTQ media, enhances brand trust, opinion, and purchase intent on average by 100% over the same highly relevant LGBTQ ad in general media. This is important because LGBTQ+-owned media platforms are seldom used by national brands.