The June 26 Supreme Court decision supporting same-sex marriage is one that will clearly have a profound impact on the lives of LGBT Americans, but it is also one that will influence mainstream advertising.
That’s because marketers seeking to communicate more honestly and authentically with consumers now have an opportunity to not only tell better stories, but to provide a more accurate snapshot of consumers overall.
It’s been a long haul from the first depictions of gay couples in mainstream media to broader messages of support and inclusion for the LGBT community from major American brands, but experts say marriage equality will likely open up even more doors and accelerate the pace of change within the advertising world.
There’s definite interest among consumers in LGBT content.
Per Topsy, for example, the hashtag #LoveWins has been used seven million times since June 22.
— JELL‑O (@JELLO) June 26, 2015
— The Maytag Man (@TheMaytagMan) June 26, 2015
According to Bob Witeck, president of PR and marketing firm Witeck Communications, marriage equality gives “refreshing permission for brands to really shake up their thinking about all the storytelling they do…as well as to show the market they ‘get it.’”
In addition, from this point forward, Witeck notes brands must consider narratives that include LGBT consumers, families, products and services as part of integrated campaigns, likening the journey of LGBT individuals to other civil rights movements, including parallels with depictions in mainstream advertising.
But, like the movements that preceded it, it has been an incredibly slow evolution, both broadly within American culture, as well as within the advertising industry specifically.
In fact, Kirk Souder, CCO of creative agency Enso, says he was at advertising agency Deutsch in the early 1990s when the firm worked with Ikea to put what he says is the first gay couple in a TV spot.
“We all thought when that spot ran back then…we knew it was a big moment and what’s fascinating to me is that we’re over 20 years later and you would think that throughout time, a normalization would have already taken place, but it’s still taking place in a way,” Souder says. “It still kind of raises eyebrows when someone of a different orientation is in mainstream advertising.”
In fact, per David Paisley, senior research director, Community Marketing, which provides LGBT research, marketing insights and strategies, the travel and alcohol industries were the first to reach out to the LGBT community 20 years ago, but more industries – including day-to-day CPG products “like toothpaste and crackers” – are following suit more recently.
And, Paisley says, marriage equality will provide even more brand opportunities going forward.
And that’s in part because the inclusion of LGBT consumers in mainstream advertising provides a more accurate portrayal of American consumers overall. It also helps brands tell more authentic stories.
“One of the things I really loved about that first Ikea piece in the early ‘90s was that it was a gay couple and it wasn’t remarkable that they were gay, but they were having the same discussions as straight couples about what they wanted in their apartment,” Souder says. “And to me that hopefully becomes the next generation of advertising…gay couples aren’t necessarily put in an ad because [the brand wants] to make a point about gay couples, but they are put in because they are consumers, too.”
But that’s not to say LGBT marketing will cease to exist as a separate entity entirely.
“Just like any niche market, it has to be a bit of both,” Paisley says. “More and more, you’ll see same-sex imagery in mainstream ads and research [shows] LGBT people are impressed a lot more [when they see that imagery] in mainstream media than in gay media.
But advertising is always about targeting.” But it also means consumers will potentially start to see more accurate portrayals of LGBT consumers.
According to Witeck, depictions of gays and lesbians in advertising used to be sourced from stock photos of attractive people of the same sex who were put in a given setting with the assumption that they were gay. Now, however, more brands are including “real people in real situations.”
And that’s reflective of a shift within marketing overall.
Including LGBT consumers in mainstream advertising may also be an imperative when it comes to connecting with younger consumers.
“Brands that hope to reach younger audiences and Millennials will look for fresh messengers and images to do it,” Witeck says. “I’ve learned watching all of these brands try to make themselves more contemporary and trying to refresh their appeal, look and perceptions…and LGBT imagery and narratives are one of the most tested and successful paths.”
In other words, messages of inclusion can help brands update their images and demonstrate shared values to younger consumers.
“My point of view is very simple: Gay marketing doesn’t exist as it used to. It’s really Millennial marketing,” Witeck says. “Gay people are deeply invested in that story, which appeals to a broader cross-section.”
Paisley agrees that more inclusive outreach “impresses all Millennials. That’s what our research really shows – if you’re more inclusive, Millennials are impressed with the brand.”
How do you think marriage equality will impact marketing to American consumers?