After #LoveWins, Marriage Equality Means More Authentic Branded Content

More inclu­sive mes­sag­ing is also vital to con­nect­ing with young con­sumers.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

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.

In addi­tion, many brands have shared real-time mes­sages of sup­port, such as JELL‑O, Jet­Blue, Ben & Jerry’s and even the May­tag Man.

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.”

But, since the Ikea spot, brands like JCPen­ney, Chee­rios, Mar­riott, Tiffany and Wells Far­go have includ­ed LGBT con­sumers in nation­al adver­tis­ing cam­paigns as well.

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?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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