Maybe it’s just me, but I couldn’t help noticing all the commotion Kraft Foods set into motion recently by posting a pro-LGBT picture of an Oreo on their Facebook wall.
If you didn’t see the colorful post, or read any of the 37,000+ comments, you sure did miss out. The playful (and delicious) looking picture simply read, “Proudly support love!”
And just like that, those three words set off a firecracker of responses—good, bad and ugly. Some people praised the company for supporting the gay community, while others seemed to quickly turn their backs and imply an entire Kraft boycott.
One comment angrily read, “I won’t be buying Oreos again,” while another comment exclaimed, “I’m going to buy some Oreos tonight. Thank you for supporting the good people of this country!”
After spending too much time reading too many comments, I started thinking about the effects of LGBT-focused marketing. How much of a risk are companies taking by stepping into the spotlight of a very lively civil rights movement? Morals aside, is it worth it as a company?
Leaving opinions at the door, I decided to do some research on the topic.
In doing so, I quickly discovered a report released from the Williams Institute at UCLA estimating that nine million Americans identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. This makes the total buying power of adult LGBT individuals a projected $790 billion as of 2012.
Even more so, recent polls on the topic indicate that 53 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, with 39 percent “strongly” supporting it. Another result showed that 71 percent of Americans say they have a friend, family member or acquaintance who is gay—making them more likely than others to support gay marriage and the brands who do, too.
With an increase in companies becoming openly supportive of the gay community, studies now show that 47% of LGBT adults are more likely to purchase a company’s products or services when an advertisement has been tailored to an LGBT audience. And 87% of LGBT adults and 75% of non-LGBT adults would consider purchasing from a brand that has equal benefits for LGBT employees.
With that being said, let’s break it down to good old positives and negatives: Are pro-LGBT stances like Oreo’s good for a brand?
Open Opportunity. Similar to the way that companies shape ads to focus on different target markets, like the Hispanic and African-American demographics, it’s clear that more companies are beginning to realize the lost opportunity in not reaching out toward the LGBT demographic. By tailoring messages and focusing on a less targeted market, companies are opening their doors to more customers and bigger sales. And with a buying power of $790 billion in the US, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the LGBT community plays a major role in our consumer-driven society—making them a very valuable target in consumer messaging. This niche market is also very willing to convert to new brands, with 23% of LGBT adults stating they’ve switched products or services in the past year because a company was supportive of the LGBT community.
Chatter Travels. Whether a company displays LGBT-focused advertisements because it’s a part of their brand’s core values or because it’s a guaranteed way to get attention—LGBT-focused messaging will definitely get people talking. Yes, supporting gay rights based on your values can earn you new fans and customers, as well as make current customers more devoted to your brand. And as for the brands making rainbow-bold statements just to get into the headlines, well played, you got into the headlines! But beware, headlines could come with increased scrutiny (keep reading). Bottom line, both motives will start a conversation with your brand at the center.
Backlash. You may recall the recent backlash that JCPenney received earlier this year after announcing Ellen DeGeneres as their new spokesperson. (It wasn’t pretty.) JCP has since continued to let the water boil by running ads featuring lesbian mothers and gay fathers with their kids. Shortly after, Gap joined the parade with their “Be One” campaign, which features two men cuddling inside an oversized t-shirt. Let’s just say that the conservative group One Million Moms lost it. They, along with other conservatives, have since initiated a boycott of JCPenney and Gap stating, “OMM will continue to avoid shopping at JCP until they take a neutral stand.” This, my friends, is a backlash. So if you can’t take the heat, don’t plan on putting gay fathers in your Father’s Day catalog.
Scrutiny. We’ve all seen companies turn red from embarrassment and perform their back-peddling routine when they’ve made a bad decision. It usually causes controversy and uproar, which is never good for a brand’s image. This is something a company should definitely take into consideration when aligning themselves as an anti-LGBT or pro-LGBT corporation. Minnesota-based company General Mills is currently being probed by critics accusing them of abandoning their traditional family values for speaking out as a pro-LGBT corporation. Soon afterward, the cereal company was slammed for removing ads from a popular show with gay characters, leaving many questioning their real stance and intentions. So if you’re going to pick a side, stick with it.
With all this support to and from the LGBT community it seems understandable why more and more big companies are coming out of the closet and proudly acknowledging both gay and lesbian couples (or rainbow-themed cookies) in advertisements.
Whether it’s a direction your company wants to go in or not is up to you. The rewards could be great or grueling. But I think the most valuable lesson to be learned here today is that even the simplest message can make the biggest impact—and that rainbow-filled Oreos look delicious.
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