Communicating to the LGBTQIA+ Community: during Pride and Beyond

From Daniel Avon, Director, Data Strategy, Grey New York

As a data strategist my job is to understand how people perceive and relate to brands and culture. As a member of the queer community, annually I find myself as both advertiser and target audience during Pride. Sometimes that’s complicated. What a brand and brief ask for may or may not align with my personal beliefs, but it’s my job to make sure that our work is based in truth.

As advertisers, we have the privilege, responsibility, and opportunity to represent and celebrate culture in service of brands.  We also must reckon with the fact that this power has not historically been wielded for good and, in some cases, continues to miss the mark.  Our legacy contains ads that perpetuate dangerous and untrue stereotypes or present groups as monoliths, often due to a lack of diverse voices in the industry.

When it comes to advertising to and with the LGBTQIA+ community, we must first consider their humanity and lived experience.  They are one of the most intersectional groups in America and are acutely aware of how they are communicated to and portrayed.  This is particularly true as Pride becomes more commercialized and it is safer for companies to participate, at least superficially for Pride’s delimited duration.

LGBTQIA+ folks see through contrived and insincere pandering, quickly identifying and calling out the reductive or offensive. We also celebrate the instances when advertisers get it right, and not only that, we buy it (literally and metaphorically). We amplify and share work that shows understanding of the diverse and multifaceted group that we are, without judgment or artifice.

Advertisers currently communicating or planning to communicate to the LGBTQIA+ community should consider the following:

  1. Make sure your house is in order: If your organization would answer ‘No’ to the following, reconsider your intentions.
    • Do my company’s policies benefit the breadth of the LGBTQIA+ community – not just one letter but ALL queer people? If my state doesn’t have or has removed protections, does my company have policies in place to safeguard the rights of my queer employees?
    • Does my company have equitable and inclusive hiring practices?
    • Does my company support LGBTQIA+ employees with Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and other resources?
    • Can I say my company has never made contributions to candidates or organizations that work against the rights and interests of the LGBTQIA+ community, and, if not, has my company acknowledged and sought to remedy past actions?

2. Include LGBTQIA+ people in all aspects of the process and take their heed: Communications to the LGBTQIA+ community should be grounded in a strategy and creative idea from the perspective of a diverse group of members from the community and consist of production, talent, and oversight from other queer folks. Otherwise, efforts are bound to fail.

3. Serve a greater purpose – not just your profits: As more companies communicate to LGBTQIA+ folks particularly during Pride, the accusations of Rainbow-washing Your intent should not be to put rainbows on product or queer people in ads solely to make a sale – this is usually where brands get into the most trouble.

Your intent should be to be of service to and for the LGBTQIA+ community: have a meaningful charitable component, promote services tailored and sensitive to their needs, speak out in favor of legislation that helps them and against legislation that aims to take their rights away.

4. Don’t represent just one dimension of the community, show more: The LGBTQIA+ community contains multitudes: explore the rich range of insights and lived experiences to inspire your work, not just those from one letter, gender identity or skin color. Consider this when it comes to casting, the stories you tell and the ways you bring them to life.

5. Be brave and commit: Investing in the LGBTQIA+ community should not be a short-term decision. The reality is, younger generations identify more often as LGBTQIA+ than the generations that came before: these are your future customers, and sticking by and doing right by them in a meaningful and committed way will be good for the advancement of their rights and for your company.

In short, LGBTQIA+ communications are not successful (or frankly, good) when you simply slap a rainbow in your logo. Your organization must do the work, it must have involved and kept in mind the best interests of LGBTQIA+ folks, and it must be done so in an authentic, inclusive, and committed way. If you do make a mistake along the way, learn from it, genuinely apologize, and continue the work.