Home Data Reaching LGBTQ+ Consumers Is Important All Year Round – And Here’s How To Do It

Reaching LGBTQ+ Consumers Is Important All Year Round – And Here’s How To Do It


Rainbow-themed marketing schemes were muted during Pride Month this year, continuing an unfortunate trend of brands moving away from marketing to the LGBTQ+ community.

In the past year, only 55% of brands were explicitly marketing to or including this audience in their marketing, according to a recent ANA report. Many marketers that do annual Pride campaigns stayed silent last month.

Brands are “wishy-washy” about marketing to LGBTQ+ consumers, said Chris Kenna, CEO of Brand Advance in North America and LATAM, a global media network that helps brands reach diverse audiences.

Blame it on the backlash brands like Bud Light faced for their LGBTQ+ marketing initiatives.

Making matters worse, marketers also have limited access to data about LGBTQ+ consumers because it could be considered sensitive information.

Seize the opportunity

In their hesitancy, however, advertisers are missing out on a rapidly growing source of consumer demand and market share.

LGBTQ+ people have roughly $3.9 billion in global purchasing power, according to Bloomberg – and that number is only growing as more people self-identify with the label. The proportion of US adults that identify as LGBTQ+ has doubled in the last 12 years, and nearly 30% of Gen Z in the country now consider themselves part of the community.

As a population, “we’re getting bigger,” said Damian Pelliccione, co-founder and CEO of Revry, an LGBTQ+-focused streaming platform.

“[We are] an addressable market that advertisers need to understand and address through their marketing and advertising efforts if they want to be around in the next 10 to 30 years,” they said.

Data is a drag


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Usually, the first step of a digital media plan is homing in on a target audience. But ad targeting in the LGBTQ+ category isn’t so straightforward. (Pun intended.)

Sexuality and transgender identity is sensitive information with legal protections, not unlike health and children’s data. Sharing data about LGBTQ+ people is also risky because it can be used against them if it lands in the wrong hands. LGBTQ+ consumers are disproportionately affected by privacy violations online, according to a recent report from the Future of Privacy Forum. The dating app Grindr is one example of a company currently on the hot seat for allegedly releasing sensitive data.

Simply put, publishers and media companies should never share this kind of information about individuals into the wider advertising ecosystem, said Ben Cicchetti, SVP of marketing and communications at InfoSum and chair of Infosum’s LGBTQ+ network.

This ethical responsibility is why Kenna said Brand Advance “will not use first-party data” to find audiences based on their identity under the LGBTQ+ umbrella.

Targeted ads based on sexuality can also feel super creepy depending on the context. If an LGBTQ-targeted ad follows a person around online while they’re reading a mainstream site in public, for example, the ad could “out” the person as LGBTQ+.

Limited targeting options are one reason brands aren’t prioritizing this audience, said Jose Villa, president of ad agency Sensis.

What advertisers should do, he said, is try to reach this audience with a combination of strategic media planning and the right mix of data.

Contextual is in vogue

The best way for advertisers to start reaching this audience is by investing in content they’re actually consuming, Kenna said.

Brand Advance, for example, has three targeting tiers it uses to help brands devise a media plan for LGBTQ+ consumers:

  • content that’s LGBTQ+-owned (e.g., Revry)
  • content that’s made for – but not by – the community (like, say, a New York Times article about LGBTQ+-related issues)
  • and content created by self-identifying LGBTQ+ individuals (such as blogs and social media posts)

This approach, Kenna said, is diversified enough to help clients reach scale right out of the gate.

Revry takes a similar tack by offering contextual targeting based on its content libraries, which have programming made for lesbians (Revry Her) and Latinx consumers (Revry Latinx), to name just a few.

Contextual targeting is, however, just a starting point, Cicchetti said. Brands still need some data to keep building scale and measure whether their investments are actually working.

Although publishers can’t share data that identifies specific people as LGBTQ+, there is other data they can and do share. Brand Advance and Revry, for example, both share aggregated survey responses from consumers, such as what LGBTQ+ people think of specific brands. Although Revry allows advertisers to target based on age, gender and, in some cases, language for viewers watching in Spanish or Portuguese, it doesn’t pass data that identifies respondents as LGBTQ+. Neither does Brand Advance.

An advertiser can also match its first-party data with the aggregate information they get from media companies, including data about content consumption habits – so long as no information leaks that can be used to reidentify individuals, Cicchetti said. “That’s where [targeting] personalization crosses the line from cool to creepy.”

Some third-party data can also be useful.

Sensis, for example, considers syndicated research as a primary data source, Villa said. He cited MRI Simmons and Nielsen as examples, which both have large consumer research panels that buyers use for planning and measurement. These panels can reveal unique media consumption patterns among LGBTQ+ audiences without surfacing sensitive information about any one consumer, he said.

But not all data providers source their information reliably.

Many sites and apps try to coax LGBTQ+ consumers into sharing data in exchange for some value, such as in-game rewards. Here’s an anecdote: I play RollerCoaster Tycoon on my phone and recently filled out surveys the app offered in exchange for points to build rides. After asking very personal questions about my sexual orientation and gender identity, I was rejected as an unfit respondent based on how I was answering (i.e., not transgender).

Generally speaking, it’s common for online survey providers to reject respondents that don’t fit the intended consumer segment. In my case, however, in the interest of getting points, I’ll admit that I started answering the questions in line with what I suspected the surveys were looking for – information about transgender consumers.

In other words, not only is this data collection method creepy, but advertisers can’t trust survey results if people are incentivized to respond a certain way.

Programmatic pros and cons

As for the data that does work, programmatic platforms are a popular place to find it. Sensis, for instance, uses programmatic because demand-side platforms aggregate third-party data, Villa said.

Programmatic is also good for scale. Revry uses its programmatic ad network for audience extension campaigns across other minority-owned content, including inventory from Vizio, Philo and Fubo.

But not all media networks want to sell inventory programmatically.

“Programmatic has issues,” Kenna said, referring to pricing and keyword blocking. He said buyers consider LGBTQ+ media to be “lower class media” because it’s not made for a mainstream audience, not to mention all the data limitations. Buyers won’t bid past a certain amount, he said, which could lead to unfulfilled impressions.

Brand Advance can get higher CPMs by going direct. “That’s one of the main reasons we don’t do programmatic,” Kenna said.

Programmatic downsides affect the buy side, too.

Some DSPs reject ads that include commonly used slang or vernacular. For example, a 2019 study by cybersecurity company Cheq.ai analyzed 30 articles it categorized as positive or neutral in tone (aka brand safe) across LGBTQ+ news publishers PinkNews and The Advocate. According to its analysis, “73% of safe inventory was blocked from serving ads” on the day Cheq conducted the study. Blocked keywords included “gay,” “drag queens” and “same-sex marriage.”

Brands that run programmatic campaigns should still ensure they have direct relationships with their publisher partners.

Marketing do’s and don’ts

Beyond more deliberate media planning and a well-thought-out data strategy, experts also have advice for brands on what they should – and shouldn’t – do to win favor with LGBTQ+ consumers in general.

First and foremost, brands should use creative that depicts LGBTQ+ communities, but without the stereotypes.

One thing brands often do wrong is oversexualize their LGBTQ+ creative, Kenna said. A recent example is a Postmates campaign that used terms like “topping” and “bottoming” to describe a new menu. Advertisers should be mindful that LGBTQ+ refers to identity, which is far more than a person’s sex life, Kenna said.

Secondly, Kenna said, marketers should make sure their campaigns are consistent. Many brands earmark their LGBTQ+ marketing plans just for June and then wonder why they see lackluster results, he said. “It’s a tokenistic gesture that never scales.”

One example of a company doing it right is Absolut Vodka, which has prioritized marketing to LGBTQ+ consumers since the 1980s, Cicchetti said, and has built a good reputation with the community.

Lastly – and perhaps most importantly – brands need to be ready for backlash. In today’s political climate, Cicchetti said, backlash is inevitable, and “you just need to be prepared for it.”

The worst thing a brand can do is back down by pausing or changing a campaign in reaction to a negative response from certain quarters, he said.

Reneging on marketing efforts that support the LGBTQ+ community “shows a lack of authenticity,” Cicchetti said, “which is the biggest mistake a company can make.”

He pointed to Oreo as a good example of a company that pushed through backlash, citing a “controversial” cookie with rainbow-colored filling that spurred calls for a boycott on social media in 2012. Yet Oreo put out the same cookies and graphics every year, a sign of genuine support that LGBTQ+ consumers have noticed.

Only consistent marketing efforts can help brands convince consumers of their authenticity and good intentions.

Cicchett’s advice: Don’t let these marketing efforts be “just a Pride thing.”

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