If Marketers Think I’m Gay, That May Be A Problem For LGBTQs

scottgatzThe Sell-Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Scott Gatz, CEO and founder at Q.Digital.

In just the last few years we’ve seen amazing progress on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) rights and more acceptance for the LGBTQ community in society as a whole.

With spending power of approximately $884 billion, it’s no wonder that smart brands are taking interest in marketing to this community.

In this same timeframe, programmatic channels have enabled targeting based on extremely detailed data. Within that data is the power to infer the sexual orientation of almost every Internet user with or without them explicitly making it public.

First-party data may also contain information that can be used to discern customers’ sexual orientation. With this data comes a tremendous responsibility. If mishandled, it can place people in real danger of physical or emotional harm. It’s for this reason that brand marketers and publishers must be circumspect of any attempt to target LGBTQs via programmatic means.

Google, MediaMath and other companies that have signed the NAI Code of Conduct agreed to refrain from targeting on the basis of sexual orientation, even to the extent of blocking LGBTQ sites’ ability to retarget their audiences. Facebook takes a different approach, allowing targeting of LGBTQ users while forcing the creative to not explicitly mention sexuality.

Despite buy-in from some of the bigger players, there are still lots of vendors that have no such restrictions for handling this sensitive information.

Where Orientation And Identity Can Be Dangerous

Being LGBT is still a crime in about 80 countries. In 10, it is punishable by death.

Online services are a lifeline for LGBTQ people in these places, helping them learn and connect with peers. But one errant non-geotargeted campaign can out a young LGBT activist in Egypt or expose a teen in China to his or her family.

Here in the US, it is still legal in 28 states to fire someone for being lesbian or gay. In 32 states, you can fire someone for being transgender. LGBTQs in unfriendly offices certainly avoid LGBTQ media or social media in the workplace, but targeting data can follow them to work and cause an employer to ask uncomfortable questions.

While acceptance for being LGBTQ is at an all-time high, I still hear stories daily about kids and teens being ostracized by their family for coming out. Even if these teens make extraordinary efforts to cover their tracks, one poorly targeted campaign can force a horrible confrontation with their family.

As our access to sensitive data increases, so does our responsibility. Responsible marketers and media companies mustn’t forget the power that comes with this level of access.

Targeting LGBTQs

There are appropriate ways to reach the LGBTQ audience without compromising their privacy.

When users choose to explicitly reveal their sexuality on a social network or visit LGBTQ media sites, they have signaled a willingness to hear LGBTQ-centric messages, albeit in the right context.

But if the ads aren’t delivered in the right context, beware of forcing them into a situation that can cause them harm. To strike the right balance, it is appropriate for publishers to place LGBTQ advertising alongside LGBTQ content and for advertisers to target LGBTQ users in environments where users are already choosing to consume this type of media. If advertisers use Facebook to target LGBTQ users, they should only choose those who have self-identified as men interested in men or women interested in women.

And if trying to reach LGBTQ consumers with programmatic targeting or by any other means, advertisers should ensure that the creative does not run the risk exposing anyone’s sexual orientation. Since the best LGBTQ advertising openly and outwardly addresses sexuality, this is a major trade-off. Know that this will water down your campaign’s effectiveness in attaining the attention and loyalty of this audience.

As publishers, we should lead advertisers to do the right thing. It’s not uncommon for large national publishers to have dedicated LGBTQ-targeted content. Local publications in bigger metros are embracing this audience. Publishers can drive advertisers to create LGBTQ-specific creative and contextually target that creative in these channels.

Short of that, publishers can drive them to content channels of great interest to LGBTQ readers. But if advertisers want to show specific creative using retargeting or cookies, publishers need to guide them to use more generic creative and not put readers in an untenable situation.

Despite great strides in the fight for equal treatment, many LGBTQ consumers still live in places where poorly targeted advertising can put them at risk and force painful and awkward encounters. Advertisers pursuing this demographic should be sensitive to those consumers and their needs for privacy around this information.

Follow Scott Gatz (@sgatz), Q.Digital (@WeAreQDigital) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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