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Why we shouldn’t be ignoring the LGBT market

Remember the first time you watched Modern Family? The “shit, that’s brave”-ness of a seeing a mainstream sitcom portraying a couple of gay guys raising an adopted Asian baby. 

And there’s no doubt of its success. Six years after it premiered in 2009, Modern Family has won the Emmy for Best Comedy Series for five years in a row (no easy feat), and at its peak had almost 13 million viewers. 

OK, so Modern Family may not exactly mirror real life in New Zealand. Although a reported 10-15% of New Zealanders identify as part of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, the number of “families” headed by single sex couples is small – less than 1%, according to Statistics NZ.

Meanwhile, only 9% of same-sex couples have children, and the number of male-male couples with kids is even smaller. 

Still the existence of Mitchell and Cameron (Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet) on our TVs is a definite sign that times are a changing, as is the passing of gay marriage legisation around the world. 

What is perhaps more surprising is how long it’s taken for advertising to catch on to this potentially lucrative market – particularly in New Zealand.

As the Idealog infographic below shows, New Zealand’s LGBT community is largely of working age, and unburdened by children. They are also well-off. Figures from the 2013 census show almost 70% of families headed by single sex couples earn more than 70,000 a year; more than 20% earn over $150,000.

Infographic by Conor Fox

OUTLine NZ is a nationwide LGBT telephone support, health, and face-to-face counselling service. Idealog sister site StopPress asked its general manager Trevor Easton (who was once on the Advertising Standards Complaints Board) whether he thinks the LGBT community is being included enough in current ad campaigns,

“It’s variable,” he says. “As a minority we are not always included per se. There are some advertising companies that recognise the value of the pink dollar and they target the LGBQTI community. But the majority ignore it because they are probably unaware of the benefits they could get out of it.”

But would it really benefit marketers to be more inclusive? 

“Absolutely,” Easton says. “The reasoning would be because they would stand out amongst the crowd for our community. So people would take notice because our community does take notice when they’re included and that does influence their buying patterns,” he says. “If you look at research overseas there are a lot of companies that do that because they recognise that.”

He says he can think of a few companies here reaching out to this market. “Malcolm Pacific Immigration has targeted the community for immigration purposes. Law Works have also targeted the gay community …  as well and luxury holiday [venues]. Both Audi and BMW [have], their ads are not overtly inclusive but they certainly know that they are targeting. GJ Gardner … used a well-known gay person [Jonathan Smith] in their advertising at one point.”

He says there are things advertisers should be wary of when trying to represent the LGBT community. “Stereotypes would be an absolute disaster and the community is not shy at saying that stereotyping can end up in the Advertising Complaints Board. It’s about doing it appropriately, so it’s just being appropriate to the situation and using people that are appropriate for it. Not making fun of them is what I’m trying to say.”

He says advertisers have to be careful when representing minority groups in general. “Advertisers have to be aware if they are using minority groups not to ridicule. It would be around those sort of issues that would be most likely to do the most damage. The LGBT community are probably more vulnerable to that because it happens as an everyday thing in a lot of cases.”

Considering Auckland has been voted the “15th gayest city in the world” is the LGBT community a market advertisers should be paying more attention to? Research seems to suggest it is, at least overseas.

A Florida State University report says in the US LGBT consumers are one of its least understood niches “even though the total buying power of the US LGBT adult population is currently estimated at $830 billion”.

The report says the LGBT community is one of America’s highest spending markets, and that numbers show 70 percent of LGBT adults would pay for a premium product from a company that supports the LGBT community. “Also, 74 percent of them are likely to consider brands that support nonprofits/causes important to LGBT consumers. And 78 percent of LGBT adults, their friends, family, and relatives would switch to brands that are known to be LGBT-friendly.”

The report says marketers can no longer ignore LGBT consumers, and the predominance of the community is transforming the pop culture conversation. “What once was a taboo subject is now part of mainstream discourse. There are big business opportunities for any corporation to expand and grow their business with the LGBT market, which is still largely unexplored.”

So which brands in New Zealand have been embracing this market? Here are a few (and for readers that know of more, feel free to drop them in the comment section):

Air New Zealand has, releasing a video of the marriage of a same-sex couple who tied the knot above the clouds.

Colenso BBDO also represented same-sex couples in a campaign for Michael Hill’s new brand positioning earlier this year called ‘We’re for Love’ which screened during the Super Bowl.

Michael Hill International’s chief marketing officer Joe Talcott said of the campaign earlier: “We are advocates of love, in all its forms. We believe everyone regardless of age, sex, and relationship status will find something that resonates with them.”

Colenso head of account management Angela Watson says when the spot first aired in North America it created a frenzy amongst the LGBT community and was celebrated in numerous LGBT publications and blogs. “We’re unaware of any specific commentary in New Zealand and Australia, a reflection, we think of our more inclusive and open attitudes.”

The campaign was created for New Zealand, Australia, Canada and America collectively, she says. “In creating the campaign we set out to explore the power of love and to encourage people to think about what love means to them, in all its forms, whether it’s romantic love, platonic, family or friendship. As such we wanted to explore the love stories of real people from all walks of life. New York was chosen as the location for shooting as it’s such a concentrated melting pot of different cultures and races. We knew we would find the most eclectic group of people in just one location.”

To ensure we got a diverse range of views, we interviewed more than 1200 people on the streets of New York City, she says. “Many of their stories were incredible and deeply moving. Talent selection was not based on sexual orientation but on the power of the personal story to move you and to make you think about the love in your life.”

A few main banks are also getting onboard. One example which probably stands out are ANZ’s GAYTMs, and while not officially a New Zealand campaign, the bank brought the GAYTMs to Kiwi shores early this year as part of the bank’s diversity programme.

They also celebrated ANZ’s partnership with Auckland’s Pride Festival and Wellington’s Out in the Park, and mark ANZ’s accreditation into the Rainbow Tick programme, a quality improvement programme designed to make an organisation a safe, welcoming and inclusive place for people of diverse gender identity and sexual orientation.

The NZ GAYTM campaign was created with Whybin/TBWA Auckland. 

ASB is another major company that’s taken the high ground and affirmed its “commitment to diversity and to supporting athletes, teams and other groups regardless of factors such as sexual orientation, gender identity, race and ethnicity”. 

The bank, which sponsors New Zealand Football, ASB College Sport, Tennis Auckland and the New Zealand Falcons gay rugby team, is now inow including clauses in all sponsorship contracts affirming this commitment to diversity. 

Westpac New Zealand also released a TVC in 2012 by DDB which featured a gay couple tying the knot.

This shift in attitude is also being seen though the world’s most famous photo library Getty Images, which has been diversifying its content.

Getty Images Australia and New Zealand vice president of sales Ken Leverenz told StopPress the dramatic changes in freedoms for gay and lesbian people have been mirrored in mainstream TV and film and more recently mainstream marketing, particularly in the US. “Brands have started recognising the attractiveness of the LGBT population as a consumer market, and recently their marketing activities are starting to move from targeted campaigns in LGBT publications into other media channels.”

Locally however, we’re seeing a slower shift of corporations showing interest in LGBT consumers, he says. “What is encouraging is that what interest we are seeing includes a shift where stereotypes are being dismantled. Customers are searching for authentic images that not only engage with gay people, they also talk to their friends and families. Brands that successfully connect with LGBT consumers take the time to identify both their values and beliefs; only a genuine understanding of the target market enables sincere and successful communication.”

“When the companies get it right, they will not only gain the business of LGBT consumers, they gain the loyalty of the community and connect with consumers who see the inclusion of gay people in a brand’s communication as a sign of a progressive and fair company.”

In a new trend analysis, Getty has identified ‘Genderblend’ imagery, which features androgynous depictions of people, as becoming more prominent in films, photography and even in shopping malls.

Getty has also created a ‘webinar’on Genderblend “visual trends and gender marketing” which illustrates how “visual branding and campaigns can benefit from a blurring of the gender lines”.

A classic example of this would be in the Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There, which had the famous troubadour depicted by both male and female actors over the course of the film. 

More recently, films such as the Hunger Games have also switched the gender roles, positioning a female character as the protector of a male.       

A quote from a Getty Images article sums the issue up quite nicely: “Running a campaign targeted at gay consumers outside of targeted media goes beyond pure advertising, it’s a brand taking a public stance as advocates for equal rights. It demonstrates a company’s commitment to being fair and inclusive, building their reputation as a progressive brand.”

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