Raising the flag for diversity

Gay and lesbian people make up a valuable portion of the UK retail market, but new research shows that targeting them takes more than running generalised ads in the gay media.


The UK’s 3 million lesbian and gay people will earn almost £100bn collectively before tax this year, according to a report by Out Now Consulting, shown exclusively to Marketing Week. This makes the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) market a potentially very lucrative one.

But according to Out Now chief executive Ian Johnson, brands are missing out on this. “In the UK in 2012, we see a market that is big on awareness yet low on effective strategic implementations. Success in any market is about two things – understanding people’s needs and then understanding how to implement strategies to meet those needs,” he says.

The most effective way to reach the LGBT community is to advertise in mainstream media using lesbian or gay themes or images. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of the 8,400 LGBT respondents say they are much more or somewhat more likely to consider buying a brand if it advertises in this way.

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Using specific executions in gay and lesbian media appeals to 61% of respondents, while 31% say the same of a mainstream creative in lesbian or gay media. Least effective is using generalised ads in mainstream media. Just 15% of respondents say this would increase their consideration of a product.

“Many mainstream brands are choosing not to use lesbian or gay people or themes in their creative, but the research shows this is by far the least effective way to pursue an LGBT strategy,” says Johnson.

The survey results show a dramatic shift in attitude to advertising from 20 years ago: “In 1992, it was very effective for a brand to simply run its mainstream advertising in what we then called ‘gay’ media. Just ‘turning up’ was sufficient to motivate the consumer to prefer the advertiser’s brand. That is no longer the case.”

Johnson claims that many brands make assumptions about this market instead of researching the facts. For example, he says, some brands think it is effective to target this market through certain media or programmes, such as The X Factor or The Guardian, which tend to have a higher than average gay audience. Similarly, brands may resort to stereotypes for their advertising.

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But Johnson warns that brands must choose carefully when picking people to feature in their marketing. Rather than using stereotypes – such as effeminate men or masculine women – they should take steps to understand their market just as they would for any other consumer group.

“Assumptions can be based on media reporting rather than primary research data to guide a marketing approach. Some of these include assumptions that gays and lesbians do not become parents,” he says.

In fact, seven out of ten respondents are either in a civil partnership or would like to be in future, and 41% plan to have children, shows the report.
The way that lesbian and gay people should feature in advertising is one of ‘natural inclusion’, according to Johnson. This is about tailoring communications and media channels – and he points to a savings campaign for Lloyds TSB featuring two men (rather than one) with some home renovation materials.

Out Now, which helped develop the Lloyds TSB campaign, used research to identify the relationships status and home ownership correlations evident in the UK retail market for the LGBT group.

“From this, we recommended a subtle but effective shift in emphasis. The headline was changed to reflect the fact that what was being sold was not merely a savings product but rather a path to building the customer’s ‘dream home’,” explains Johnson. Adding the second male figure meant that Lloyds could extend the mainstream campaign to demonstrate and include the gay market into a visible and clearly stated part of the brand’s vision.
These consumers want to see themselves portrayed visibly and naturally in the context of a brand’s vision of who their target customer is. Getting it right can have a big pay-off, says Johnson.


“Whether that ad appears in LGBT media is less important to the consumer than that it appears somewhere, and that it accurately – and visibly – portrays their lives as people who the brand clearly respects,” says Johnson.

Added to this, lesbian and gay people account for 6% of the total UK retail market, so it is worth targeting these people specifically, for maximum return on investment. According to Out Now, putting together creative work that includes a lesbian or gay character in a scenario that ‘fits’ the brand’s general creative stance and putting it into targeted media is twice as likely to generate a brand preference shift.

Marketers don’t necessarily need to find more budget to ensure their campaigns are inclusive, but brands do need to make sure they spend time getting to know the LGBT market, according to Johnson.

“There is no ‘easy’ way to target any market. What is needed is almost always the same: invest in research first and foremost,” says Johnson. “It is not a case of spending more but better deployment of marketing spend to make sure it hits the spot instead of just ticking the box.”

And 2012 could be the year that the majority of brands come to realise the potential spending power of this group of people, predicts Johnson. If businesses fail to recognise this, they will miss out to rivals who do, he warns.

“The LGBT customer has the money to spend with the right brands and it is time more UK marketers woke up to the scale of the opportunity. If they don’t, they might just find their competitor does.”

The frontline

We ask marketers on the frontline whether our “trends” research matches their experience on the ground


Kim Watson
Managing director
Millivres Prowler, publisher of the Pink Paper and Diva

Some, not all, media buyers and planners are excluding LGBT as a credible target audience. There are some sweeping assumptions based on mass marketing thinking, most commonly that they don’t need to target through specific media because they can reach them through The Guardian, for example. But as many of our readers buy The Times, Telegraph, Sun and Mirror as they do The Guardian.

Another common assumption is that mass online advertising through Facebook or search engine marketing will reach our audience too; yet we have one of the fasting growing online and Facebook-based profiles of all magazines.

Some brands also tend to prefer ‘ticking the box’ than hitting the mark with meaningful and ongoing campaigns. They choose to plough thousands of pounds into sponsorship of one-day events, with no lasting follow-up – this serves a very short-term purpose.


Urs Eberhard
Executive vice-president markets and meetings
Switzerland Tourism

Switzerland Tourism has been addressing LGBT customers for more than 15 years already. The country’s natural beauty and the tolerance of the Swiss people are the basis of our campaigns.

We use tailored advertising creative that specifically includes images and messages directly addressing the target customer, but we always keep promoting the core assets of Switzerland, including its seasons and cities.

It is critical that we deliver on the promises we make in our advertising. To ensure that our hospitality industry keeps on top of things, we offer our hotel partners what we call ‘GayComfort’ training, to welcome LGBT visitors with respect.

In that sense, we have tailored both our communication and products to align our brand with LGBT customers, and it has resulted in increased sales.



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